Exploring shamans and rock art in South Africa

Silvia Tomaskova spent 2010 to 2011 in South African studying prehistoric rock art. (photo courtesy of Silvia Tomaskova)
Silvia Tomášková spent 2010 to 2011 in South Africa studying prehistoric rock art. (photo courtesy of Silvia Tomášková)

UNC anthropologist Silvia Tomášková spent 2010 to 2011 in South Africa studying prehistoric rock art drawings as part of the research for her book, Wayward Shamans: The Prehistory of an Idea. She then returned to Carolina with a fresh perspective on the drawings, eager to share this knowledge with students in a new course involving interactive learning techniques.

She wanted to trace the origins of shamans (sometimes described as proto-priests, religious leaders, artists and healers) from Siberia to South Africa and to examine their gendered interpretations. (They are often depicted as men.) For the last 20 years, scholars had drawn from 19th century ethnographies to propose that the South Africa rock art drawings were done by shamans under ritualistic trance. Tomášková wanted to see the drawings for herself. Continue reading