Image of God:Magic among the Neandertals and other tales

Glenn R. Morton (
Mon, 25 May 1998 19:58:36 -0500

At 12:35 PM 5/25/98 -0400, Jim Bell wrote:
>Great point! In all of the debate raging about the humanity (or not) of
>Neanderthal, the issue clearly is the definition of humanity. Glenn and
>others point to evidence of Neanderthal's reflective consciousness (e.g.,
>burial sites) or "art" (such as it is) as, perforce, evidence of humanity.
>This, however, may be based on an erroneous definition of "humanity." If
>so, the house of cards crumbles.

Lets point to Neanderthal religious sites. Most of these are covered in my
book but I will cite the primary literature. I am reading an interesting
textbook, I ran across the following which was discussing the liabilities
of hunting and the capriciousness of the results. Campbell and Loy relate
two cases:

"Before this era, these various liabilities had probably been regarded as
largely beyond human control. But the Neandertals apparently attempted to
manipulate the hidden forces of their universe that controlled success and
failure in the hunt: they seem to have practiced hunting magic. One clue
to their efforts comes from the Grotto della Basua (Cave of Witches) west
of Genoa, Italy. In the depths of the cave, almost 1,500 ft (450 m) from
the entrance, Neandertal hunters threw pellets of clay at a stalagmite that
to this day has a vaguely animal shape. The inconvenient location of the
stalagmite rules out the possibility that this was merely a game or a kind
of target practice. The fact that the Neandertal hunters went so far back
into the farthest reaches of the cave to throw the pellets suggests that
this activity had a magical meaning of some kind.
"In 1970 Ralph Solecki discovered apparent evidence of a deer ceremony at
a cave in Lebanon. Here about 50,000 years ago a fallow deer was
dismembered, and the meat placed on a bed of stones and sprinkled with red
ochre . The natural pigment was almost certainly intended as a symbol of
blood-the blood of the earth, in a sense. The rite seems to represent a
ritualistic or magical attempt to control life and death in the deer
kingdom."" ~ Bernard G. Campbell and James D. Loy, Humankind Emerging, (New
York: HarperCollins, 1996), p. 440-441

Of this Lebanese site, Nahr Ibrahim, Marshack states:

"In the Mousterian cave shelter of Nahr Ibrahim in Lebanon the bones of a
fallow deer (Dama mesopotamia) were gathered in a pile and topped by the
skull cap. Many of the bones were unbroken and still articulated. Around
the animal were bits of red ochre. While red ochre was common in the area
and so may have been introduced inadvertently, the arrangement of the
largely unbroken bones suggests a ritual use of parts of the animal." ~
Alexander Marshack, "Early Hominid Symbol and Evolution of the Human
Capacity," in Paul Mellars, The Emergence of Modern Humans, (Ithica:
Cornell Univ. Press, 1990), pp 457-498, p. 481

And the ochre was brought in from somewhere else (Ralph S. Solecki, "A
Ritual Middle Palaeolithic Deer Burial at Nahr Ibrahim Cave, Lebanon,"
Archeologie au Levant, Recueil R. Saidah, CMO 12, Arch. 9, Lyon, 1982, pp
47-56, p. 55).

Neanderthals also appear to have sacrificed a bear deep inside a dark cave
at Bruniquel France nearly 50,000 years ago. Archaeologists discovered a 13
x 16 ft square structure deep in the cave. In the middle of it was a burnt
bear bone. (Mark Berkowitz, "Neandertal News," Archaeology, Sept./Oct.
1996, p. 22) Bednarik reports:

"The cave of Bruniquel in southern France has just produced fascinating
new evidence. Several hundred metres in from the cave entrance, a stone
structure has been discovered. It is quadrilineal, measures four by five
metres and has been constructed from pieces of stalagmite and stalactite.
A burnt fragment of a bear bone found in it was radiocarbon analysed,
yielding a 'date' of greater than 47 600 years BP. This suggests that the
structure is the work of Neanderthals. It is located in complete darkness,
which proves that the people who ventured so deep into the large cave
system had reliable lighting and had the confidence to explore such depths.
Bruniquel is one of several French caves that became closed subsequent to
their Pleistocene use, but were artifically opened this century." ~ Robert
G. Bednarick, "Neanderthal News," The Artefact 1996, 19:104

Science Magazine wrote:
"Because they were found so deep in the cave, there is no question that
the burns on these bones are the result of human activity, says Helene
Valladas of the Center for Weak Radioactivity near Paris, who performed the
radiocarbon dating. As for the date, Valladas says that her estimate of
47,600 years represents only a lower limit. 'It could be much older,' she
told Science.
"Eitherway, it is far older than the cave paintings that up to now have
provided the earliest evidence of human activity deep inside caves, says
Rouzaud. The oldest known cave paintings, found in the Grotte Chauvet in
southern France, were recently dated at 31,000 years. The Bruiquel cave,
he says, 'shows that prehistoric men frequented the deep underground world,
in total darkness, long before they began to paint on cave walls."
"But they could not have done so without a sophisticated use of fire, says
Randall White, a paleolithic archaeologist at New York University. "It
would have been hard for them to find their way' in the total darkness, he
says. 'They would have needed to use fire, torches, lamps, some sort of
portable light'--techniques considerably more advanced than those usually
credited to Neandertals, who 'have usually been considered to have had an
extremely rudimentary mastery of fire,' White says. Coppens adds that the
discovery of such a complex artificial structure deep underground may also
bear on the question of Neandertals' language abilities. To coordinate
their work, he says, its buidlers would have needed to communicate." ~
Michael Balter, "Cave Structure Boosts Neandertal Image", Science,
271(January 1996), p. 449

Lastly, of the Neandertals, there is Drachenloch cave. The most recent
discussion of this I have found is in Bernard G. Campbell and James D. Loy,
Humankind Emerging, (New York: HarperCollins, 1996), p. 441 But I will skip
that. Coles and Higgs write:

"In high-level caves of Switzerland, Bavaria and Croatia, evidence exists
of a cult of bears involving the deposition of bear skulls and bones in
certain caves...In a chamber of the Drachenloch in Switzerland, a stone
cist had been built to house stacked bear-skulls: piles of sorted long
bones were laid along the walls of the cave. Another heap of bones
contained the skull of a bear through which a leg bone had been forced, the
skull resting upon two other long bones, each bone was from a different
beast."J.M. Coles and E. S. Higgs, The Archaeology of Early Man, (New York:
Frederick A. Praeger, 1969), p. 286-287, cited by Lewis Binford, Bones:
Ancient Men and Modern Myths, (New York: Academic Press, 1981), p. 10

This site is above the tree-line. And the wood had to have been carried
there. All of the bearskulls found lacked lower jaws. (Ivars Lissner, Man,
God and Magic, (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1961), p. 184) Bachler
found ashes and what appears to be an altar. He actually wrote that it was
a sacrificial altar. Lissner reports:

"How did Neanderthal man reach these altitudes, what induced him to brave
the hardships and dangers involved in such an ascent, and why did he
transport such large quantities of bear bones onto the solitude of the
mountains? Why were fragments of cave bears's skulls piled so neatly on
top of one another, and why were the outer edges of the bone cups so highly
polished, as though they had been worn away by generation after generation
of human hands? Were they neanderthal man's drinking vessels? What was he
looking for so far above the treeline when he could only have visited these
caves in spring or used them as a hunting base in the summer?
"In the Drachenloch, beneath the entrance leading from the first chamber
into the second, Bachler came upon a layer of coal-black material
containing ash and the remains of burnt wood. In the center of this hearth
he found a quantity of small bones and stone fragments, some charred and
others only scorched. The earth beneath the fireplace had been reduced to
red, powdery dust. Examination of the carbonized remains revealed that
Neanderthal man had used pinewood as kindling. Apart from this open
hearth, a fire pit was discovered in the entrance leading from Cave II to
Cave III. This was covered by a flat stone slab about eighteen inches
square. Perhaps seventy thousand years old, the hearthstone's reverse side
was stained with smoke, and the fire pit beneath it contained ash, the
remains of charred wood, and burnt bones. Having explored different
possibilities of making fire in the Drachenloch, Bachler established that
smoke was carried away most effectively when the fires were kindled beneath
the entrance to the various chambers.
"Close by the fire pit was the 'bone altar' on which lay the cave bear's
skull with the femur through the aperture in its cheekbone. Emil Bachler
explicitly used the term 'bone-altar,' and it would appear that fire pit
and place of sacrifice were in some way connected."
"The Drachenloch cave is the most interesting and perhaps the most
important cult site in the entire history of mankind, a place where more
than seventy thousand years ago, thank offerings were being made to the
supreme creative being." They were thank offerings for the bestowal of
game, but they may have had an even more important significance, for the
Drachenloch cave contains the oldest stone structure of religious
significance in the world; indeed, it is the earliest stone monument to the
human past and the earliest visible expression of man's regard for an
invisible god."Ivars Lissner, Man, God and Magic, (New York: G. P. Putnam's
Sons, 1961), p. 187-188

If Neanderthal didn't have the image of God, he did a fine job of faking one.


Adam, Apes and Anthropology
Foundation, Fall and Flood
& lots of creation/evolution information