Reply to Kehoe: Rock Art and Shamanism

Article excerpt


Kehoe 's comments (2004) underscore the controversial and divisive nature of rock art research, especially application of the neuropsychological model of Lewis-Williams and Dowson (1988). In contrast to her assumptions, we are familiar with controversy surrounding the model, and we do not insinuate that all rock art sites are the work of shamans. Our article (Greer and Greer 2003) was limited to showing possible congruence between the model and a carefully selected unique site in the mountains of central Montana.

Keywords: rock art, pictographs, shamanism, Montana, northern Plains

Our article (Greer and Greer 2003) was intended as an exercise to show how one explanatory model could be applied to one site in Montana. We were careful not to evaluate the model or even agree that the results (i.e., the similarity of the model with the site) actually indicate shamanistic use of the cave or source of the rock art. Although we are pleased that Kehoe (2004) took time to comment on our discussion, she has chosen to negate the model and offer assumptions about us.

First is an insinuation that we are not cognizant of the weaknesses or criticism of the LewisWilliams model (or more correctly the Whitley application). We have followed development and application of the model since Reichel-Dolmatoff 's detailed ethnographic work on the upper Amazon drainage of southern Colombia (Reichel-Dolmatoff 1971, 1975). Lewis-Williams proposed the model based on his South African rock art and ethnographic research through a series of careful studies specifically demonstrating the relation of some of that region's rock art to shamanic trance. The model has been more recently applied to Paleolithic caves in western Europe, and that is where the controversy began to accelerate. Kehoe references unsupported criticisms by Bahn and Bednarik, both of whom disagreed with Lewis-Williams more on a personal level, although his suggestions were based on direct observation and consultation over a number of years with local researchers. Not so well publicized are considerations and discussions, at least at meetings and in the field, for sites in Australia. More appropriate to our Montana exercise is the work by Whitley ( 1994) in eastern California. Whitley's suggestions have been picked up by Francis and Loendorf (2002) for their work in the Big Horn Basin and by other researchers of various levels of interest. Relative to the previous research, we are familiar with the sites, rock art, ethnography, and native people (in some cases personally) of the lowland South America region of Reichel (e.g., J. Greer 1995) and have visited many of the South African sites studied by Lewis-Williams, the Australian sites, the French and Spanish caves from which the primary controversy arises, the California sites used as examples by Whitley, the Wyoming and Montana sites discussed by Francis and Loendorf, and many more for which the model has been considered. We have discussed the matter with most of the researchers, and we understand the controversy. As for Montana, we specifically picked Dillinger Cave from the hundreds of sites we have visited (and recorded) across the state, and beyond, because it uniquely fit our intended application. Our choice was specifically selective, not random.

Kehoe assumes that we are necessarily supportive of the applicability of the neural-psychological model to all rock art cases, including the northwestern Plains, and that we believe all rock art is related to shamanism, that shamans painted rock art, and that shamanism is related to vision questing. Such unsupported assumptions, and Kehoe's assertions that the neural-psychological model does not work or that we "will be wise to abandon it," should not be afforded until evidence is carefully tested. People keeping up with the Clovis controversy certainly can appreciate the necessary caution. With Dillinger Cave we presented one case, perhaps the best site in Montana, where there is some congruence or correspondence between the model and the site. …