Heathens, Pagans and Witches discussion

The Archaeology of Shamanism
This topic is about The Archaeology of Shamanism
43 views
Group Reads > The Archaeology of Shamanism

Comments Showing 1-36 of 36 (36 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Nell (last edited Jun 01, 2013 03:52AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Nell Grey (nellgrey) | 1682 comments This is the thread for discussion of The Archaeology of Shamanism, edited by Neil Price. I collected mine from the library last week - looking forward to a good read.


Bryn Hammond (brynhammond) | 252 comments Happy to hear you have yours, Nell. I like the feel I'm getting from this one... I didn't start before June but I inspected closely.

14 essays. Only 239 pages but pages are quite large with plenty on them. Well-illustrated in black & white.

Here are the contents -- hope to tempt people:


Part One -- The archaeology of shamanism: Cognition, cosmology and world-view

1. An archaeology of altered states: Shamanism and material culture studies
Neil S. Price

2. Southern African shamanistic rock art in its social and cognitive contexts
J.D. Lewis-Williams

Part Two -- Siberia and Central Asia: The 'cradle of shamanism'

3. Rock art and the material culture of Siberian and Central Asian shamanism
Ekaterina Devlet

4. Shamans, heroes and ancestors in the bronze castings of western Siberia
Natalia Fedorova

5. Sun Gods or shamans? Interpreting the 'solar-headed' petroglyphs of Central Asia
Andrzej Rozwadowski

6. The materiality of shamanism as a 'world-view': Praxis, artefacts and landscape
Peter Jordan

7. The medium of the message: Shamanism as localised practice in the Nepal Himalayas
Damian Walter

Part Three -- North America and North Atlantic

8. The gendered peopling of North America: Addressing the antiquity of systems of multiple gender
Sandra E. Hollimon

9. Shamanism and the iconography of Palaeo-Eskimo art
Patricia D. Sutherland

10. Social bonding and shamanism among late Dorset groups in High Arctic Greenland
Hans Christian Gullov and Martin Appelt

Part Four -- Northern Europe

11. Special objects -- special creatures: Shamanistic imagery and the Aurignacian art of south-west Germany
Thomas A. Dowson and Martin Porr

12. The sounds of transformation: Accoustics, monuments and ritual in the British Neolithic
Aaron Watson

13. An ideology of transformation: Cremation rites and animal sacrifice in early Anglo-Saxon England
Howard Williams

14. Waking ancestor spirits: Neo-shamanic engagements with archaeology
Robert J. Wallis


Nell Grey (nellgrey) | 1682 comments I should finish Blood and Mistletoe: The History of the Druids in Britain first, but it's huge and I'm only a third in. Maybe I'll try reading them in tandem and see how it goes.


message 4: by Sara (new) - added it

Sara My copy arrived in the mail late last week. I'm looking forward to starting it.

Now if only I could get my act together and write my review and comments on Shamans of the World, I'd be making progress!


Nell Grey (nellgrey) | 1682 comments Interesting first section - an overview of shamanism and the contents of the book followed by an essay on the rock art of the San people of Southern Africa. I'd have liked to read some translated original material collected by the Bleek family directly from the indigenous population (rather than being referred to works by other authors).


Bryn Hammond (brynhammond) | 252 comments Sorry I've been absent... but we have two months.

I liked his intro (called chapter 1), a survey of research and of the book.

The Soviet period unfortunate for research, with its "ideologically inspired interpretive straitjacket" and psychopathic explanation as shamans were suppressed.

Um, I thought he tackles with grace the task he sets himself of sketching the conflicts that can arise, three-way, between academics, neo-shamanists and indigenous people. The book wants to be inclusive, and the last essay is by a guy who's both 'an academic archaeologist and an active neo-shaman'. Yet he's honest about the discomforts too. As a way forward.

On the archaeology of shamanism: "Much has been written in recent years about an 'archaeology of mind', the search for ancient thought-patterns, world-views and mind-sets... Through an archaeological examination of shamanism we draw nearer these intangibles... these elusive mentalities...." Sounds great.


message 7: by Bryn (last edited Jun 13, 2013 05:32PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bryn Hammond (brynhammond) | 252 comments Chap 2 on San (Bushman) rock art.
The art depicts shamanic experience, including energies only shamans can see. It is a 'fixing of the vision', and the image itself became a 'reservoir of n/om' (potency) that can be drawn on by touch; the rock art remained a site for religious dances.

Interested in the 'idiosyncratic motifs' he finds, that is an individual take that might be adopted as part of tradition (he gives the example of a new song, 'medicine-song', invented by a non-shaman woman in her dream) or might indicate a single shaman attempting to stand out from the crowd and accrue influence (his speculation): for instance a one-off painting where fighting crabs seem to be a metaphor for shamans' combat, the artist innovating.

The b&w blob-renditions do little for the art; when you search for images, these paintings as wonderful as he says.


Bryn Hammond (brynhammond) | 252 comments Chap 3 on Siberian/Central Asian rock art and material culture.
Short but I liked this, because it uses not just ancient rock art (bronze age) but rock art from the last 2-3 centuries. I wasn't familiar with this 'historical period' rock art. It puts these together with material culture (shamans' costume & equipment, household items that conserve once-sacred motifs) to shed light on the 'cosmological iconography'.

Skeletons on shamans' coats seen next to the 'X-ray' style of rock art. The coats' fringes, drawn with emphasis as feathers/wings on shamans in celestial flight.

The drum as a living entity, or at times the 'identification between a shaman and his drum': how these ideas can be depicted by a figure in the drum, that might look like a copy of its shaman.


message 9: by Nell (last edited Jun 14, 2013 02:36AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Nell Grey (nellgrey) | 1682 comments I must look for the paintings (online?) any links, Bryn? I'm finding speculation as to what they depict in the transformative images (where they supposedly disappear into cracks to emerge transformed in the otherworld etc.) quite a stretch to accept, also the identification of some animals and human forms from very little.

Re. the two months, I'll have to return my copy to the library before they're up, or pay a third hire charge - I've renewed once already.


message 10: by Bryn (last edited Jun 14, 2013 04:26AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars


message 11: by Nell (last edited Jul 17, 2013 07:34AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Nell Grey (nellgrey) | 1682 comments Thanks for the links - will have a browse too.

San Rock Art


message 12: by Bryn (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bryn Hammond (brynhammond) | 252 comments I'm in Tamgaly, Kazakhstan -- chapter 5. More petroglyphs, and worth an image search online (can use 'tamgaly petroglyphs').

It's a Unesco site, so: http://whc.unesco.org/pg.cfm?cid=31&a...

Or an intro to Tamgaly Gorge on 'aboutKazakhstan': http://aboutkazakhstan.com/blog/art/t...


message 13: by Bryn (last edited Jun 17, 2013 02:06AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bryn Hammond (brynhammond) | 252 comments Cracks in the rock again, Nell, pp. 73-5. He discusses them as a metaphor for the shaman's difficult (narrow) journey, or used as a symbol of transformation in the rock art.


message 14: by Bryn (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bryn Hammond (brynhammond) | 252 comments Much food for thought in chapter 5: 'Sun gods or shamans? Interpreting the solar-headed petroglyphs of Central Asia'.

These have been taken for sun gods from Indo-Iranian mythology. But he points to the antiquity of shamanism in these parts, and even suggests that a confrontation of 'life philosophies', as Indo-Iranians met the locals, itself can support a view of this art as to do with shamanic experience, "since shamanic activity is considered to have often become more vigorous at times of cultural and ethnic tensions."

He thinks these figures can be seen as "a graphical metaphor of shamanic rituals and the personal experiences of the shamans" -- instead of straight depictions of mythology, as has been the explanation.

I guess I read about shamans and I'm used to this interpretation, visionary experience. As we saw indeed in the chapter on San rock art, where what only shamans can see was made into images.


message 15: by Nell (new) - rated it 3 stars

Nell Grey (nellgrey) | 1682 comments Interesting that he compares Figure 5.10 on page 79 with the visual images recorded in laboratory studies.

If he's correct that the strange head on the figure depicts a shaman's visionary experience surely this must mean that the image was actually created by a shaman...?


message 16: by Bryn (last edited Jun 17, 2013 04:53PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bryn Hammond (brynhammond) | 252 comments Nell wrote: "If he's correct that the strange head on the figure depicts a shaman's visionary experience surely this must mean that the image was actually created by a shaman...?"

I think that's the usual assumption. Or deduction if you like.

As the other author says in the San chapter: "It does seem likely that the images that depict visions were made by those who actually experienced them. If ordinary people did paint, the images that they produced are totally indistinguishable from those done by shamans; if there were any non-shaman painters, they drew on the same vocabulary of images..." p. 23


message 17: by Nell (new) - rated it 3 stars

Nell Grey (nellgrey) | 1682 comments Or perhaps the visionary experiences were a community event - like the peyote ceremony of some native American tribes?


message 18: by Nell (last edited Jun 23, 2013 07:37AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Nell Grey (nellgrey) | 1682 comments Just finished chapter 6, which deals with the beliefs and practices of the contemporary Khanty people and is based on fieldwork by the author of the essay.

Interesting, but quite academic re. style - sentences sometimes need reading twice to gain full understanding. I was tempted to begin reading backwards from the end (which covers Northern European practice), but will resist :)


message 19: by Bryn (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bryn Hammond (brynhammond) | 252 comments Nell wrote: "I was tempted to begin reading backwards from the end (which covers Northern European practice), but will resist :)"

Do as likes you, I say. I have my geographical area of interest up front. :)


message 20: by Bryn (last edited Jun 24, 2013 01:49AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bryn Hammond (brynhammond) | 252 comments Just read 6 and 7: Khanty of Siberia, the Nepal Himalayas. I don't know that 7 wasn't worse for academese.

6 seemed to boil down to the fact that shamans are part of a community. They step in to fix trouble, but daily interaction with spirits is for ordinary people: "while the shaman figure confronts spiritual emergencies, thereby attracting particular analytical attention from ethnographers, individuals and household groups within the wider community also have an important and active role to play in negotiating for their own general welfare." Which few of us ever doubted. Sorry. One of these academic articles that make a big production of telling you what's plain.

7. Contrasts two types of spirit-worker: those who deal with 'lingeage deities', commonly translated as spirit-mediums, and those who are "intercessors with the gods, ghosts and spirits of the local environment," translated as shamans.

I got interested in the end. The lineage-spirits are 'near' and within the social order, and these mediums don't need to step outside their social positions to contact them: instead their social positions are 'enhanced'. But a shaman has to contact 'far' spirits -- from the forest, not the home -- with whom they "share none of the commonalities of identity..." The shaman "needs to distance himself from his normal social persona... to operate outside his situatedness within a caste-based society." How these differences are expressed in where and how the two types practise.


message 21: by Bryn (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bryn Hammond (brynhammond) | 252 comments With the Khanty, it's terrible to read about "the inexorable advance of mineral extraction industries... pockets of traditional living continue to survive..."


message 22: by Nell (new) - rated it 3 stars

Nell Grey (nellgrey) | 1682 comments Terrible. When the mineral supply has been exhausted, what will remain?

I've just finished chapter 7, and although I found it interesting was surprised that among all the theories and conjecture as to why the differences between the two types of spirit worker exist, nowhere (unless I missed it) does the author mention having actually asked questions of the people involved as part of the process and later, having evolved his theories, whether these made sense to them. He speaks of fieldwork with much observation and noting of details, yet surely a translator could have given depth and credibility to his deductions.

I'm a critical creature...


message 23: by Bryn (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bryn Hammond (brynhammond) | 252 comments A very fine point, Nell. Now you mention it... they just weren't quoted, were they?


message 24: by Nell (new) - rated it 3 stars

Nell Grey (nellgrey) | 1682 comments Funnily enough, as if to make amends, chapter 8 has two quotes, one from a Nivkh (Gilyak), the consultant of a different author, (Grant), and another by a Lakota winkte (third gender male) to John Fire Lame Deer..

I seem to remember also that you were interested in the gender crossover aspects of shamanic practice - quite a bit of information here, also lots to chase up in the ref. at the end of the essay.


message 25: by Bryn (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bryn Hammond (brynhammond) | 252 comments I am, Nell! Nice of you to remember. I've been in great anticipation of this chapter. Tonight.


message 26: by Bryn (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bryn Hammond (brynhammond) | 252 comments 8: "It is my contention that the first people to migrate to North America from North Asia were members of societies that recognised more than two genders." Alternative/third genders/the ability to change gender associated with shamanic power: "This feature is so common in Siberian and North American belief systems as to qualify it as a ubiquitous aspect of these religions."

Stuffed with references. I have a few of these, but only too much to chase up.


message 27: by Nell (last edited Jul 05, 2013 11:43AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Nell Grey (nellgrey) | 1682 comments I finished the book and took it back to the library, but made notes beforehand :)

Chapter 9:

Photos of some amazing artifacts - a carved antler baton, a transformational woman, a shaman's ivory teeth, a flying bear with skeletal markings (definitely flying too).

I'd love to know what the bell-shaped tubes were for - to strike perhaps? To hang on a costume?

Chapter 10:

This is about a so-called 'longhouse' - or at least the remains of one. I wasn't convinced about the argument for shamanic usage for this structure - there seemed to be more likely mundane explanations that could at least have been mentioned. But then I'm not an archaeologist...


message 28: by Little (new)

Little Miss Esoteric (littlemissesoteric) | 1116 comments I haven't read this one yet, but I do intend to at some stage. Waiting on your reviews. :)


message 29: by Bryn (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bryn Hammond (brynhammond) | 252 comments I'm struggling to get these couple of Palaeo-Eskimo chapters into my head. I'll be back.


message 30: by Nell (new) - rated it 3 stars

Nell Grey (nellgrey) | 1682 comments No pressure, Bryn. Loved the artifacts in chapter 9.


message 31: by Aaron, Moderator (new)

Aaron Carson | 1216 comments Nell wrote: "there seemed to be more likely mundane explanations that could at least have been mentioned. " I often find myself vexed by these conclusions myself. I'd like it if they'd provide us with a bit more of a clue as to how they reach their conclusions. There are some widely accepted archaeological and anthropological theories which I don't find logical at all.


message 32: by Bryn (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bryn Hammond (brynhammond) | 252 comments Managed chapter 11 on my commute. I might finish that way, but I have a house move on and house and brain are in upheaval, til the end of July.

11 is on ivory statuettes from the Swabian Mountains, Aurignacian age. Animals and humans... humans in transformation to animals, it argues. There's a lion-human in a floating attitude, that I love. The authors say this is an art of trance, of trance experience, and the animal figures aren't ordinary animals but have indications of being shamans-as-animal. I'm fascinated by animal transformation, I liked this one.


message 33: by Nell (last edited Jul 17, 2013 03:56AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Nell Grey (nellgrey) | 1682 comments There are photos and more info. on the human/lion online Here. Wondrous. The Vogelherd Horse is beautiful too.


message 34: by Bryn (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bryn Hammond (brynhammond) | 252 comments Nell wrote: "There are photos and more info. on the human/lion online Here. Wondrous. The Vogelherd Horse is beautiful too."

Oh thanks Nell, great.


message 35: by Bryn (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bryn Hammond (brynhammond) | 252 comments I've read most of the last three chapters. Sound theatre in passage graves, British Neolithic, and the religious significance of animal sacrifice in Anglo-Saxon cremations both worthwhile.


message 36: by Nell (new) - rated it 3 stars

Nell Grey (nellgrey) | 1682 comments There was a BBC programme a year or so ago about the acoustics of megalithic sites - must see if I can find it.

Re. the chapter on neo-shamanism, I did wonder if it should be considered archaeology.


back to top