The Shamans of Prehistory


by Jean Clottes & David Lewis-Williams

This startling book reveals a new way of understanding the remarkable images painted or etched on rock walls by the people of prehistory.

Noting the similarity of prehistoric rock art with that created by some contemporary traditional societies, archaeologists Jean Clottes and David Lewis-Williams suggest that the ancient images were created by shamans, powerful individuals who were able to contact the spirit world through trance and ritual. In many societies throughout history, shamans have been consulted to try to change the weather, foretell the future, control the movements of animals, and converse with the dead.

Buy from Amazon


With an abundance of full-color illustrations, Clottes and Lewis-Williams draw on neuropsychology and ethnography to follow prehistoric shamans into their trance states. The authors shed light on what these rock artists were thinking and how they may have worked. On these pages, Paleolithic art and life are seen in a new and astonishing way.

Review from Booklist:
“The most obvious question about cave art is why is it there, and Clottes, a prehistoric rock art expert associated with the French ministry of culture, and Lewis-Williams, a South African professor of cognitive archaeology, propose an elegant answer in this beautifully illustrated volume. They begin by documenting the universality of certain cave art images, then suggest that these paintings are shamanic in nature. They make their case in a fresh and lucid discussion of the methods shamans use to achieve altered states of consciousness in order to get in touch with the spiritual realm, then, shifting to a neuropsychological perspective, characterize the types of hallucinations experienced at the three main stages of trance: geometric shapes, objects of religious or emotional significance, and visions of animals, monsters, and people. The three sets of visions are depicted gracefully on cave walls deep beneath the surface of the earth, the perfect setting for a journey to another world. This is a handsome and quietly thrilling solution to an old and essential mystery.”  —Donna Seaman