Stacks Image 153
Print No #24

A Hallucinatory Zebra

Although rendered in an elegant semi-realistic style, the body markings on this unique zebra from Kondoa (that is also the logo for the Rock Art Conservation Center) are obviously unnatural. However, they are explainable by the “neuropsychological model” as a geometric entoptic grid or lattice pattern superimposed over a realistic (iconic) image during the final and deepest stage of altered states of consciousness. Sandawe shaman-artists tended to portray animals more realistically than people although many can be considered as semi-realistic representations, when compared to the far more skillful and accurate depictions of eland by southern Bushmen shamans. A particularly unique characteristic of many Kondoa animal images is their strange body markings that have no resemblance to the species natural markings; the giraffes in this print are excellent examples of this. Archaeologist John Cavallo contends that the markings can be understood by referring to the “neuropsychologocal model” developed by South African rock art specialists David Lewis-Williams and Thomas Dowson. The model was developed to explain the presence of similar geometric forms in southern Bushman rock art and in some European Upper Paleolithic (i.e. Later Stone Age) cave paintings in France and Spain.

It’s based on their review of some fifty years of modern neuropsychological studies and experiments on the hallucinations experienced by patients during altered states of concsiousnbess while under the influence of psychotropic drugs such as LSD and psilocybin. Many of the patients described and drew pictures of what the saw during trance. From the result of these experiments, Lewis-Williams and Dowson determined that subjects generally experienced three stages of trance, each accompanied by its own visual phenomena. For example, in the early stage of trance (their stage 1), subjects report seeing what Lewis-Williams and Downson call “entoptic phenomena,” meaning within the human optical system. They consist of several basic “self-illuminated” geometrics and permutations of them that include: grid patterns or lattices and ladders, zigzag lines, dots and short flecks, sets of parallel lines, meandering lines, and U-shaped curves that are often nested (Figure 1). In deeper trance (stage 2), subjects attempt to make sense of these by elaborating them into familiar (iconic) images like non-animate objects and natural objects such as people and animals depending on their cultural backgrounds. The images are therefore universal among all modern humans including the Bushmen and other hunters and gatherers.

In the third and deepest stage of trance, subjects experience seeing fully recognizable iconic images. Importantly, they are often accompanied by the same entoptic images as in stage 1. The difference is that the entoptics can occur partially or fully juxtaposed, sometimes fragmented, and superimposed over iconic images. These are precisely what we see on the two giraffes in this print. They were both construed in the optical systems of the two shaman-artists who drew them during the deepest stage of trance. The upper image is quite unusual because it shows U-shaped and large circular entoptics superimposed over the interior of the giraffe’s body and a long series of vertical nested curves interrupted by a cluster of closely spaced horizontal parallel lines over the animal’s lower front and rear legs. The second giraffe is also unique in being the only example of a semi-realistic animal superimposed by a tight arrangement of entoptic flecks. The position of its tail indicates that it is running. According to archaeologist John Cavallo, the occurrence of superimposed entoptic images over identifiable species of animals is far more common if not unique to Tanzanian rock art. (From M.D. Leakey, 1983. Redrawn by J.A. Cavallo).