From anthropologist Barbara J. King at NPR:
Did Neanderthals engage in some way with the supernatural or the sacred?
Caution is required here. The bones and artifacts, after all, don’t clue us in to the meaning-making that went on in Neanderthal groups, and we can’t just overlay present customs onto the past.
Perhaps the Neanderthals simply wanted to bury their companions’ bodies in order to protect themselves from predators, or disease, or both.
Given their intelligence, it seems to me likely that the Neanderthals contemplated, in some way, the mysteries of life. More.
What does “religious” mean?
If a skyscraper’s basement shopping mall today got fossilized, would anyone know thousands of years hence if any of the interred were “religious”? Maybe, but how? Do we even agree on what we think “religious” involves?
In my mind, I am reading the next ScienceDaily release claiming that chimpanzees are “religious,” published on Christmas Eve of course. = A casuistical “study” showed that they recognize each others’ behinds in a mystical way? 😉
All we know for sure is this: Humans have perennially had a naturalistic religion, according to which gods, people, animals, plants, and inanimate objects are all the same, really. Anything can be anything else. Nature is all there is.
Within that frame, the beliefs of our ancestors or cousins are just signals in the noise.
What really made a difference in the world of religion was the advent of monotheism and/or the general idea that a divine order lies beyond nature that cannot by any means simply be appropriated and controlled – or even understood – by ourselves, simply to fulfill our own wishes.
See also: Imagine a world of religions that naturalism might indeed be able to explain
The search for our earliest ancestors: signals in the noise
Early human religion: A 747 built in the basement with an X-Acto knife
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