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1 - Palaeolithic art and religion

Jean Clottes
Affiliation:
Conservateur Général du Patrimoine, French Ministry of Culture
David Lewis-Williams
Affiliation:
Senior Mentor, The Rock Art Institute, University of the Witwatersrand
John R. Hinnells
Affiliation:
School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
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Summary

Introduction

Towards the end of the eighteenth century, Edmund Burke contemplated the essence of mankind: he wrote, ‘Man is by his constitution a religious animal.’ In the second half of the twentieth century, we have had other definitions: Man the Toolmaker and Man the Symbol-Maker, the second being a reworking of Burke's feeling that the defining trait of ‘man’ is in some way or other ‘spiritual’ or non-material. Whether one adopts a technological, a cognitive or a spiritual definition, the intertwined roots of ur-religion (the hypothetical ‘original’ religion), the beliefs and practices that preceded what we know today as ‘religion’, lie deep in prehistory.

The word ‘prehistory’ is generally applied to the extremely long period that stretches from the origins of humankind, about 3 million years or more ago, to the advent of writing. In some regions, such as the Middle East, writing led to profound social changes many thousands of years ago, while in other parts of the world the impact of writing was not felt until contact with European colonists, sometimes not until the nineteenth or even the beginning of the twentieth century. We are thus dealing with immense periods of time about which – in most cases – we know next to nothing. Unlike some other chapters in this book, this one can draw on neither inscriptions nor texts; nor can its writers question prehistoric people about their beliefs.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2007

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  • Palaeolithic art and religion
    • By Jean Clottes, Conservateur Général du Patrimoine, French Ministry of Culture, David Lewis-Williams, Senior Mentor, The Rock Art Institute, University of the Witwatersrand
  • Edited by John R. Hinnells, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
  • Book: A Handbook of Ancient Religions
  • Online publication: 05 June 2012
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511488429.002
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To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

  • Palaeolithic art and religion
    • By Jean Clottes, Conservateur Général du Patrimoine, French Ministry of Culture, David Lewis-Williams, Senior Mentor, The Rock Art Institute, University of the Witwatersrand
  • Edited by John R. Hinnells, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
  • Book: A Handbook of Ancient Religions
  • Online publication: 05 June 2012
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511488429.002
Available formats
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Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Palaeolithic art and religion
    • By Jean Clottes, Conservateur Général du Patrimoine, French Ministry of Culture, David Lewis-Williams, Senior Mentor, The Rock Art Institute, University of the Witwatersrand
  • Edited by John R. Hinnells, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
  • Book: A Handbook of Ancient Religions
  • Online publication: 05 June 2012
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511488429.002
Available formats
×