Prehistoric religion

Prehistoric religions are the religious beliefs and practices of prehistoric peoples. The term may cover Paleolithic religion, Mesolithic religion, Neolithic religion and Bronze Age religions.

History of religions
founding figures

Comparative religion
Neurotheology / God gene

Ancient Near East
 · Ancient Egypt
 · Semitic
 · Vedic Hinduism
 · Greco-Roman
 · Celtic  · Germanic
Axial Age
 · Vedanta  · Śramaṇa
 · Dharma  · Tao
 · Hellenism
 · Monism  · Dualism
 · Monotheism
Dharmaization (Hindu-Buddhist Indianization)
Renaissance · Reformation
Age of Reason
New religious movements
 · Great Awakening
 · Fundamentalism
 · New Age

 · Judaism
 · Christianity
 · Islam
 · Bahá'í Faith
 · Hinduism
 · Buddhism
 · Jainism
 · Sikhism
Far Eastern
 · Taoism
 · Confucianism
 · Shinto
 · Wicca


Intentional burial, 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".[1]

Gabillou Sorcier
Picture of a half-animal half-human being in a Paleolithic cave painting in Dordogne, France which archeologists believe may provide evidence for early shamanic practices

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.[2][3] 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.[4]

Animal worship during the Upper Paleolithic intertwined with hunting rites.[4] 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 arrows, 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.[4]


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 systems Neolithic societies may have possessed are glimpsed from archaeology.

Jacques Cauvin 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.[5] His work suggested important concepts in the evolution of human thinking, by examining figurines and early art depicting first women as goddesses and bulls as gods, he suggested several important ideas about the evolution of perception and duality.[6]

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 solstices, 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.

Marija Gimbutas, 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.[7]

Malta Hal Tarxien BW 2011-10-04 12-42-08

Remains of a statue in the Tarxien Temples c. 2800 BCE

Malta 16 Mnajdra

A detail from the Megalithic temple of Mnajdra c. 2800 BCE


According to Gimbutas: Hourglass Neolithic Goddess with Bird arm, from Cucuteni culture 5000-3500 BCE


According to Gimbutas, a Cucuteni culture Goddess representation; around 4900-4750 BCE


Goddess representation 3800-3600 BCE, Cucuteni Culture


Goddess council around 4900-4750 BCE

Trypillian house

A clay model considered by some historians to be a sanctuary; Cucuteni–Trypillia culture


Bull representation, having a ritualistic role according to Gimbutas

Bronze Age


The early Bronze Age Proto-Indo-European religion (itself reconstructed), 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 barges, frequent appearance of the Sun cross, deposits of bronze axes, and later sickles, so-called moon idols, the conical golden hats, the Nebra skydisk, and burial in tumuli, but also cremation as practised by the Urnfield culture.

The Avanton Gold Cone, c. 1500-1250 BCE (Avanton, France).


"Fire dogs", dating to the 11th to 9th centuries BCE, found in the Canton of Zurich, Switzerland, kept at the Swiss National Museum


"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


The Trundholm sun chariot, Nordic Bronze Age, c. 1400 BCE (Denmark).

Iron Age

While the Iron Age religions of the Mediterranean, Near East, India and China 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.

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.

See also


  1. ^ Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe, "Women in the Stone Age," in the essay "The Venus of Willendorf" (accessed March 13, 2008).


  1. ^ Uniquely Human. 1991. ISBN 0-674-92183-6.
  2. ^ World's Oldest Ritual Discovered -- Worshipped The Python 70,000 Years Ago The 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
  3. ^ Robbins, Lawrence H.; Alec C. Campbell; George A. Brook; Michael L. Murphy (June 2007). "World's Oldest Ritual Site? The "Python Cave" at Tsodilo Hills World Heritage Site, Botswana" (PDF). NYAME AKUMA, the Bulletin of the Society of Africanist Archaeologists (67). Archived from the original (PDF) on 28 September 2011. Retrieved 1 December 2010.
  4. ^ a b c Karl J. Narr. "Prehistoric religion". Britannica online encyclopedia 2008. Retrieved 2008-03-28.
  5. ^ Olivier Aurenche, Jacques Cauvin et la préhistoire du Levant, Paléorient, Volume 27, Number 27-2, pp. 5-11, 2001.
  6. ^ Jacques Cauvin; Trevor Watkins (2000). The birth of the Gods and the origins of agriculture. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-65135-6. Retrieved 1 April 2011.
  7. ^ 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 Nelson, Sarah M (2004). Gender in archaeology: analyzing power and prestige. AltaMira Press. p. 132. ISBN 978-0-7591-0496-9.
Ancient religion

- Ancient religion may refer to

Paleolithic religion

Prehistoric religion

Bronze and Iron Age religion

Religions of the ancient Near East

Religion in ancient Rome

Ancient Egyptian religion

Historical Vedic religion

Ancient Greek religion

Bronze Age religion

Bronze Age religion may refer to:

Religions of the Ancient Near East

Sumerian religion

Assyro-Babylonian religion

Canaanite religion

Ancient Egyptian religion

Minoan religion

Hittite religion

Mycenaean religion

Rigvedic religion (the late Bronze Age to early Iron Age in India)

reconstructed (Eneolithic to Early Bronze Age) Proto-Indo-European religion

reconstructed Proto-Indo-Iranian religion

Bronze Age Europe, see Prehistoric religion#Bronze_Age_Europe

Celt (tool)

In archaeology, a celt is a long, thin, prehistoric, stone or bronze tool similar to an adze, a hoe or axe-like tool.

Cumberland point

A Cumberland point is a lithic projectile point, attached to a spear and used as a hunting tool. These sturdy points were intended for use as thrusting weapons and employed by various mid-Paleo-Indians (c. 11,000 BP) in the Southeastern US in the killing of large game mammals.

Evolutionary origin of religions

The evolutionary origin of religions and religious behavior is a field of study related to evolutionary psychology, the origin of language and mythology, and cross-cultural comparison of the anthropology of religion. Some subjects of interest include Neolithic religion, evidence for spirituality or cultic behavior in the Upper Paleolithic, and similarities in great ape behavior.

Feminist theology

Feminist theology is a movement found in several religions, including Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, and New Thought, to reconsider the traditions, practices, scriptures, and theologies of those religions from a feminist perspective. Some of the goals of feminist theology include increasing the role of women among the clergy and religious authorities, reinterpreting male-dominated imagery and language about God, determining women's place in relation to career and motherhood, and studying images of women in the religion's sacred texts and matriarchal religion.

Gary O. Rollefson

Gary O. Rollefson (born August 2, 1942) is an American Anthropologist. He has specialized on Near Eastern prehistoric archeology and prehistoric religion.

Grinding slab

In archaeology, a grinding slab is a ground stone artifact generally used to grind plant materials into usable size, though some slabs were used to shape other ground stone artifacts. Some grinding stones are portable; others are not and, in fact, may be part of a stone outcropping.

Grinding slabs used for plant processing typically acted as a coarse surface against which plant materials were ground using a portable hand stone, or mano ("hand" in Spanish). Variant grinding slabs are referred to as metates or querns, and have a ground-out bowl. Like all ground stone artifacts, grinding slabs are made of large-grained materials such as granite, basalt, or similar tool stones.

Historical Vedic religion

The historical Vedic religion (also known as Vedism, Brahmanism, Vedic Brahmanism, and ancient Hinduism) refers to the religious ideas and practices among Indo-Aryan-speaking peoples of ancient India after about 1500 BCE. These ideas and practices are found in the Vedic texts, and they were one of the major influences that shaped contemporary Hinduism. According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, in the Hindu tradition and particularly in India, the Vedic religion is considered to be a part of Hinduism.According to Heinrich von Stietencron, in the 19th century western publications, the Vedic religion was believed to be different from and unrelated to Hinduism. The Hindu religion was thought to be linked to the Hindu epics and the Puranas through sects based on Purohita, Tantras and Bhakti. In the 20th century, a better understanding of the Vedic religion, its shared heritage and theology with contemporary Hinduism, has led scholars to gradually encompass Brahmanism and the Vedic religion into "Hinduism". The Hindu reform movements and the Neo-Vedanta emphasized the Vedic heritage and "ancient Hinduism", and this term has been co-opted by some Hindus. Vedic religion is now generally accepted to be a predecessor of Hinduism, but they are not the same because the textual evidence suggests significant differences between the two.The Vedic religion is described in the Vedas and associated voluminous Vedic literature preserved into the modern times by the different priestly schools. The Vedic religion texts are cerebral, orderly and intellectual, but it is unclear if the theory in diverse Vedic texts actually reflect the folk practices, iconography and other practical aspects of the Vedic religion. The evidence suggests that the Vedic religion evolved in "two superficially contradictory directions", state Jamison and Witzel. One part evolved into ever more "elaborate, expensive, and specialized system of rituals", while another part questioned all of it and emphasized "abstraction and internalization of the principles underlying ritual and cosmic speculation" within oneself. Both of these traditions impacted Indic religions such as Buddhism and Jainism, and in particular Hinduism. The complex Vedic rituals of Śrauta continue to be practiced in Kerala and coastal Andhra.Some scholars consider the Vedic religion to have been a composite of the religions of the Indo-Aryans, "a syncretic mixture of old Central Asian, new Indo-European elements", which borrowed "distinctive religious beliefs and practices" from the Bactria–Margiana culture, and the remnants of the Harappan culture of the Indus Valley.


Isimud (also Isinu; Usmû; Usumu (Akkadian)) is a minor god, the messenger of the god Enki, in Sumerian mythology.In ancient Sumerian artwork, Isimud is easily identifiable because he is always depicted with two faces facing in opposite directions in a way that is similar to the ancient Roman god Janus.

Minoan religion

Minoan religion was the religion of the Bronze Age Minoan civilization of Crete. Modern scholars have reconstructed it almost totally on the basis of archaeological remains rather than texts. Minoan religion is considered to have been closely related to Near Eastern prehistoric religions, and its central deity is generally agreed to have been a goddess. Prominent Minoan sacred symbols include the bull and its horns of consecration, the labrys (double-headed axe), and the serpent.

Mother goddess

A mother goddess is a goddess who represents, or is a personification of nature, motherhood, fertility, creation, destruction or who embodies the bounty of the Earth. When equated with the Earth or the natural world, such goddesses are sometimes referred to as Mother Earth or as the Earth Mother.

There is difference of opinion between the academic and the popular conception of the term. The popular view is mainly driven by the Goddess movement and reads that primitive societies initially were matriarchal, worshipping a sovereign, nurturing, motherly earth goddess. This was based upon the nineteenth-century ideas of unilineal evolution of Johann Jakob Bachofen. According to the academic view, however, both Bachofen and the modern Goddess theories are a projection of contemporary world views on ancient myths, rather than attempting to understand the mentalité of that time. Often this is accompanied by a desire for a lost civilization from a bygone era that would have been just, peaceful and wise. However, it is highly unlikely that such a civilization ever existed.For a long time, feminist authors advocated that these peaceful, matriarchal agrarian societies were exterminated or subjugated by nomadic, patriarchal warrior tribes. An important contribution to this was that of archaeologist Marija Gimbutas. Her work in this field has been questioned. Also with feminist archaeologists this vision is nowadays considered highly controversial.Since the sixties of the twentieth century, especially in popular culture, the alleged worship of the mother goddess and the social position that women in prehistoric societies supposedly assumed, were linked. This made the debate a political one. According to the goddess movement, the current male-dominated society should return to the egalitarian matriarchy of earlier times. That this form of society ever existed was supposedly supported by many figurines that were found.

In academic circles, this prehistoric matriarchy is considered unlikely. Firstly, worshiping a mother goddess does not necessarily mean that women ruled society. In addition, the figurines can also portray ordinary women or goddesses, and it is unclear whether there really ever was a mother goddess.

Paleolithic religion

Paleolithic religions are a set of spiritual beliefs thought to have appeared during the Paleolithic time period. Paleoanthropologists Andre Leroi-Gourhan and Annette Michelson believe Religious behaviour 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.

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.

Pesse canoe

The Pesse canoe is believed to be the world's oldest known boat, and certainly the oldest known canoe. Carbon dating indicates that the boat was constructed during the early mesolithic period between 8040 BCE and 7510 BCE. It is now in the Drents Museum in Assen, Netherlands.

Religion and ritual of the Cucuteni–Trypillia culture

The study of religion and ritual of the Cucuteni-Trypillia culture has provided important insights into the early history of Europe. The Cucuteni-Trypillia culture, which existed in the present-day southeastern European nations of Moldova, Romania, and Ukraine during the Neolithic Age and Copper Age, from approximately 5500 BC to 2750 BC, left behind thousands of settlement ruins containing a wealth of archaeological artifacts attesting to their cultural and technological characteristics. Refer to the main article for a general description of this culture; this article deals with its religious and ritualistic aspects.

Some Cucuteni-Trypillia communities have been found that contain a special building located in the center of the settlement, which archaeologists have identified as sacred sanctuaries. Artifacts have been found inside these sanctuaries, some of them having been intentionally buried in the ground within the structure, that are clearly of a religious nature, and have provided insights into some of the beliefs, and perhaps some of the rituals and structure, of the members of this society. Additionally, artifacts of an apparent religious nature have also been found within many domestic Cucuteni-Trypillia homes.

Many of these artifacts are clay figurines or statues. Archaeologists have identified many of these as fetishes or totems, which are believed to be imbued with powers that can help and protect the people who look after them. These Cucuteni-Trypillia figurines have become known popularly as Goddesses, however, this is actually a misnomer from a scientific point of view. There have been so many of these so-called clay Goddesses discovered in Cucuteni-Trypillia sites that many museums in eastern Europe have a sizeable collection of them, and as a result, they have come to represent one of the more readily-identifiable visual markers of this culture to many people.

Sun cross

A sun cross, solar cross, or wheel cross is a solar symbol consisting of an equilateral cross inside a circle.

The design is frequently found in the symbolism of prehistoric cultures, particularly during the Neolithic to Bronze Age periods of European prehistory. The symbol's ubiquity and apparent importance in prehistoric religion have given rise to its interpretation as a solar symbol, whence the modern English term "sun cross" (a calque of German: Sonnenkreuz).

The same symbol is in use as a modern astronomical symbol representing the Earth rather than the Sun.

The symbol can be depicted using Unicode as U+1F728 🜨 ALCHEMICAL SYMBOL FOR VERDIGRIS. The characters U+2295 ⊕ CIRCLED PLUS and U+2A01 ⨁ N-ARY CIRCLED PLUS OPERATOR are similar in appearance but represent mathematical operators.

Traditional clothing of Kosovo

(see also: Albanian traditional clothing)

Traditional clothing (folk costume) is one of the factors that has differentiated this nation from neighboring countries, dating back as far as the Illyrian era.The evolution this attire has undergone, has been in service of modernization and contemporary style, however, the fundamental symbols and motives by which these garments are designed tend to resemble Illyrian antiquity. The materials and the traditional ways by which these clothes have been made throughout history have not changed much. The utilities which are used in the creation of these clothes are characteristically Kosovar, called vegjë or vek, which is a loom (resembling the English spinning jenny and flying shuttle). The methods of obtaining the materials and clothes have remained the same. The motifs and patterns on these garments can be explained by prehistoric religion. Triangles, rhombuses, circles and crosses occur frequently,and they are known as symbols of health and fertility. Chromatically, there are three main colors in these clothes, the most symbolic of which is red.


In archeology, a uniface is a specific type of stone tool that has been flaked on one surface only. There are two general classes of uniface tools: modified flakes—and formalized tools, which display deliberate, systematic modification of the marginal edges, evidently formed for a specific purpose.


Urreligion is a notion of an "original" or "oldest" form of religious tradition (ur- being a Germanic prefix for "original, primitive, elder, primeval, or proto-"). The term contrasts with organized religion, such as the theocracies of the early urban cultures of the Ancient Near East or current world religions.

The term originates in German Romanticism.

Historical polytheism
Myth and ritual
Modern pagan movements

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.