Paleolithic religion | Wikipedia audio article


Paleolithic religions are a set of spiritual
beliefs thought to have appeared during the Paleolithic time period. Religious behaviour is thought to have emerged
by the Upper Paleolithic, before 30,000 years ago at the latest, but behavioral patterns
such as burial rites that one might characterize as religious — or as ancestral to religious
behaviour — reach back into the Middle Paleolithic, as early as 300,000 years ago, coinciding
with the first appearance of Homo neanderthalensis and possibly Homo naledi. It is speculated that religious behaviour
may combine (for example) ritual, spirituality, mythology and magical thinking or animism
— aspects that may have had separate histories of development during the Middle Paleolithic
before combining into “religion proper” of behavioral modernity.There are suggested cases
for the first appearance of religious or spiritual experience in the Lower Paleolithic (significantly
earlier than 300,000 years ago, pre-Homo sapiens), but these remain controversial and have limited
support.==Middle Paleolithic==The Middle Paleolithic spans the period from
300,000 to 50,000 years ago. Some of the earliest significant evidence
of religious practices dates from this period. Intentional burial, particularly with grave
goods may be one of the earliest detectable forms of religious practice since, as Philip
Lieberman suggests, it may signify a “concern for the dead that transcends daily life.”Though
disputed, evidence suggests that the Neanderthals were the first humans to intentionally bury
the dead, doing so in shallow graves along with stone tools and animal bones. Exemplary sites include Shanidar in Iraq,
Kebara Cave in Israel and Krapina in Croatia. Some scholars, however argue that these bodies
may have been disposed of for secular reasons. Cut marks on Neanderthal bones from various
sites such as Combe-Grenal and Abri Moula in France may imply that the Neanderthals
may have practiced excarnation. Likewise a number of archeologists propose
that Middle Paleolithic societies — such as that of the Neanderthals — may also have
practiced the earliest form of totemism or animal worship in addition to their (presumably
religious) burial of the dead. Emil Bächler in particular suggests (based
on archeological evidence from Middle Paleolithic caves) that a widespread Neanderthal bear-cult
existed. Animal cults in the following Upper Paleolithic
period — such as the bear cult — may have had their origins in these hypothetical Middle
Paleolithic animal cults. Animal worship during the Upper Paleolithic
intertwined with hunting rites. For instance, archeological evidence from
art and bear remains reveals that the bear cult apparently had involved a type of sacrificial
bear ceremonialism in which a bear was shot with arrows and then was finished off by a
shot in the lungs and ritualistically buried near a clay bear statue covered by a bear
fur, with the skull and the body of the bear buried separately.The earliest undisputed
human burial dates back 100,000 years. Human skeletal remains stained with red ochre
were discovered in the Skhul cave and Qafzeh, Israel. A variety of grave goods were present at the
site, including the mandible of a wild boar in the arms of one of the skeletons. The anatomically modern human (as opposed
to the Neanderthals) inhabitants of the Near East during that time, may have invented this
form of ritualized burial practice. Middle stone age sites in Africa dating to
around the same time-frame also show an increased use of red ochre, a pigment thought to have
symbolic value.==Upper Paleolithic==Religious behaviour is one of the hallmarks
of behavioral modernity, generally assumed to have emerged around 50,000 years ago, marking
the transition from the middle to the Upper Paleolithic. It was probably more common during the early
Upper Paleolithic for religious ceremonies to receive equal and full participation from
all members of the band in contrast to the religious traditions of later periods when
religious authorities and part-time ritual specialists such as shamans, priests and medicine
men were relatively common and integral to religious life.Evidence of burial with grave
goods and the appearance of anthropomorphic images and cave paintings may suggest that
humans in the Upper Paleolithic had begun to believe in supernatural beings. The cave paintings of Chauvet have been dated
to 32,000 and those at Lascaux to 17,000 years ago. At Lascaux the anthropomorphic paintings show
depictions of strange beasts such as ones that are half-human and half-bird and half-human
and half-lion. Consequently, some have seen these as indications
of shamanistic beliefs.Vincent W. Fallio writes that ancestor cults first emerged in complex
Upper Paleolithic societies. Fallio argues that the elites of complex Upper
Paleolithic societies (like the elites of many contemporary complex hunter-gatherers
such as the Tlingit) may have used special rituals and ancestor worship to solidify control
over their societies by convincing their subjects that they possess a link to the spirit world
that gives them control over both the earthly realm and access to the spiritual realm. Secret societies may have served a similar
function in these complex quasi-theocratic societies by dividing the religious practices
of these cultures into the separate spheres of popular religion and elite religion.Religion
was often apotropaic; specifically, it involved sympathetic magic. The Venus figurines — which occur abundantly
in the Upper Paleolithic archeological record — provide an example of Paleolithic sympathetic
magic: people may have used them for ensuring success in hunting and to bring about fertility
of the land and women. Scholars have sometimes explained the Upper
Paleolithic Venus figurines as depictions of an earth goddess similar to Gaia or as
representations of a goddess who is the ruler or mother of the animals. James Harrod has described them as representative
of female (and male) shamanistic spiritual transformation processes.==Timeline==
300,000 years ago – first (disputed) evidence of intentional burial of the dead. Sites such as Atapuerca in Spain, which has
bones of over 32 individuals in a pit within a cave. 130,000 years ago – Earliest undisputed
evidence for intentional burial. Neanderthals bury their dead at sites such
as Krapina in Croatia. 100,000 years ago – The oldest known ritual
burial of modern humans at Qafzeh in Israel: a double burial of what is thought to be a
mother and child. The bones have been stained with red ochre. By 100,000 years ago anatomically modern humans
migrated to the middle east from Africa. However the fossil record of these humans
ends after 100kya, leading scholars to believe that population either died out or returned
to Africa. 100,000 to 50,000 years ago – Increased
use of red ochre at several Middle Stone Age sites in Africa. Red Ochre is thought to have played an important
role in ritual. 42,000 years ago – Ritual burial of a man
at Lake Mungo in Australia. The body is sprinkled with a significant amount
of red ochre. 40,000 years ago – Upper Paleolithic begins
in Europe. An abundance of fossil evidence includes elaborate
burials of the dead, Venus figurines and cave art. Venus figurines are thought to represent fertility
goddesses. The cave paintings at Chauvet and Lascaux
are believed to represent religious thought. 30,000 years ago – Earliest known burial
of a shaman. 11,000 years ago – The Neolithic Revolution
begins.==See also==
Anthropology of religion Behavioral modernity
Evolutionary psychology of religion Grave field
Mother Goddess Prehistoric religion==References====
Literature==D. Bruce Dickson, The Dawn of Belief: Religion
in the Upper Paleolithic of Southwestern Europe (1990), ISBN 978-0-8165-1336-9.

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