BEGINNING OF RELIGION

in Numen
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Abstract

In the last two decades, the study of Palaeolithic religion has come to be of increasing concern to both scholars of the history of religion and archaeologists. In this paper the appropriateness of some recent views in the interpretation of the archaeological findings is re-evaluated. The conclusion of this study is that neither evidence of early ritual practises nor of belief in an afterlife can be endorsed. All relevant conceptions of that kind are either products of a certain mental climate at the time of the discovery of the fossils, or of ideologies. The results of palaeanthropological research prove that none of the early representatives of the genus Homo was capable of developing a complicated symbol system. Only in the middle Palaeolithic period Homo neanderthalensis had developed advanced intellectual abilities. But neither in connection with his hunting customs nor with his domestic activities can any traces of cult practice be found. Only the rare burials can be interpreted as a first sign of religious feelings. But there are no funeral rituals or funeral gifts. All assumptions that Neanderthal man already believed in an afterlife, are mere speculation. Theories of rituals during the lower and middle Palaeolithic belong to the realm of legend.

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