Paleolithic religion


Paleolithic religion

The origin and early development of religion falls into the Paleolithic.

Religious behaviour had certainly emerged by the Upper Paleolithic, before 30,000 years ago at the latest, [ Andre Leroi-Gourhan and Annette Michelson, " The Religion of the Caves: Magic or Metaphysics?", October 37, The MIT Press, pp. 6-17. " [ cave art ] born 30,000 years before our era ... would appear to have developed simultaneously with the first explicit manifestations of concern with the supernatural." (p. 6)] but behavioral patterns such as burial rites that may be characterized as religious, or 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 "Homo sapiens". Religious behaviour combines ritual, spirituality, mythology and magical thinking or animism, aspects that may have separate histories of development during the Middle Paleolithic before combining into "religion proper" of behavioral modernity.

There are suggestions 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 are controversial and have limited support.

Lower Paleolithic

James Harrod and Vincent W. Fallio propose that spirituality arose in Pre-Paleolithic Hominidae or Early Lower Paleolithic (Oldowan) societies, based on the observation of "chimpanzee spirituality". [ [http://www.originsnet.org/mindold.html Oldowan Art, Religion, Symbols, Mind by James Harrod] ]

The lower paleolithic spans the period 2.5 million-300,000 years ago. This period predates the emergence of modern humans. The main human species during this time period include "Homo habilis", "Homo erectus" and "Homo heidelbergensis".

The established anthropological view holds that it is more probable that humankind first developed religious and spiritual beliefs during the Middle Paleolithic or Upper Paleolithic. [ [http://www.originsnet.org/aboutornet1.html About OriginsNet by James Harrod] ]

Middle Paleolithic

The Middle Paleolithic and the Middle Stone Age span the period 300,000-50,000 years ago. It is during this period that some of the earliest significant evidence of religious practices are found.Intentional burial, particularly with grave goods may be one of the earliest detectable forms of religious practice since, as for religious reasons.

Likewise a number of archeologists propose that Middle Paleolithic societies such as Neanderthal societies 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 Middle Paleolithic Neanderthal bear cult existed (Wunn, 2000, p. 434-435). Additional evidence in support of Middle Paleolithic animal worship originates from the Tsodilo Hills (c 70,000BCE) in the African Kalahari desert where a giant rock resembling a python that is accompanied by large amounts of colored broken spear points and a secret chamber has been discovered inside a cave. The Broken spear points were most likely sacrificial offerings and the python is also important to and worshipped by contemporary Bushmen Hunter-gatherers who are the descendants of the people who devised the ritual at the Tsodilo Hills and may have inherited their worship of the python from their distant Middle Paleolithic ancestors. [World's Oldest Ritual Discovered -- Worshipped The Python 70,000 Years AgoThe Research Council of Norway (2006, November 30). World's Oldest Ritual Discovered -- Worshipped The Python 70,000 Years Ago. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 2, 2008, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2006/11/061130081347.htm] 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.cite web |url=http://concise.britannica.com/oscar/print?articleId=109434&fullArticle=true&tocId=52333 |author=Karl J. Narr |title=Prehistoric religion |accessdate=2008-03-28 |work=Britannica online encyclopedia 2008 ] Animal worship during the Upper Paleolithic was intertwined with hunting rites.cite web |url=http://concise.britannica.com/oscar/print?articleId=109434&fullArticle=true&tocId=52333 |author=Karl J. Narr |title=Prehistoric religion |accessdate=2008-03-28 |work=Britannica online encyclopedia 2008 ] 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.cite web |url=http://concise.britannica.com/oscar/print?articleId=109434&fullArticle=true&tocId=52333 |author=Karl J. Narr |title=Prehistoric religion |accessdate=2008-03-28 |work=Britannica online encyclopedia 2008 ]

The earliest undisputed human burial dates back 90,000 years. Human skeletal remains stained with red ochre were discovered in the Skhul cave at 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. [http://books.google.com/books?id=3tS2MULo5rYC&pg=PA163&dq=Uniquely+Human++qafzeh&ei=F-AeR_ntI5WGpgLkrsWzBg&sig=k7GcMq8PU_B6tX56Cf95ENxmJIQ Uniquely Human page 163] ] It may be that the anatomically modern human emigrants from Africa inhabiting the Middle East during that time, as opposed to the Neanderthals, 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 only symbolic value. [http://www2.selu.edu/Academics/Faculty/mrossano/recentpubs/EvolOfReligionFinal.pdf The Religious Mind and the Evolution of Religion] ] [ [http://www.anth.uconn.edu/faculty/mcbrearty/Pdf/McB%202003%20CA%20Comment%20on%20Hovers.pdf An early case of color symbolism] ] [ [http://www.anth.uconn.edu/faculty/sosis/publications/ritualalcortasosis5.pdf Ritual, Emotion, and Sacred Symbols: The Evolution of Religion as an Adaptive Complex] ] These findings have led researchers like Lieberman to believe that the religious mind has been in existence for at least 100,000 years.

Upper Paleolithic

Other scholars believe that religion only appeared around 50,000 years ago during the transition from the middle to the Upper Paleolithic. Increasing evidence of burial with grave goods and the appearance of anthropomorphic images and cave paintings may suggest that humans in the Upper Paleolithic were the first to believe in supernatural beings.cite book| authorlink=Steve Mithen|isbn=0-500-05081-3| title=The Prehistory of the Mind: The Cognitive Origins of Art, Religion and Science| year=1996| publisher=Thames & Hudson] Additionally it is also possible that Upper Paleolithic religions like contemporary and historical Animistic and Polytheistic religions believed in the existence of a single creator deity in addition to other supernatural beings such as Animistic spirits. [cite book |title=From earth spirits to sky gods Socioecological Origins of Monotheism|last= Lerro |first=Bruce |url=http://books.google.com/books?id=qs5RqLdx1HgC&pg=PA17&vq=Paleolithic&source=gbs_search_r&cad=0_2&sig=L5zGzwZukHYfyvJ5VnR0i5kx8Sk#PPA17,M1 |year=2000 |publisher=Lexington press |location= Lanham MD |isbn=073910098X |pages=327 pages 17-20] The cave paintings of Chauvet have been dated to 32,000 and those at Lascaux have been dated 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 suggested that these are indications of shaministic beliefs.Fact|date=December 2007 The earliest known undisputed burial of a shaman dates back to the early Upper Paleolithic era (c. 30,000 BC) in what is now the Czech Republic [Tedlock, Barbara. 2005. The Woman in the Shaman's Body: Reclaiming the Feminine in Religion and Medicine. New York: Bantam.] howbeit, 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. [ [http://books.google.com/books?id=MKhe6qNva10C&q=paleolithic+society&dq=paleolithic+society&pgis=1 Stavrianos, pg 10] ] The earliest known Paleolithic shaman(c. 30,000 BC) was female. [Tedlock, Barbara. 2005. The Woman in the Shaman's Body: Reclaiming the Feminine in Religion and Medicine. New York: Bantam.] Additionally it is also possible that Upper Paleolithic religions like contemporary and historical Animistic and Polytheistic religions believed in the existence of a single creator deity in addition to other supernatural beings such as Animistic spirits. [cite book |title=From earth spirits to sky gods Socioecological Origins of Monotheism|last= Lerro |first=Bruce |url=http://books.google.com/books?id=qs5RqLdx1HgC&pg=PA17&vq=Paleolithic&source=gbs_search_r&cad=0_2&sig=L5zGzwZukHYfyvJ5VnR0i5kx8Sk#PPA17,M1 |year=2000 |publisher=Lexington Press |location= Lanham MD |isbn=073910098X |pages=327 pages 17–20]

Vincent W. Fallio writes that Ancestor cults first emerged in complex Upper Paleolithic societies. Vincent W. Fallio argues that the elites of complex Upper Paleolithic societies (like the elites of many more 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.cite book | author=Vincent W. Fallio |url=http://books.google.com/books?id=-kJHI9MdxNwC&pg=PA108&dq=Paleolithic+religions&lr=&sig=X1sptLBNugPV4n72XEUx-tmJ1Js#PPA109,M1 | title=New Developments in Consciousness Research| location=New York, United States | publisher=Nova Publishers| year=2006 | id=ISBN:1600212476 [http://books.google.com/books?id=-kJHI9MdxNwC&pg=PA108&dq=Paleolithic+religions&lr=&sig=X1sptLBNugPV4n72XEUx-tmJ1Js#PPA98,M1 Pages 98 to 109] ] 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.cite book | author=Vincent W. Fallio |url=http://books.google.com/books?id=-kJHI9MdxNwC&pg=PA108&dq=Paleolithic+religions&lr=&sig=X1sptLBNugPV4n72XEUx-tmJ1Js#PPA109,M1 | title=New Developments in Consciousness Research| location=New York, United States | publisher=Nova Publishers| year=2006 | id=ISBN:1600212476 [http://books.google.com/books?id=-kJHI9MdxNwC&pg=PA108&dq=Paleolithic+religions&lr=&sig=X1sptLBNugPV4n72XEUx-tmJ1Js#PPA98,M1 Pages 98 to 109] ]

Religion was often apotropaic; specifically, it involved sympathetic magic.cite book |title= |last=Miller |first=Barbra |coauthors=Bernard Wood, Andrew Balansky, Julio Mercader, Melissa Panger |year=2006 |publisher=Allyn and Bacon |location=Boston Massachusetts |isbn= 0205320244 | pages= 768 ] The Venus figurines which are abundant in the Upper Paleolithic archeological record provide an example of Paleolithic sympathetic magic, as they may have been used for ensuring success in hunting and to bring about fertility of the land and women.cite book | author=McClellan|url=http://books.google.com/books?id=aJgp94zNwNQC&printsec=frontcover#PPA11 | title=Science and Technology in World History: An Introduction| location=Baltimore, Maryland | publisher=JHU Press
year=2006 | id=ISBN 0801883601
[http://books.google.com/books?id=aJgp94zNwNQC&printsec=frontcover#PPA8 Page 8-12 ] ] The Upper Paleolithic Venus figurines have been sometimes explained as depictions of an earth goddess similar to Gaia or as representations of a goddess who is the ruler or mother of the animals.cite web |url=http://concise.britannica.com/oscar/print?articleId=109434&fullArticle=true&tocId=52333 |author=Karl J. Narr |title=Prehistoric religion |accessdate=2008-03-28 |work=Britannica online encyclopedia 2008 ] [Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe, " [http://witcombe.sbc.edu/willendorf/willendorfwomen.html Women in the Stone Age] ," in the essay "The Venus of Willendorf" (accessed March 13, 2008)] Additionally, they have described by James Harrod as representative of female (and male) shamanistic spiritual transformation processes. [ [http://www.originsnet.org/mindup.html Upper Paleolithic Art, Religion, Symbols, Mind By James Harrod] ]

Timeline

*300,000- first (disputed) evidence of intentional burial of the dead. Sites such as at Atapuerca in Spain, bones of over 32 individuals are found in pit within a cave [http://www.britarch.ac.uk/BA/ba66/feat1.shtml When Burial Begins] ] .
*130,000 ya, - Earliest undisputed evidence for intentional burial. Neanderthals are burying their dead at sites such as Krapina in Croatia.
*100,000 ya- The oldest ritual burial of modern humans is thought to be from a Qafzeh in Israel. There is 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. [ [http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/permanent/humanorigins/history/arrival.php Museum of Natural History article on human human evolution] ] [http://www.arcl.ed.ac.uk/arch/watkins/banea_2001_mk3.pdf The beginning of religion at the beginning of the neolithic] ]
*100,000 to 50,000 ya- Increased use of red ochre at several Middle Stone Age sites. Red Ochre is thought to have played an important role in ritual.
*70,000- traces of worship of the python discovered in the Ngamiland region of Botswana. [ [http://www.apollon.uio.no/vis/art/2006_4/Artikler/python_english3 World’s oldest ritual discovered. Worshipped the python 70,000 years ago] ]
*50,000- Humans have evolved the traits associated with modern human behavior. Much of the evidence is from Late Stone Age sites in Africa. Modern human behavior includes abilities such as modern language, abstract thought, symbolism and religion.
*42,000 ya- Ritual burial of Man at Lake Mungo in Australia. The body is sprinkled with copious amounts of red ochre. this is seen as evidence that the Australians had brought along with them religious rituals from Africa.
*40,000 ya-Upper Paleolithic begins in Europe. There is an abundance of fossil evidence including 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 ya-Earliest known burial of a shaman. [Tedlock, Barbara. 2005. The Woman in the Shaman's Body: Reclaiming the Feminine in Religion and Medicine. New York: Bantam.]
*11,000 ya- The Neolithic Revolution begins.

ee also

*Prehistoric religion
*Evolutionary psychology of religion
*Anthropology of religion
*Behavioral modernity
*Grave field

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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