Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Some Marks of Prehistoric Religion

Alice C. Linsley

Humans have had an impulse to religious beliefs and rituals from the very beginning. This is evident from anthropological and archaeological studies of archaic populations. Such studies have given us a fairly good understanding of the general pattern of the religious life of early humans. These include rock shelters with shrines; ritual burial; observation of the stars and constellations, and symbolic communication through wall paintings and symbols such as T, X, O, V and Y. To the modern eye, these appear to be letters of the alphabet. However, these symbols once represented a complex of information helpful to early humans.

Rock Shelters

Archaic peoples lived in rock shelters for security. Later human populations lived at fortified mounds. Such shelters have been found virtually all over the Earth: Southern Africa, North and South American, the Pacific Islands, Australia, Siberia, parts of Europe, and parts of Asia.

The "high places" and fortified mounds are called "ophel" (Hebrew עֹ֫פֶל). The root of the word ophel is OP and pertains to a complex of interrelated ideas: seeing (optic); armed guards (opiltes); walled towns (oppida), and sun shrines (O'piru) served by a caste of priests known in the ancient world as Ha'piru, Ha'biru (Hebrew) and 'Apiru.

The oldest elevated settlements were near water sources. The oldest ophel in Jerusalem is near the Gihon Spring. Similar sites include Deir Tasi in Egypt; Jarmo in Iraq, and Tell Hassuna in Iraq. Of particular interest is the Paleolithic population that lived near the ravine or wadi known as Wadi-en-Natuf near Jerusalem. The Natufian population employed micro-flints, weapons, stone tools, and primitive agriculture. Artistic expressions included rock drawings and wall paintings, and they were sea travelers between 12,000 and 10,000 B.C. There are about 40 Paleolithic sites in the hills surrounding Jerusalem, many of them near Bethlehem. Surrounding Jerusalem, there are at least 28 Neolithic sites that fit the same description: elevated shelters near a water source.

Evidence of human habitation in the area of Bethlehem between 100,000-10,000 BC is well-attested along the north side of Wadi Khareitun where there are three caves: Iraq al-Ahmar, Umm Qal’a, and Umm Qatafa. These caves were homes in a wooded landscape overlooking a river. At Umm Qatafa archaeologists have found the earliest evidence of the domestic use of fire in Palestine.

Another word for these fortified shelters is kar. Karnak on the Nile and Carnak in Brittany are examples. In Dravidian car means "sheltered together" and kari refers to a river. In Manding kara means "to assemble."

Since the Kar were places of burnt offerings, the term is often associated with charcoal and soot. The Turkish kara means "black." In Magyar, korom refers to soot, as does the Korean word kurim. Among the Nilotic Luo, kar specifies a place with boundaries.

The kars of the archaic world were mainly circular. Ki-kar refers to a circle, as in Exodus 25:11: ki-kar za-hav ta-hor, meaning "circle of pure gold."

Many rock shelters (kar) have been identified in the Carpathian mountain range. The range is called Karpaty in Czech, Polish, and Slovak, and Карпати in Ukrainian, Carpați in Romanian, Karpaten in German, Kárpátok in Hungarian, Karpati in Serbian, and Карпати in Bulgarian. In Albanian, karpë means "rock."

Evidence of early rock shelters

In 2012, 44,000 year tools were recovered at Border Cave, a rock shelter in the Lebombo Mountains of South Africa.

This 77,000 year old red ocher stone with cross markings was found in the Blombos Cave of South Africa.

In 2008, a red ocher processing area was uncovered in the 100,000-year-old levels at Blombos Cave. Archaeologists also found two tool kits there. Counting devices have been found in this region also. They date between 43,000 and 80,000 years. 

There were tunnel mines 80,000 years ago in the Lebombo Mountains. This was the site of major mining operation. Stan Gooch reports:
"One of the largest sites evidenced the removal of a million kilos of ore. At another site half a million stone-digging tools were found, all showing considerable wear. All of the sites in fact produced thousands of tools and involved the removal of large quantities of ore; and while some were open quarries, others had true mining tunnels."
The world's oldest known mattress was unearthed in at the Sibudu Cave site in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The mattress consists of layers of reeds and rushes. Archaeologists found that bedding had accumulated in the cave over a period of 39,000 years, with the oldest mats dating to 77,000 years ago.

In the 1990's, archaeologists discovered this 70,000 year old python stone carved into the side of a mountain in an extremely secluded part of Botswana. The stone has over 300 indentations made by humans to give it the shape of a python. The python appears to have been a sacred symbol for the archaic humans who lived here, so this rock shelter also would have served as a shrine. There are two paintings on one wall of the cave.

Here are samples of 270 engraved eggshells that were excavated at Diepkloof Rock Shelter in South Africa. They date to 60,000 years.

Rock paintings of boats, fishing and cattle are found around the Sahara and date to the Late Holocene (African Humid Period) when the Sahara was wet and able to sustain large herds and larger human populations. 

The oldest shelters were at high elevations and also served as shrines where rulers and priests make offerings. Such shrine shelters were anciently called Tamana, a place name (toponym) that has been found in 188 countries and five continents. Over 1 million examples worldwide include Tamana-Irik, a village Gaulim in Papua New Guinea, Tamana Island in Micronesia, and the Tamana [ancient part] of the village of Palanka in Hungary. The word Tamana is a reference to the offerings made at the shrines. Votive offerings were called tama or tamata.

Artist rendering of an Iron Age oppidum
Many Tamana antedate the high places of Susa, Körös-Tisza, the Indus Valley, Mesopotamia, Egypt, and China. The term "tamana" means "stronghold" in the Manding language of Africa, the Magyar language of Hungary, and the Dravidian languages spoken in India.

Dr. Clyde Winters believes that the peoples who built the earliest Tamana belonged to an ancient confederation called Maa. Members of the Maa Confederation included the Magyar, ancient Egyptians, Elamites, Manding, Dravidians, and ancient Afro-Asiatic peoples. Winters believes that this explains the genetic and linguistic connections between these peoples. Dr Vámos Toth Bátor believes that these widely dispersed Tamana peoples were Proto-Saharans.

Humans continued to built fortresses at high elevations through the end of the Middle Ages.

Ritual Burial

Archaic human burial sites have been found around the world that date between 9,000 years and millions of years. Archaic human bones dating to millions of years have been found in many parts of Africa. Most recently, the Rising Star Expedition recovered the fossil remains of humans from a burial pit in South Africa. The 1500 bones and bone fragments represent at least 15 individuals. The adults were about 5 feet tall. There are many more human bones yet to be brought up and examined. There are numerous sets of bones from multiple individuals of different ages and sexes. The expedition leaders report that the bones/bodies were deposited over “some period of time.”

The bones of the 15 individuals were recovered from a chamber accessible through a narrow chute about a hundred yards from the entrance of the Rising Star Cave (Dinaledi). The cavern has only fine sediment and no evidence of water transport of material from any outside source. No stone tools, clothing or other artifacts have been found in this burial site. There are many more bones awaiting further excavation.

Parts of the skeletons resemble modern human anatomy while other skeletal remains resemble the australopiths, like Lucy. In other words, this burial pit contained the remains of people who ranged in appearance about as much as modern humans.

These individuals show a range of anatomical features and yet were buried in the same place. Some of the features are robust like modern humans and others exhibit the smaller structure of Lucy and the australopiths. This amazing find raises serious doubt about the Darwinian theory that apes and humans share a common ancestor.

The australopiths controlled fire and had butchering tools. They were ritually buried alongside the anatomically more modern humans, called Homo naledi.

This find is being presented as a "new branch" of homo, called Homo naledi. These researchers do not consider Lucy and her kin to be fully human, though there is much evidence to suggest so. They hang a great deal on the size of brain cavity, though this is not an indicator of complexity of thought. In this view, H. naledi is slightly more human than the A. australopithecine and slightly less human than modern humans. Again this is based on the size of the brain cavity. That of H. naledi is less than half that of the average modern human skull, but proportional to the rest of the body.

The cave burial of so many archaic humans suggests these people practiced ritual burial. Ritual burial is a religious practice.

In 2000, Paul Sereno discovered what appears to have been an ancient cemetery. His team later unearthed 10,000 year old skeletons at Gobero in Niger. These were buried on the edge of a paleolake on the northwestern rim of the Chad Basin. The Gobero site is the earliest known cemetery in the Sahara and the skeletons found there indicated that some were at least 6 feet tall.

Gobero skeleton (G3B8) measures 6 feet 6 inches
Photo Mike Hettwer, courtesy Project Exploration

The sun-baked dunes at Gobero preserved this Stone Age cemetery in the Sahara. Dr. Sereno’s group reported in the online journal PLoS One that this discovery opens “a new window on the funerary practices, distinctive skeletal anatomy, health and diet of early hunter-fisher-gatherers, who expanded into the Sahara when climatic conditions were favorable.”

At the time of the Gobero population (9700-4400 years ago), humans were living in Africa, Europe, Asia, and on many islands from Madagascar to the Philippines.

Burial in red ocher

H.B.S. Cooke discovered the body of a small boy buried with a seashell pendant and covered in red ocher. The body is dated between 46,000 and 80,000.

The "Fox Lady" of Doini Vestonice, Czechoslovakia, who was buried 23,000 years ago, was covered in red ocher.

A 20,000 year old burial site in Bavaria reveals a thirty-year-old man entirely surrounded by a pile of mammoth tusks and submerged in red ocher powder.

A man buried 45,000 years ago at La Chapelle-aux-Saints in southern France, was packed in red ocher.

The "Red Lady" of Paviland in Wales was buried in red ocher about 20,000 years ago. Her skeletal remains and burial artifacts are encrusted with the red ore.

The use of red ocher in burial was widespread in prehistoric times. The red ore symbolized blood, the substance of life. The earliest humans regarded themselves as blood-beings. That is the meaning of the word Adam (ha-dam = the blood). This is likely what stands behind the biblical expression "Life in in the blood."

Augustine of Hippo noted that the ancient Egyptians never practiced cremation, as in the religions that seek to escape physical existence. They believed in the resurrection of the body and awaited a deified king who would rise from the grave and deliver his people from death. That is why they took great care in the mummification and elaborate tomb construction for their kings.

On ancient Jewish ossuaries (bone boxes) the sun is shown as a 6-pointed star inside a circle (merkaba). This was the solar boat of the Creator, the vehicle of Light that would carry the dead to the place of rest. From that place they hoped to rise on the Last Day.

2000-year-old ossuary of Miriam, daughter of Y'shua
with two 6-prong solar images

During the Iron Age the mer-ka-ba was shown as a chariot. The chariot spokes within a circle represent the rays of the sun. It is likely that this image also appeared on the Ark of the Covenant. The Ethiopian Church preserved the practice of processional arks, called ta-bot. The Ethiopian ark is decorated with a central image of the 6-pointed star inside a circle.

The spokes inside an orb also represent the precession of the equinoxes at various angles. The precession was symbolized by X inside a circle (see below). This morphed into the Tau, which is used by Christians to represent the upright cross.

The precession cross and the merkaba are ancient cosmological images. They have been traced to the Horite temple at Heliopolis on the Nile. Heliopolis, called On in Genesis, was shown in Ancient Egyptian as NXN, with the X representing the Creator's presence at the sacred center. The O, T and X were all solar symbols and pertained to the universal rule of the Creator, whose emblem was the Sun.

Astronomical Observations

Early humans were very observant of the patterns in nature. They studied the stars and constellations and apparently kept track of their relative positions. By 4245 BC, the priests of the Upper Nile had already established a calendar based on the appearance of the binary star system Sirius that becomes visible to the naked eye once every 1,461 years. Apparently, Nilotes had been tracking this star and connecting it to seasonal changes for thousands of years. The Priest Manetho reported in his history (241 BC) that Nilotes had been “star-gazing” as early as 40,000 years ago. Plato, who studied for 13 years in Egypt, claimed that the Africans had been tracking the heavens for 10,000 years.

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