Prehistoric religions are the religious beliefs and practices
peoples. The term may cover Paleolithic religion
religion, Neolithic religion
and Bronze Age religions
, particularly with grave goods
, may be one of the earliest detectable forms of religious practice (the onset of burial itself being a canonical indicator of behavioral modernity
) since, as Philip Lieberman
suggests, it may signify a "concern for the dead that transcends daily life".
A number of archeologists propose that Middle Paleolithic societies such as Neanderthal
societies may also have practiced early forms of totemism
or of animal worship
. 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). A claim that evidence was found for Middle Paleolithic
animal worship c
70,000 BCE (originating from the Tsodilo Hills
in the African Kalahari desert) has been denied by the original investigators of the site.
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 Paleolithic art
and from bear remains reveals that the bear cult apparently had a type of sacrificial bear ceremonialism in which a bear was shot with arrow
s, then finished off with 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.
There are no extant textual sources from the Neolithic
era, the most recent available dating from the Bronze Age
, and therefore all statements about any belief system
s Neolithic societies may have possessed are glimpsed from archaeology.
suggested that the Neolithic Revolution
was influenced by an important theme he termed the "Revolution of the Symbols
", suggesting the birth of "religion" in the Neolithic. He argued that Neolithic humans were influenced by a change in thinking as much as changes in the environment and noted a series of stages in this process.
Jacques Cauvin et la préhistoire du Levant
Paléorient, Volume 27, Number 27-2, pp. 5-11, 2001.
His work suggested important concepts in the evolution of human thinking; by examining figurines and early art depicting women as goddesses and bulls as gods, he developed several important ideas about the evolution of perception and duality.
The structures known as Circular Enclosures
built in Central Europe during the 5th millennium BCE have been interpreted as serving a cultic function. In the case of the Goseck circle
, remains of human sacrifice
were found. Many of these structures had openings aligned with sunset and/or sunrise at the solstice
s, suggesting that they served as a means of maintaining a lunisolar calendar
. The construction of Megalithic
monuments in Europe also began in the 5th millennium, and continued throughout the Neolithic and in some areas well into the early Bronze Age.
, pioneer of feminist archaeology
, put forward a notion of a "woman-centered" society surrounding "goddess worship" in Neolithic Europe
. The Neolithic "matristic" cultures would have been replaced by patriarchy
only with the arrival of the Bronze Age
. Gimbutas' views on this matter do not have widespread support today.
[Archaeologist Sarah M. Nelson criticizes Gimbutas suggesting that she used the same techniques used in the past to disparage women but in this case to glorify them, and quotes another archaeologist, Pamela Russell, as saying "The archaeological evidence is, in some cases, distorted enough to make a careful prehistorian shudder". See ]
File:Malta Hal Tarxien BW 2011-10-04 12-42-08.JPG|Remains of a statue in the Tarxien Temples c. 2800 BCE
File:Malta 16 Mnajdra.jpg|A detail from the Megalithic temple of Mnajdra c. 2800 BCE
File:ReprezentareAntropomorpfa0000.JPG|According to Gimbutas: Hourglass Neolithic Goddess with Bird arm, from Cucuteni culture 5000-3500 BCE
File:SoborulZeitelorCucuteni.JPG|According to Gimbutas, a Cucuteni culture Goddess representation; around 4900-4750 BCE
File:CucuteniGoodess.JPG|Goddess representation 3800-3600 BCE, Cucuteni Culture
File:CucuteniGoddesonthestoove.JPG|Goddess council around 4900-4750 BCE
File:Trypillian house.jpg|A clay model considered by some historians to be a sanctuary; Cucuteni–Trypillia culture
File:CucuteniOmegaandbull.JPG|Bull representation, having a ritualistic role according to Gimbutas
The early Bronze Age Proto-Indo-European religion
), and the attested early Semitic gods
, are presumed continuations of certain traditions of the late Neolithic.
Bronze Age Europe
Hints to the religion of Bronze Age Europe
include images of solar barge
s, frequent appearance of the Sun cross
, deposits of bronze axe
s, and later sickle
s, so-called moon idol
s, the conical golden hat
s, the Nebra skydisk
, and burial in tumuli
, but also cremation
as practised by the Urnfield culture
File:Cône d'Avanton, musée des Antiquités Nationales.jpg|The Avanton Gold Cone, c. 1500-1250 BCE (Avanton, France).
File:Mondhoerner.jpg|"Fire dogs", dating to the 11th to 9th centuries BCE, found in the Canton of Zurich, Switzerland, kept at the Swiss National Museum
File:Radanhaenger-edited.jpg|"Wheel pendants", dating to the second half of the 2nd millennium BCE, found in Zürich, kept in the Swiss National Museum, showing the "sun cross" and variant shapes
File:Trundholm.jpg|The Trundholm sun chariot, Nordic Bronze Age, c. 1400 BCE (Denmark).
While the Iron Age
religions of the Mediterranean
, Near East
are well attested in written sources, much of Iron Age Europe
, from the period of about 700 BCE down to the Great Migrations
, falls within the prehistoric period. There are scarce accounts of non-Mediterranean religious customs in the records of Hellenistic and Roman era ethnography
*Mythology of the Turkic and Mongolian peoples
In the case of Circumpolar religion (Shamanism in Siberia
, Finnic mythology
), traditional African religions
, native American religions
and Pacific religions
, the prehistoric era mostly ends only with the Early Modern period
and European colonialism
. These traditions were often only first recorded in the context of Christianization
For these reasons, the interpretations and understanding of the Iron Age cult in Europe has to rely primarily on archaeological material.
*Anthropology of religion
*History of religions
*Religions of the ancient Near East
# Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe,Women in the Stone Age
" in the essay "The Venus of Willendorf" (accessed March 13, 2008).
Category:Anthropology of religion