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6. The First Signs: Unlocking the Mysteries of the World's Oldest Symbols by Genevieve von Petzinger

I finished this back in January so most of my thoughts are long gone.

A little-studied element of prehistoric art is the symbols that appear alongside the other figures. Von Petziner is one of the first people to make a systematic study of them. As this is a book aimed at general readers, there's a lot about life in the paleolithic and stories of the discovery of the art of that period. There's also a lot of description of crawling around in muddy caves to verify and better record the symbols which have often been overlooked. She makes it sound like great fun.

Her theory is that art and symbols developed in homo sapiens before they left Africa and just doesn't survive (or hasn't been found) because it emerged so fully formed across Europe at about the same time. Makes sense to me. Along with the art, people developed abstract symbols, a sort of precursor in writing. She doesn't hazard a guess at what individual symbols meant but is cataloguing them to look at distribution over time and place. She also takes a great interest in how the art/symbols were actually made and what that tells us about their makers.

This was a really interesting read, a good addition to my cave art collection.

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61. The Mind in the Cave by David Lewis-Williams

I've been meaning to read this for years. It was, I think, the first popular book setting out the theory that Upper Paleolithic cave art in Western Europe serves a religious, shamanic purpose. The argument is persuasive. Basically, anatomically modern humans all have basically the same response(s) to stimuli which bring on altered states of consciousness and Lewis-Wiliams takes the reader through the various reasons many scholars now believe that cave art is an expression of a shamanic society. I've read a few other books on the subject but this is the only one I've read that focuses on the neurobiology.

This is another book I got a lot out of, it's given me lots to think about and needless to say, now I want to learn more.

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39. What is Paleolithic Art? Cave paintings and the dawn of human creativity by Jean Clottes

This was reviewed in New Scientist recently and I had to order it right away. Clottes is *the* expert on the cave art in the south of France and leading proponent of the theory that cave art is an expression of a shamanic culture. I recognised his name from Cave Painting and the Human Spirit.

The first one third to one half of the book looks at rock art throughout the world, including cultures in the Americas and Australia that still do it, and how their approaches correspond to theories about how and why neolithic rock art/cave art was made. The last (long) chapter relates this to examples from European cave art.

Fascinating stuff; it's only short and well worth it. Parts of it are not easy (I'm a historian, not a social scientist) but it's accessible to a general reader. It has reminded me to get m sticky paws on a copy of The Mind in the Cave and its sequel ASAP.
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15. Beneath a Rising Moon by Keri Arthur

A different series written by the author of the Riley Jensen, Guardian series (the Australian-set werewolf/vampire porn that's better than it has any right to be which I've written about previously).

This one's set on a werewolf reservation in Colorado and surrounds the investigation into a series of murders which are obviously orchestrated to set up the family who own the local "big house".

Not as much sex as the Riley Jensen books I've read, but not as good either.  I think it's because I like the first person voice in the Riley Jensen books, whereas this is third person alternating between the two protagonists, and it just didn't work for me the same way.  Also, too much emphasis on soul mates and true love for my liking.

It's enjoyable enough fluff though, and only took three days to read.  There's a sequel, and if I ever stumble across it in a library I'll probably check it out.

16. Cave Paintings and the Human Spirit by David S Withey

Amazon told me I'd like this when I put The Mind in the Cave on my wish list, and it looked kind of neat so I added it as well, and my mother gave it to me for Christmas.

The author first became fascinated by prehistoric peoples and cave paintings on being taken by his parents to see the cave paintings at Niaux when he was 12 (he is from California, and most of his work is about the similarly aged rock paintings in the Mojave desert).  He makes an offhand comment about the dubious wisdom of choosing your career when you're 12, but having been to the same cave and seen the very same cave paintings a couple years ago, I completely get it.  Heck, I was ready to chuck in everything and study cave paintings.

His thesis is that prehistoric paintings worldwide depict shamanic experience.  He's as convincing as you can be in the absence of proper evidence.

He describes getting to visit the Trois Frères caves in France, which nobody gets to visit, ever, including archaeologists.  So very jealous, even though the caving part is really difficult.

It then gets more complicated, explaining why shamanic experiences do not necessarily equal religion, though in most cultural contexts they do.  It was one of those arguments that I understood at the time, but not well enough to explain.

This book was completely awesome.  I'm going to be very lucky to read a better non-fiction book this year.

17. The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney

I caught bits of the reading of this on Radio 4 a while back.  For a while it was one of those books that was just everywhere, and I finally picked it up at the library.

It's set in northern Ontario in 1867 (significant in that this was the year Canada became a country, but does not come into the story at all).  There's a murder, and a teenage boy goes missing, and the Hudson Bay Company send officers to investigate.  The Company men and then the boy's mother start heading ever farther north to find him.

I liked it a lot more than I thought I would.  It's a lot more literary than I usually like my thrillers, but the story moved along very nicely.

There was only one particularly bad historical error in it.  There's a character who has lived all over Ontario and is always telling stories about her adventures.  One day she refers to "when I lived in Kitchener"

If Kitchener existed in 1867, it was called New Berlin.  The re-naming happened in the first world war, when North America started to pretend it wasn't so full of Germans.  Also, I'm not sure Kitchener was even a household name in 1867...


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