How can we begin to understand the spiritual lives of people in the distant past? When do religious ideologies first appear on the human evolutionary timescale? How can we recognise and interpret ancient myth and ritual from the burial mounds, temples, art and artefacts left by our prehistoric ancestors? Using key concepts drawn from anthropology, these and many other questions will be examined as we take a global view of the archaeological evidence for prehistoric rituals and religion.
Religion is concerned with an intangible system of belief, whilst archaeology is the interpretation of the past from surviving material evidence, whether in the form of sites or objects. By taking examples from across the world and from different periods of prehistory, we shall examine ways in which tangible archaeological evidence demonstrates ritual activity and sacred tradition. We shall look at rituals of death such as cremation, mummification and cannibalism; shamanistic practices as shown in rock art from Kazakhstan to cave art in France and Spain: fertility cult figurines from Austria to Malta; masks and skulls in ancestor worship; Stonehenge in a ritual landscape; cosmology through the sun cult of Peru to a 7000 year old observatory in Germany. All this and more will be explored and illuminated through the archaeological evidence of past cultures
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