This is a drawing from David Lewis-Williams’ wonderful book ‘The Mind in the Cave’ which he interprets as being rather confusing depiction of an eland headed man somehow underwater, probably from a shamanistic vision. Later in the book, he notes how when a shaman came out of a trance or dream, he would concentrate hard to remember the visions he had experienced.
In another account of indigenous art, a tribe – I think in the Pacific islands – were unusual in that they both sculpted and drew very differently. They drew humans as having arms coming out of their faces. This sounds very trippy, but makes sense, if you think about showing all the important bits on one place. It is sowing that hands are as important as our more obvious senses, ie sight, smell, hearing, taste.
So, what links the above two ideas? Well, I think the picture shows a shaman’s vision, jotted down to show the most important elements. They are not shown necessarily in spatial relationship to each other, but they are shown in an arc, as the reach of an artists’s arms.
Dreams, especially visionary or drug induced ones, tend to be jumbled up, but there is a sense that these images are a mnemonic, or reminder of a story, rather than a narrative per se.
Elands have the nature of elandness about them; showing a man with an eland head may have shown him to be running like the herbivore, screaming like one, or making a noise like one. In some cultures, a turtle is not a water based creature, but a symbol of the earth, it flat on the base, with a curved heaven above it. Fish could represent food, or escaping across a river, or the freedom of being in the water. Like so much of this stuff, I am guessing. We cannot possibly know what these images are, but even something with an obvious story such as lie the Bayeaux Tapestry only has meaning because we know the story and which direction to read it. If you start in the middle and try to move outwards, it is pure nonsense.
So, here’s a really hard one from the same source. How can we possibly read this? The bulk of it looks like the structure of a giant cell, and the top animals seem to be looking over a wall, with dismembered bits beneath. So, gibberish, really. Or maybe the record of a small meteor landing on a herd of beasts. Who knows? Maybe this is where Tim Burton got some of his ideas for ‘Mars Attacks!’ Or not.