Horses from Chauvet cave

Paleolithic Beginnings: A Defining Human Characteristic

By Robert Ornstein, PhD, Sally Mallam, and Doug Keefe, PhD
Contributing Writers

Shaman-like activities have been perpetuated by prophets and spiritual teachers throughout our history.

Zoroaster spent seven years meditating in the solitude of a mountain cave. His visionary insights were stimulated by mantras, prayers and an intoxicating drink called Haoma which was thought to grant users “temporary immortality.” Max Weber in his classic book Ancient Judaism noted that many of the Hebrew prophets exhibited shaman-like behavior, “They described visual and auditory hallucinations and abnormal sensations of taste and feeling of diverse sorts. …They felt as if they were floating…or borne through the air, they experienced clairvoyant visions of spatially distant events like, allegedly, Ezekiel in Babylon at the hour of Jerusalem’s fall. …They saw hallucinatory blinding flashes of light and in it the figures of superhuman beings.

Stephen K. Sanderson in his book Religious Evolution and the Axial Age, asserts that “Christ was the most ‘shaman-like’ of all the prophets … Christianity reproduced many elements of the shamanic tradition, and this gave it great appeal. In terms of the similarities between Christ and shamans, consider the following…

  • Shamans often spend periods of time in seclusion undergoing intense ordeals, during which they hone their skills; Jesus spent forty days alone in the wilderness as part of his development.
  • Shamans have special contact with the world of spirits; Jesus was in direct contact with God the Father.
  • Shamans above all heal and cure; Jesus healed the sick and the lame.
  • Shamans enter the world of spirits and often ascend to the sky; Jesus upon resurrection ascended to the sky.
  • Potential shamans often undergo an initiatory ritual death from which they are resurrected; Jesus, of course, was resurrected.
  • Shamans in some regions, such as Australia, undergo initiation in caves; Jesus’s body was put in a tomb and he was resurrected in this tomb.
  • Shamans always have spirit helpers; Jesus had helpers in the form of disciples, Christ helpers in the form of angels, etc.
  • In their curing rituals shamans often look for the sick person’s lost soul in order to restore it to the person; Christ saves your soul from eternal damnation.”

The Prophet Mohammad used to go regularly to a mountain cave called Hira, three miles north of Mecca. There in isolation he would meditate, contemplate and pray. It was in the year 610 AD, during one of these retreats, that the Angel Gabriel first appeared before him and commanded him to “Recite.”

Bull cave art reproduction

Watch: Prehistoric Animations Emerge from Cave Walls

New Scientist

Paleolithic animated pictures.

Bear cave art

The Chauvet-Pont d’Arc Cave

Musée d’Archéologie nationale

Take a virtual tour of the cave.

watercolor illustration of man and woman

Why do We Tell Stories? Hunter-gatherers Shed Light on the Evolutionary Roots of Fiction

Daniel Smith, The Conversation

Given the ubiquity of storytelling, it may perform an important adaptive role in human societies by broadcasting social norms to coordinate social behavior and promote cooperation.

cave art with human figures

The Dawn of Prehistoric Rock Art

James Q. Jacobs

With recent cave art discoveries and the accurate dating of the rock paintings, our concepts of human evolution have undergone significant transformations.

painted cave wall

Neanderthals – Not Modern Humans – were First Artists on Earth, Experts Claim

Ian Sample, The Guardian

Neanderthals painted on cave walls in Spain 65,000 years ago – tens of thousands of years before modern humans arrived.

Watch: Talking Stone – Rock Art of the Cosos

Paul Goldsmith, ASC and Alan P. Garfinkel

Hidden away in the canyons of a top secret military base on the edge of the Mojave Desert is the largest concentration of rock art in North America. Created over thousands of years by a now vanished culture, it represents the oldest art in California. Talking Stone explores the remote canyons and mysteries surrounding these amazing images.

Sound waves

Watch: The oldest identifiable musical instrument so far found is a flute, dated 42,000 to 43,000 years ago.

Such flutes were made from vulture bones and ivory from mammoth tusks. This one was found in the Swabian Jura mountains in southern Germany along with a bullroarer, which might have been used for dramatic effect. with a carved set of lines on it that resemble those found in cave paintings, indicating a trance state.

Related:

Neolithic Era
Connecting With the Gods
The Axe Maker’s Gift
Thought and Language

Further Reading

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