A landmark in the study of rock art, this extensively illustrated volume reveals that prehistoric hunter-gatherers in southwest Texas painted one of the earliest known pictorial creation narratives in North America.
Podcast interview: Carolyn Boyd and Jessica Lee, The White Shaman Mural
The prehistoric hunter-gatherers of the Lower Pecos Canyonlands of Texas and Coahuila, Mexico, created some of the most spectacularly complex, colorful, extensive, and enduring rock art of the ancient world. Perhaps the greatest of these masterpieces is the White Shaman mural, an intricate painting that spans some twenty-six feet in length and thirteen feet in height on the wall of a shallow cave overlooking the Pecos River. In The White Shaman Mural, Carolyn E. Boyd takes us on a journey of discovery as she builds a convincing case that the mural tells a story of the birth of the sun and the beginning of time—making it possibly the oldest pictorial creation narrative in North America.
Unlike previous scholars who have viewed Pecos rock art as random and indecipherable, Boyd demonstrates that the White Shaman mural was intentionally composed as a visual narrative, using a graphic vocabulary of images to communicate multiple levels of meaning and function. Drawing on twenty-five years of archaeological research and analysis, as well as insights from ethnohistory and art history, Boyd identifies patterns in the imagery that equate, in stunning detail, to the mythologies of Uto-Aztecan-speaking peoples, including the ancient Aztec and the present-day Huichol. This paradigm-shifting identification of core Mesoamerican beliefs in the Pecos rock art reveals that a shared ideological universe was already firmly established among foragers living in the Lower Pecos region as long as four thousand years ago.
2017 Society for American Archaeology's Book Award
- Chapter 1. Archaic Codices
- Chapter 2. The Painted Landscape
- Chapter 3. Transcribing and Reading Visual Texts
- Chapter 4. A Primer: Abiding Themes in Mesoamerican Thought
- Chapter 5. Pilgrimage to Creation: A Reading of the White Shaman Mural Informed by Huichol Mythology
- Chapter 6. Return to Creation: A Reading of the White Shaman Mural Informed by Nahua Mythology
- Chapter 7. The Art of Transcendence
“It is rare that a book completely changes our perspective on a major body of rock art. Yet that is what Carolyn Boyd’s The White Shaman Mural will do for the spectacular Pecos River murals. Combining an impeccable ethnological approach with hard data obtained via new recording methods, this groundbreaking book is eminently readable despite the complexity of the concepts involved. It should appeal to lay readers as well as professionals.”
Jean Clottes, author of Cave Art
“The White Shaman Mural not only provides a thorough demonstration of technique, but it also raises provocative issues regarding the history and cosmovision of Native America. Boyd penetrates the cosmological conceptions of the past as she unveils an amazing text painted on a rockshelter wall thousands of years ago in southwest Texas.”
Alfredo López Austin, author of The Myth of Quetzalcoatl and emeritus researcher, UNAM
“This volume is surely the most important publication on Lower Pecos rock art in this—and perhaps even in the last—millennium. Boyd uses Mesoamerican ethnohistoric data and pan-Mesoamerican concepts to interpret what others have regarded as uninterpretable. This book will not simply challenge the field but will redefine it.”
Thomas Guderjan, University of Texas at Tyler, author of The Nature of an Ancient Maya City: Resources, Interaction and Power at Blue Creek, Belize and Ancient Maya Traders of Ambergris Caye
“This is a milestone in the study of ancient American visual culture. First, it showcases the fruitful results of the scientific studies that the authors conducted, as well as their modes of analysis and analogical interpretation. Second, this work makes a major contribution to the literature on the expansive interaction spheres and fluid boundaries between the US Southwest, Mesoamerica, and south Texas. Finally, it provides a solid model for the interpretation of visual imagery from societies without alphabetic writing and especially for the study of Mesoamerican and Native American art.”
Carolyn Tate, Texas Tech University, author of Reconsidering Olmec Visual Culture: The Unborn, Women, and Creation