Conspicuous Knowledge Transmission through Amazonian Cave Art

Author(s): Christopher Davis

Year: 2018


Among large-scale societies, esoteric knowledge is often exploited for power, prestige, or status. In such a social framework, it becomes important to guard the transmission of esoteric knowledge, restricting access by exclusive mechanisms of indoctrination or co-option. When discovered, evidence of guarded knowledge often flags the attention of the archaeologist because of its often meticulous preservation. However, if the same knowledge were conspicuous, unguarded, and socially mundane, evidence of it is less likely to preserve as well archaeologically, and archaeologists might be more inclined to underestimate its cognitive sophistication. Ancient rock art paintings conspicuously placed on the ceiling of a cave along the lower Amazon River conveys sophisticated astronomy knowledge that parallels knowledge chronicled during contact and historical periods from oral transmission. Archaeological excavations of the cave and region reveal low-density populations since the earliest period of human habitation over 13,000 years ago, during the same period that most of the red ochre pictographs were painted. Here, I argue that this small-scale society transmitted sophisticated knowledge through conspicuous rock art, which later transferred, or was re-imagined, through oral transmission. This example provides evidence for the importance and awareness of sophisticated knowledge maintained, and perhaps originated from (often overlooked) traditional cultures.

Cite this Record

Conspicuous Knowledge Transmission through Amazonian Cave Art. Christopher Davis. Presented at The 82nd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Washington, DC. 2018 ( tDAR id: 443027)

This Resource is Part of the Following Collections

Spatial Coverage

min long: -76.289; min lat: -18.813 ; max long: -43.594; max lat: 8.494 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 22490