David Lewis-Williams

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James David Lewis-Williams is a South African scholar. He was born in Cape Town in 1934. He is best known for his research on southern African San (Bushmen) rock art, of which it can be said that he found a ‘Rosetta Stone’.[1] He was the founder and previous director of the Rock Art Research Institute and is currently professor emeritus of cognitive archaeology at the University of the Witwatersrand (WITS). Lewis-Williams is recognised by the National Research Foundation (NRF) of South Africa as a leading international researcher, with an A1 rating..

Biography[edit]

Lewis-Williams had been interested in archaeology in his youth.[2] When interviewed on 19 February 2014 in his office at the Rock Art Research Institute (RARI) at WITS, Lewis-Williams related that in the early days of apartheid, there were very few English-speaking archaeology teaching posts available. One was held by John Goodwin at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and the other was held by Clarence Van Riet Lowe at WITS. These posts were in addition to several Afrikaans-speaking posts held at the University of Pretoria (UP)as well as a number of national museums. To major in archaeology was not an option for an undergraduate in South Africa at the time, and in 1952 Lewis-Williams enrolled for a BA at UCT majoring in English and Geography. After his graduation he taught English for twenty years, taking up a position at Selborne College and subsequently at Kearsney College. In the school holidays, Lewis-Williams was able to follow his passion for archaeology, organizing field trips for the boys of Kearsney to explore the Drakensberg for rock art images. In 1964, while still teaching, he completed an Honours degree through the University of South Africa (UNISA) entitled Cove Rock: A study in coastal geomorphology. Several years later, Lewis-Williams met Professor John Argyle after giving a College Lecture in Pietermaritzburg. Argyle, who was professor of social anthropology at the University of Natal, suggested that Lewis-Williams do a master’s degree under his supervision. Living comfortably in the grounds of Kearsney College, Lewis-Williams was not rushed to complete his master’s. Eventually Argyle decided to pressure Lewis-Williams by upgrading his degree to a PhD which was finished in 1977 and published in 1981 as Believing and Seeing: Symbolic meanings in southern San rock paintings.

Theoretical influences[edit]

Lewis-Williams was exposed to social anthropology as an undergraduate at UCT.[3] During this time he received lectures from renowned social anthropologist A. R. Radcliffe-Brown (who started the department of social anthropology at UCT in 1920 but later returned as a visiting lecturer) and Monica Wilson, a student of Bronislaw Malinowski.[4] Malinowski’s ideas specifically concerning the association of ritual with social products meant that Lewis-Williams could eventually challenge the idea that San rock art was merely a narrative of everyday life.[5] Thus, from the start of his career and in contrast to most scholars of the period, Lewis-Williams was looking at San rock art from a social anthropological perspective.

Following proofs of an article by South African scholar Patricia Vinnicombe, shown to him in 1966 by Professor Ray Inskeep (then editor of the South African Archaeological Bulletin),[6] Lewis-Williams used a quantitative method for the analysis of rock art images in the Drakensberg. In the interview on 19 February 2014, Lewis-Williams explained that when on field trips with the boys at Kearsney, he would stand in the valley of the Bushman's River at Giant's Castle whilst the boys climbed the mountains with his guidance over a walkie-talkie. He would join the boys when paintings were located and together they systematically measured every detail of every image using a system of recording cards. Later this sort of research was repeated at Barkly East. Overall they recorded approximately 4000 images.

The quantitative method now bears little impact on the understanding of meaning behind images in San rock art. There is simply too much ambiguity in what the numerical values can be said to imply.[7] Despite this realization after many years of fieldwork, Lewis-Williams acknowledges that scholars who were involved in the process of doing quantitative studies of San rock art benefit from being forced to looked at thousands of images in great detail.

In the early 1980s Lewis-Williams began to investigate other theoretical approaches. This was because he

began to feel a great disjunction between what [he] had learned as a social anthropology student and the then popular conception of San rock art as a childlike record of daily life with, perhaps, a few ‘mythical’ images thrown into the mix.[8]

At that time in South Africa, Marxism was the ‘language of liberation’ and the only other social theory available. In The economic and social context of southern San rock art (1982), Lewis-Williams explored the economic position of the shaman in San society. Using Maurice Godelier’s ideas of symbolic work, Lewis-Williams investigated the ritual role of shamans in terms of San social structure and the context of rock art.[9]

Concerns for the other members of San society are seen in his research that draws on

structuration theory in an attempt to show how San individuals and groups of individuals manipulated social symbols in the creation and consolidation of personal power.[10]

Key research concepts[edit]

Ethnography[edit]

A foundation to Lewis-Williams’s work has been the use of ethnography. As an undergraduate he was exposed to Isaac Schapera’s The Khoisan Peoples of South Africa (1930) [11] From the start of his professional career he drew on ethnography to address the meaning of San rock art. In 1968, he read philologist Wilhelm Bleek and his sister-in-law Lucy Lloyd's Specimens of Bushman Folklore,[12] and later engaged with the collection of their transcriptions of conversations with ǀXam-speaking San people from the 1870s.[13] Although he never met her, Bleek’s daughter, Dorothea Bleek, held a position in social anthropology at UCT where the archival collection is housed.

Other available ethnographic sources exist. Colonial administrator Joseph Orpen’s 1874 article about his conversations with a San guide named Qing,[14] as well as the Kalahari San ethnography that developed from the Marshall family and others during 1950s and 1960s, add to the understanding of the San people.[15]

Shamanism[edit]

Shamanism, which derives from the Siberian Tungus word shaman, was used by Lewis-Williams to explain the metaphor of death common to both ethnography and San rock art.[16] The shamanic world often has tiered realms inhabited by spirits that can be accessed through altered states of consciousness (ASC). The world inhabited by people is supplemented by other realms that are usually conceptualized as existing above or below the inhabited world. Shamans have the ability to mediate between these other worlds. For the San, other realms were accessed during altered states of consciousness, and at rock faces where rock art can be found:

everything created on it was in some way itself associated with the spirit realm.[17]

More significantly, the collection of San ethnography demonstrates the trance or healing dance, see San healing practices, is at the core of San belief,[18][19] Metaphors for death are contained in the trance dance. As San shamans dance, their supernatural power, or ‘potency’, builds up until it reaches a breaking point and flies out of the body. At this point, they ‘die’, a metaphor for travelling to another realm where spirits dwell in the same way as the soul travels after leaving after physical death[20]

The trance dance has been demonstrated to correlate with symbolism in the rock art. Features depicted in images relate that relate to altered states of consciousness, such as nasal bleeding and the ‘arms back’ posture, are two illustrative examples known to occur during the dance.,[21][22] Lewis-Williams and Megan Biesele (known for her work with the Ju/'hoan people) showed that the gap between different groups of San and different traditions of rock art could be bridged because of similar terms and concepts centered around the dance used by both the /Xam San in the south and the Ju/'hoansi San people in the north.[23] Building on the work of previous scholars such as Lorna Marshall and Daniel McCall regarding a ‘pan-San’ belief system,[24] Biesele and Lewis-Williams together suggested that the conceptual linguistic terms and ritual observances similar to the Ju/'hoansi and |Xam could be used to understand the complexity of the images. Indeed, Lewis-Williams writes that

… there seemed to be no myth common to both corpora: the parallels lay deeper than surface narratives.[25]

Neuropsychology[edit]

The idea of a conceptual belief system was expanded upon using neuropsychology. Together with Thomas Dowson, then a fellow researcher at the Rock Art Research Unit at WITS, Lewis-Williams explored the relationship between universal neuropsychological patterns in the wiring of the human brain and practices in shamanistic societies.[26] Using data produced from laboratory experiments with hallucinogens, they proposed a neuropsychological model with multiple stages of hallucinations experienced during altered states of consciousness. Simply put, the model demonstrates the relationship between altered states of consciousness and the subjective interpretation of hallucinations.

The premise of the neuropsychological model is that there is a difference between cultural imagery and neurologically produced visual patterns (known as entoptic phenomena).[27] During ASCs, which can be induced in a number of ways, the first stage of hallucination experienced by a subject contains only entoptic phenomena, such as the scintillating scotoma experienced by migraine sufferers. The second stage begins when the hallucinations are construed by the subject into culturally familiar content. The implication of this is that entoptic phenomena will be understood differently in different cultures. The final stage is one of deep visual and somatic hallucinations, with multiple images and sensations understood in a cultural context.

Despite being able to explain why geometric and representational forms occur together in much hunter-gatherer art worldwide, and providing a ‘universal’ link through human neurology if cultural differences are allowed, the model has been criticized.[28] Critics have two concerns. First, the cross-cultural extrapolation of shamanism, and second, pushing this idea far into the past. In reply, Lewis-Williams holds to the neuropsychological model but emphasizes that the idea of shamanism is not a simple analogy,[29] it requires contextual definition. Furthermore, there is a need to have the idea behind the neuropsychological model practically demonstrated in further examples than the rock art of the San, Coso people and Upper Palaeolithic used in The signs of all times: entoptic phenomena in Upper Palaeolithic art(1988).

Research in European Caves[edit]

Lewis-Williams has studied much Upper Palaeolithic rock art in France since the 1970s.[30] He argues that there are parallels between San rock and French Upper Palaeolithic rock art based on the neuropsychological model outlined above. In 1972, he met André Leroi-Gourhan (a French prehistoric archaeologist who worked on Upper Palaeolithic rock art) at a conference in Valcamonica, Italy.[31] Leroi-Gourhan was working at Lascaux at that time and tried to arrange for Lewis-William to view the cave sites of the Dordogne. Unfortunately, they were unable to co-ordinate their dates and it was only much later that he visited Lascaux. With the help of scholars such as Jean Clottes (another French prehistoric archaeologist), he has been able to continue working with, and visiting, caves of the Franco-Cantabrian region, such as the famous Chauvet cave.[32]

Career Timeline[edit]

  • 1958 (1958)–1962 (1962) – Taught at Selbourne College
  • 1963 (1963)–1978 (1978) – Taught at Kearsney College
  • 1974 (1974)–1975 (1975) – Elected to Associateship of Clare Hall, Cambridge University, United Kingdom
  • 1978 (1978) – Invited to join the University of the Witwatersrand by Professor David Hammond-Tooke
    • 1978 (1978)–1979 (1979) – Appointed lecturer in Department of Social Anthropology
    • 1980 (1980) – Joined the Department of Archaeology
    • 1 January 1981 (1981-01-01) – Appointed Senior Lecturer
    • 1 October 1984 (1984-10-01) – Appointed Reader in Cognitive Archaeology
    • 1986 (1986)–2000 (2000) – Appointed Director of Rock Art Research Unit
    • 1 July 1987 (1987-07-01) – Appointed ad hominem Professor of Cognitive Archaeology
    • 1 January 2000 (2000-01-01) – Appointed Professor emeritus
    • 1 January 2000 (2000-01-01) – Appointed Senior Mentor

Select Awards and Achievements[edit]

Selected publications[edit]

Articles[edit]

  • Lewis-Williams, J.D., 1982. The economic and social context of southern San rock art. Current Anthropology, 23(4): 429-449.
  • Lewis-Williams, J.D., 1987. Paintings of power: ethnography and rock art in southern Africa. In: M. Biesele and R. Gordon (Editors), Past and future of !Kung ethnography. Buske Verlag, Hamburg, pp. 231–273.
  • Lewis-Williams, J.D., 1996. Harnessing the brain: vision and shamanism in Upper Palaeolithic Western Europe. In: M.W. Conkey, O. Sopher, D. Stratmann and N.G. Jablonski (Editors), Beyond art: Pleistocene image and symbol. University of California Press, Berkeley, pp. 321–342.
  • Lewis-Williams, J.D., 1998. Wrestling with analogy: a methodological dilemma in Upper Palaeolithic art research. In: D.S. Whitley (Editor), Reader in Archaeological theory, post-processual and cognitive approaches. Routledge, London, pp. 157–175.
  • Lewis-Williams, D.J., 1998. Quanto?: the issue of 'many' meanings in southern African San rock art research. South African Archaeological Bulletin, 53: 86-97.
  • Lewis-Williams, J.D., 2001. The enigma of Palaeolithic cave art. In: B.M. Fagan (Editor), The seventy great mysteries of the ancient world: unlocking the secrets of past civilisations. Thames and Hudson, London, pp. 96–100.
  • Lewis-Williams, D.J., 2004. On Sharpness and Scholarship in the Debate on "Shamanism". Cambridge Archaeological Journal, 45(3): 404-406.
  • Lewis-Williams, J.D., 2004. Consciousness, Intelligence and Art: A view of the West European Upper Palaeolithic Transition. In: G. Berghaus (Editor), New Perspectives on Prehistoric Art: A View of the West European Middle to Upper Palaeolithic Transition. Praeger Publishers, Westport.
  • Lewis-Williams, D.J. and Clottes, J., 1998. The mind in the cave - the cave in the mind: altered consciousness in the Upper Palaeolithic. Anthropology of Consciousness, 9(1): 13-21.
  • Lewis-Williams, J.D. and Dowson, T.A., 1988. The signs of all times: entoptic phenomena in Upper Palaeolithic art. Current Anthropology, 29(2): 201-245.
  • Lewis-Williams, D.J. and Dowson, T.A., 1993. On vision and power in the Neolithic: evidence from the decorated monuments. Current Anthropology, 34: 55-65.
  • Lewis-Williams, J.D. and Pearce, D.G., 2004. Southern African San rock painting as social intervention: A study of rain-control images. African Archaeological Review, 21(4): 199-228.

Books[edit]

  • Lewis-Williams, D.J., 1981. Believing and seeing: symbolic meanings in southern San rock painting. Academic Press, London.
  • Lewis-Williams, D.J., 1983. The rock art of southern Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (Arte della Savana Le pitture rupestri dell Africa australe. Milan: Jaca Book).
  • Lewis-Williams, D.J., 1990. Discovering southern African rock art. David Philip, Cape Town.
  • Lewis-Williams, D.J., 1991. Bushmen: a changing way of life (With photographs by A. Bannister). Struik, Cape Town.
  • Lewis-Williams, D.J., 2002. Stories that float from afar: further specimens of 19th Century Bushman folklore. David Philip Publishers, Cape Town.
  • Lewis-Williams, D.J., 2002. The Mind In The Cave: Consciousness And The Origins Of Art. Thames & Hudson, London.
  • Lewis-Williams, D.J., 2002. A cosmos in stone: interpreting religion and society through rock art. Altamira Press, Walnut Creek, California.
  • Lewis-Williams, D.J., 2003. Images of mystery: rock art of the Drakensberg. Double Storey, Cape Town. French edition: Le Seuil, Paris.
  • Lewis-Williams, D.J., 2004. Building an essay: a practical guide for students. New Africa Books, Cape Town.
  • Lewis-Williams, D.J., 2010. Conceiving God: The Cognitive Origin and Evolution of Religion. Thames & Hudson, London.
  • Lewis-Williams, J.D. 2011. A pocket guide to San rock art. Jacana, Cape Town.
  • Lewis-Williams, D.J. and Dowson, T.A., 1992. Rock paintings of the Natal Drakensberg. Natal University Press, Pietermaritzburg.
  • Lewis-Williams, D.J. and Clottes J., 1996. Les Chamanes de la Préhistoire: transe et magie les grottes ornées. Paris: Éditions du Seuil. (English Edition: 1998, German Edition 1997)
  • Lewis-Williams, D.J. and Blundell, G., 1998. Fragile heritage: a rock art fieldguide. University of the Witwatersrand Press, Johannesburg.
  • Lewis-Williams, D.J. and Clottes, J., 1998. The Shamans of Prehistory: trance magic and the painted caves. Abrams, New York.
  • Lewis-Williams, D.J. and Dowson, T.A., 1999. Images of Power: understanding San rock art (Second Edition). Southern Book Publishers, Johannesburg.
  • Lewis-Williams, D.J. and Clottes J., 2001. Les chamanes de la préhistoire: texte integral, polémique et réponses. Le Seuil, Paris.
  • Lewis-Williams, D.J. and Pearce, D.G., 2004. San Spirituality: Roots, Expressions and Social Consequences. Double Storey, Cape Town.
  • Lewis-Williams, D.J. and Pearce, D.G., 2005. Inside the Neolithic Mind: Consciousness, Cosmos, and the Realm of the Gods. Thames & Hudson, London.
  • Lewis-Williams, D. J. and Challis, W., 2011. Deciphering ancient minds: the mystery of San Bushman rock art. Thames & Hudson, London.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Lewis-Williams, James David. (2002). Three-dimensional puzzles: Southern African and Upper Palaeolithic rock art, Ethnos, 67(2), p. 251
  2. ^ Lewis-Williams, James David (2002). Benefit of foresight: Society, religion, art, and a conjunction of other things, Before Farming (online journal), (4), article 6, p. 1.
  3. ^ Lewis-Williams, James David (2013). Southern African Rock Art and Beyond: A Personal Perspective, Time and Mind, 6(1). p. 42-43.
  4. ^ Lewis-Williams, James David (2013). Southern African Rock Art and Beyond: A Personal Perspective, Time and Mind, 6(1). p. 42-43.
  5. ^ Lewis-Williams, James David (2013). Southern African Rock Art and Beyond: A Personal Perspective, Time and Mind, 6(1). p. 43.
  6. ^ Lewis-Williams, James David (2013). Southern African Rock Art and Beyond: A Personal Perspective, Time and Mind, 6(1). p. 41.
  7. ^ Lewis-Williams, James David (2006). The evolution of theory, method and technique in southern African rock art research, Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, 13(4), p. 360
  8. ^ Lewis-Williams, James David (2013). Southern African Rock Art and Beyond: A Personal Perspective, Time and Mind, 6(1). p. 43.
  9. ^ Lewis-Williams, James David (1982). The Economic and social context of southern San rock art, Current Anthropology 23.
  10. ^ Lewis-Williams, James David (2006). The evolution of theory, method and technique in southern African rock art research, Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, 13(4), p. 367
  11. ^ Lewis-Williams, James David (2013). Southern African Rock Art and Beyond: A Personal Perspective, Time and Mind, 6(1), p. 43.
  12. ^ Lewis-Williams, James David. (2002). Three-dimensional puzzles: Southern African and Upper Palaeolithic rock art, Ethnos, 67(2), p. 1.
  13. ^ Lewis-Williams, James David. (2002). Three-dimensional puzzles: Southern African and Upper Palaeolithic rock art, Ethnos, 67(2)
  14. ^ McGranaghan, Mark, Challis, Sam, & Lewis-Williams, James David (2013). '"Joseph Millerd Orpen's' A Glimpse into the Mythology of the Maluti Bushmen': a contextual introduction and republished text." Southern African Humanities, 25, 137-166.
  15. ^ Lewis-Williams, James David. (2002). Three-dimensional puzzles: Southern African and Upper Palaeolithic rock art, Ethnos, 67(2), p. 250.
  16. ^ Lewis-Williams, James David. (2002). Three-dimensional puzzles: Southern African and Upper Palaeolithic rock art, Ethnos, 67(2), p. 251.
  17. ^ Lewis-Williams, James David. (2002). Three-dimensional puzzles: Southern African and Upper Palaeolithic rock art, Ethnos, 67(2), p. 256.
  18. ^ Lewis-Williams, James David. (2002). Three-dimensional puzzles: Southern African and Upper Palaeolithic rock art, Ethnos, 67(2), p. 252.
  19. ^ Lewis-Williams, James David and Challis, Sam (2011). Deciphering ancient minds: the mystery of San Bushman rock art. London, Thames & Hudson.
  20. ^ Lewis-Williams, James David. (2002). Three-dimensional puzzles: Southern African and Upper Palaeolithic rock art, Ethnos, 67(2), p. 252.
  21. ^ Lewis-Williams, James David. (2002). Three-dimensional puzzles: Southern African and Upper Palaeolithic rock art, Ethnos, 67(2), p. 252.
  22. ^ Lewis-Williams, James David and Challis, Sam (2011). Deciphering ancient minds: the mystery of San Bushman rock art. London, Thames & Hudson.
  23. ^ Lewis-Williams, James David & Biesele, Megan (1978). “Eland hunting rituals among northern and southern San groups: striking similarities”. Africa, 48(02)
  24. ^ Solomon, Anne (1992). "Gender, representation, and power in San ethnography and rock art". Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, 11(4), p. 295.
  25. ^ Lewis-Williams, James David (2013). Southern African Rock Art and Beyond: A Personal Perspective, Time and Mind, 6(1), p. 44
  26. ^ Lewis-Williams, J. D., Dowson, T. A., Bahn, P. G., Bandi, H. G., Bednarik, R. G., Clegg, J., ... & Wylie, A. (1988). The signs of all times: entoptic phenomena in Upper Palaeolithic art [and comments and reply]. Current anthropology, 201-245.
  27. ^ Lewis-Williams, James David (2002). The mind in the cave: Consciousness and the origins of art. London, Thames & Hudson, p. 126-135.
  28. ^ Lewis-Williams, James David (2002). A cosmos in stone: interpreting religion and society through rock art (Vol. 1). Rowman Altamira, p. 190.
  29. ^ Lewis-Williams, James David (2004). Shamanism: a contested concept in archaeology, Before Farming (online journal), (4), article 1, p. 2-4
  30. ^ Lewis-Williams, James David (2002). The mind in the cave: Consciousness and the origins of art. London, Thames & Hudson.
  31. ^ Lewis-Williams, James David (2013). Southern African Rock Art and Beyond: A Personal Perspective, Time and Mind, 6(1), p. 46.
  32. ^ Lewis-Williams, James David (2013). Southern African Rock Art and Beyond: A Personal Perspective, Time and Mind, 6(1), p. 46.

External links[edit]