Candice Goucher, Washington State University, Vancouver
An example of the way that the big picture of world history yields insight into the patterns and processes of the past is the study of rock art. The evidence of early rock art — paintings and engravings — from Australia to Africa to the Americas shows a recurring pattern of cross-hatchings, spirals, and zig-zag lightning shapes. Archaeologists suspect that these designs all conform to the visual imprint from something called phosphenes — which are chemicals produced in the human brain during trance experiences. This has led some archaeologists to interpret the figures that are part-human and part-animal to be the recorded journeys of shamans because the strange anthropomorphic figures are associated with the universal symbols and shapes of phosphenes.
Through the record of trance, we can document some of the earliest spiritual longings — those that extend beyond the realm of the physical body, and the material world we can see around us. Ancients in most world communities sought understandings of themselves in a larger context. In a way constructing history is also about making meaning out of a largely unseen world. Like world historians today, the ancients sought to connect with the unseen — creating invisible threads of continuity and meaning that wove together their present and past.