BOOK REVIEWS FROM A CURIOUS MIND: I read a lot. Books and the data/stories contained within them are my oldest friends. My wife suggested in her wisdom that I should write up short summaries/observations on the books I've been reading, since people might be interested, so I did. 5+ years running. Comments are welcome.
Ancient human's living spaces shaped their inner world.
the Neolithic Mind: Consciousness, Cosmos, and the Realm of the Gods – David
Louis-Williams, David Pearce (2005)
I find that a lot of what I read in
terms of anthropology and pre-historic archeology ascribes a lot of assumptions
to ancient human’s lives and beliefs that are pure unfounded
extrapolation.The focus of the writer’s
views is put onto what is usually very flimsy evidence.So many books have been written purportedly
showing how ancient man worshiped this or that, or what rituals they engaged
in, with too much fluff and not enough corroborating evidence.This ends up in biased ideas, meaningless as
a result.Judeo-Christian writers tend
to lean towards ascribing monotheism to people who had no clue what us modern
humans refer to as monotheism, for example.This is done even though the available archeological evidence for such
beliefs is slight at best.
Ancient humans did not achieve
written language until fairly recently in our existence here on Earth.This tends to skew knowledge left by writing
cultures as being more relevant to us, more advanced and therefore more “true”
than what non-writing cultures believed.It also devalues the knowledge that can be gleamed from ancient people’s
artifacts, construction, homes, and other such non-verbal creations.
Non verbal creation.
Mr.’s Lewis-Williams, and Price are
two archeologists/ethnographers seeking to ascertain the development of
spiritual thought in ancient man through the analysis of the ruins excavated by
us over the last 150 years.It is a very
interesting idea which is quite fruitful in detailing how human’s living spaces
and their development correlated to the development of their metaphysical
For most of history, humans did not
believe in gods or deities or the existence of a soul.Life was life, and the world functioned in
mysterious patterns.The authors use
evidence from ethnographers to show that a belief in a soul was not an initial
concern for man.Instead, humans first
noticed our shadows!Many languages
share the same word for a soul as for a shadow.In English, for example, a ghost can also be described as a shade.Humans understood the existence of a shadow
to mean that all humans have two parts, a physical part, (our bodies), and an
intangible part (our shadow/reflection).Our shadow/reflection grows and shrinks, disappears in darkness, is
distorted by ripples in water, but it never goes away.Once human conceived of this shadow as a
literal part of themselves (as opposed to what we now conceive of it as, a
demarcation showing where light has struck us on the side opposite the shadow,)
they began to think about where that shadow goes after death.It was this “shadow” of a human that early
man feared would wander about and which needed to be appeased or repulsed by
ritual of some sort.This led to the
development of burial rituals in human groups.
Once humans created structures, and
the evidence shows that this happened thousands of years before the development
of agriculture, they began to build with this shadow realm in mind.It is these construction details that the
writers analyze in this book.It shows
quite plainly how human’s habitations progressed from personal places where the
dead shared the space of the living, sometimes for months until the dead were
eventually buried under the home itself, all the way to the development of
specific separate structures used to carry out rituals related to the spirit
world.In our modern world we see this in
churches and mausoleums, yet many cultures of the world live more like man of
10,000 years ago.They still share their
homes with the souls of the dead.
This book sheds light on what are
essentially the beginnings of religion in human culture.It is fascinating to see the many diagrams of
ancient Paleolithic structures and man’s burial methods.It is a great book and explores many of the
lesser known Paleolithic sites not normally discussed in the standard texts.
The insights into the human view of
the cosmos itself are equally engrossing and valuable.Humans first saw shadows, then thought about
living spirit animating matter, then about the place of man and his soul in the
cosmos, and only after that did man create gods to personally protect and create
the world around us.Just how people
study the progression in art or poetry, these two authors have studied the
progress in human habitations to shed light on something that had been ignored
for too long by the mainstream archeological community.