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Cave Paintings and the Human Spirit: The Origin of Creativity and Belief [Hardcover]

David S. Whitley
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

10 Sep 2008
The magnificent prehistoric art discovered in caves throughout France and Spain raises many questions about early human culture. What do these superbly rendered paintings of horses, bison, and enigmatic human figures and symbols mean? How can we explain the sudden flourishing of artistic creativity at such a high level? And in what ways does this artwork reflect the underlying belief system, worldview, and life of the people who created it?

In this fascinating discussion of ancient art and religion, Dr. David S. Whitley one of the world s leading experts on cave paintings guides the reader in an exploration of these intriguing questions, while sharing his firsthand experiences in visiting these exquisite, breathtaking sites.

To grasp what drove these ancient artists to create these masterpieces, and to understand the origin of myth and religion, as Whitley explains, is to appreciate what makes us human. Moreover, he broadens our understanding of the genesis of creativity and myth by proposing a radically new and original theory that weds two seemingly warring camps from separate disciplines.

On the one hand, archaeologists specializing in prehistoric cave paintings have argued that the visionary rituals of shamans led to the creation of this expressive art. They consider shamanism to be the earliest known form of religion. By contrast, evolutionary psychologists view the emergence of religious beliefs as a normal expression of the human mind. In their eyes, the wild and ecstatic trances of shamans were a form of aberrant behavior. Far from being typical representatives of ancient religion, shamans were exceptions to the normal rule of early religion.

Whitley resolves the controversy by interweaving the archaeological evidence with the latest findings of cutting-edge neuroscience. He thereby rewrites our understanding of shamanism and its connection with artistic creativity, myth, and religion.

Combining a colorful narrative describing Whitley s personal explorations at key archaeological sites with robust scientific research, Cave Paintings and the Human Spirit makes for engrossing reading. It provides a profound and poignant perspective on what it means to be human.

Frequently Bought Together

Cave Paintings and the Human Spirit: The Origin of Creativity and Belief + The Cave Painters: Probing the Mysteries of the World's First Artists + Cave Art: A Guide to the Decorated Ice Age Caves of Europe
Price For All Three: 40.95

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 250 pages
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books (10 Sep 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591026369
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591026365
  • Product Dimensions: 23.2 x 16.1 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 672,712 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars nonsense 27 Mar 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
That is a book that reflects the need for professors to publish books to keep up name.A lot of gossip and general curiosities of how the academical world works and competes.Good, ok... Lack of support for many of his ideas. But ,above all, to suggest that shamans were mentally troubled, sexual perverts,and whatever else is just ridiculous.My father was an excellent surrealist painter and was not mentally unstable. Nor were any of his many artist friends.Certainly a mental health conditon will condition the art produced.That is all.
Surviving in post ice age Europe was an exceptional achievement acomplished by people at the very top of mastering their surrounds and its available technologies.Their spiritual practice must have been equally developed and complex.We know that for thousands of years artistic expressions thousands of miles and spannning milenia were consistent in execution and subject.Undoubtfully there was a cultural meaning and a consistent transmission of this spiritual body of beliefs.
Not the job of people particularly mentally "derranged" or bipolar.Although the posibility that people suffering mental issues may or may not have been some of those artists and/or shamans is probably valid. 1 in 4 people suffers or has suffered at some point in life mental health issues, so it would be valid to say that 1 in four shamans/ice age artist may have suffered this kind of ailments.another writer proposes migraines or the simple working of the brain's "wiring".
I dislike all this writers that look for scientific explanations to this ancient art: The brain's "wiring", migraines, mental illness...What about those wonderfull ancestors of us discovering art and spirituality as a consequence of their humanity? They are us, we still are them, just a bit later.What makes us tick is what made them tick.That includes art.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent 27 Sep 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Very interesting aproach to the cave art, specially in Europe. I missed more drawings or photographs but it is still great.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A surprising page turner 30 Jan 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Leads you by the hand through the darkness of the caverns and lets you reach out to touch the very soul of the cave painter. Well written and thought provoking ideas about art and humanity.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.8 out of 5 stars  13 reviews
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cave Paintings and the Human Spirit 4 Dec 2010
By Markaeologist - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As an aerchaeologist working for the State of California and as a CRM specialist, I have been to (and worked at) many of the rock art sites discussed in Whitley's book. Also, I have spent much of my life among different Native American communities, so his discussion of shamanism resonated with me. I have been teaching anthropology courses at night at a local Community College and found his insights useful in explaining human beliefs in rock art (so-called for lack of a broad enough and accurate enough defining term...). I read his book and others he has published in tandem with three related recent publications by David Lewis-Williams (the Mind in the Cave, Inside the Neolithic Mind, and Conceiving God) and recommend that those people wishing to learn about cognitive archaeology, religion, first art, shamanism or other "near-the-mark" topics read these four books as a group, in order of publication date. Very enlightening.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning Achievement 9 Jan 2009
By Ronald Dorn - Published on
If you have ever looked at a prehistoric painting on rock or a carving into rock, this book is a must read. Whitley takes the reader on a journey that will delight. For those who love big thoughts and big ideas, backed up by real writing and detailed research, this book is a must. For those who love mysteries that are unraveled through careful thought and twists in a story, this book is a must. For those like to sink their teeth into details that nobody else has written about, let alone done painstaking research, this book is a must. But most importantly, it is just a fun read.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A pretty good read, but not essential reading on the subject 28 Dec 2012
By olali - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
For those, like me, who are are fascinated by neolithic cave art and all things related, this is a worthwhile read. It is intended for popular consumption but includes an interesting narrative about the recent science and politics of methods to date the art created on cave and other rock surfaces. He is of the school of thought that the paintings were made as part of shamanistic rituals. He attempts to weave in a variety of fascinating research on the subject of shamans and shamanistic trance states, but it does not connect the dots or provide enough concrete examples to convince me one way or the other. IMO His argument for mental illness as a characteristic of shamans in general falls off a cliff, as he is clearly not qualified in this area. It's definitely a theory worthy of scientific study, but by the time he gets to putting forth his ideas, he is focused on more recent shamanism, while the unknownable aspects of our ancestors of 20000-30000 years ago are forgotten.
17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars shamanism and mental health 6 Feb 2009
By Jodi Lorimer - Published on
I profoundly disagree with Mr. Bissett's review in which he dismisses David Whitley's core premises of shamanic Paleolithic cave art. It is obvious that he has either never read or chosen to ignore the meticulous research and carefully constructed arguments by Whitley, Jean Clottes, Norbert Aujoulat, David Lewis-Williams and other giants in this field. That he still credits Whitley with four stars for his book is a testament to the author's great talent as a writer.

I will admit that the chapters involving Coa and the dating scandals, while interesting from the standpoint of professional infighting, tended a bit too heavily toward the scientific intricacies of chemical analyses for the non-professional reader. Once Whitley moves into Part 3, "Meaning and Madness in the Upper Paleolithic", the book picks up considerable steam as he presents the core of his ideas; that shamanism and the resulting brilliant cave art originated as the expression of unique individuals who endured the tortures of mental disorders, particularly bipolar illness. He carefully lists the evidence from ethnographic materials reporting on traditional shamanic behaviors as it dovetails with modern psychiatric evaluations and demonstrates their congruency. This by itself sheds a fascinating light on the esoteric subject of shamanism. Yet he goes on to validate his point even further through the very frank admission of his own experiences with deep depression. By this admission he immediately moves the discussion out of the realm of removed science into a sincerely personal quest, one based on a lifetime of research, both personal and professional. Whitley's sensitive and well-reasoned exploration of shamanism from the standpoint of mental illness has not only given me a new appreciation of the art created by brilliant people of the era and the terrible struggles that may have preceded these expressions, but has helped me personally to better understand an issue in my life that has provoked fear, anxiety and emotional confusion. Envisioning mood disorders as magnificent springboards of creativity opens entirely new channels of understanding and tolerance and, certainly appreciation. Without the raging madness of a Van Gogh, Poe or others of their artistic caliber, the world would be a much less colorful place.

Life is difficult and was even more difficult in the Paleolithic. But it is through struggle and suffering that we are challenged to transcend. I am very grateful that David Whitley has done that.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Archaeological evidence and analysis blends with insights in evolutionary psychology and neuroscience 14 Mar 2009
By Midwest Book Review - Published on
CAVE PAINTINGS AND THE HUMAN SPIRIT: THE ORIGIN OF CREATIVITY AND BELIEF offers a college-level discussion of ancient art and religion by one of the world's foremost experts on cave paintings. Archaeological evidence and analysis blends with insights in evolutionary psychology and neuroscience to provide a new understanding of shamanism and its connections with early myth and religion. While this could have been featured in our 'spirituality' section, it's reviewed here for its importance to college-level science holdings, as well.
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