Since the 1960s, a new wave of research among the San and their world-famous rock art has overturned these misconceived ideas. Here, the great authority David Lewis-Williams and his colleague Sam Challis reveal how analysis of the rock paintings and engravings can be made to yield vital insights into San beliefs and ways of thought. This is possible because we possess comprehensive verbatim transcriptions, made in the nineteenth century, of interviews with San people who were shown copies of the art and gave their interpretations of it. Using the analogy of the Rosetta Stone with its parallel texts that enabled decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs, the authors move back and forth between the rock art and the San texts, teasing out the subtle meanings behind both.
The picture that emerges is very different from past analysis: this art is not a naive narrative of daily life but rather is imbued with power and religious depth. As this elegantly written, enlightening book so ably demonstrates, the ‘prehistoric’ mind was in fact as complex and sophisticated as our own.