"Of dead kingdoms I recall the soul, sitting amid their ruins." ~Nathaniel Parker Willis
“The beginnings of inequality do not start with the onset of farming, or any other ecological input, they lie far back in the varied social configurations and ideologies of gatherer-hunter societies.” (Barbara Bender, 1989: 93)
For the kind of inequality defined by Marx, power is inherently connected to economic wealth and control of the means of production. For Marx the original formation of social inequality was bound up in the use of force. “In actual history it is notorious that conquest, enslavement, robbery, murder, briefly force, play the great part” (Marx 1976 : 874). By default, this assumes little or no social inequality among Paleolithic communities. Mobile societies cannot accrue a large amount of material goods, meaning fewer differences in material wealth can develop, meaning that these societies lacked inequality. Additionally, ruling by force in band societies is difficult, given the ability of others in the group to form coalitions to depose despotic leaders.
Max Weber’s concept of Charismatic Leadership provides an alternative understanding of social inequality. Charismatic Leaders can exert influence without force, without passing their prestige to their offspring, and without benefiting in any economic way from their wielding of social prestige. Additionally, Charismatic Leaders need not belong to a formalized social class, but instead are often set apart in a more informal way based on their individual characteristics. This point led Weber to see Charismatic Leadership as perhaps the most original, or natural form of authority (Weber 2017 : 89). We may, then, find it valuable to look for evidence of charismatic leadership in the distant past.
The concept of shamanism is often used in anthropology to describe various religious practitioners, particularly those who utilize altered states of consciousness to act as a bridge between the physical world, and any mythic or supernatural realm. Shamanism as an ideal type has particular value on the scale of human evolution and the social developments of the Paleolithic, where it can be applied as a necessarily broad concept. Claude Levi-Strauss was an important early proponent of the idea that shamanism was rooted in human psychology, and saw the term as universally applicable to religious or sorcerous figures around the world. For Levi-Strauss, the “shamanistic complex” represented the “psycho-physiological mechanisms underlying the instances reported from many parts of the world of death by exorcism and the casting of spells” (Levi-Strauss 1963: 167). Levi-Strauss saw the shaman as a universal social position which fulfilled a necessary social and psychological function. In this sense, his view was an attempt to sidestep those particular traits which divide “shamans” from different religious systems around the world, and to argue for a superseding commonality.
While Mircea Eliade also sought to define the concept in universalist terms, Eliade’s shamans were more clearly distinguished from other types of religious and supernatural figures. For Eliade, “if the word ‘shaman’ is taken to mean any magician, sorcerer, medicine man, or ecstatic found throughout the history of religions and religious ethnology,” (Eliade 2020 : 3) than it would serve no purpose, functioning simply as shorthand for any religious specialist. Eliade defined shamanism in more specific terms, stating that “shamanism = technique of ecstasy” (Eliade 2020 : 4). He separated shamanism as a practice from any particular religious belief system, seeing it instead as a form of mysticism available to a select few within a larger religious structure. Other traits which Eliade linked to shamanism included the crossing into supernatural worlds or alternate plains of existence, the “evocation and invocation of ‘spirits’ in order to undertake the ecstatic journey, ‘mastery over fire’ and so on” (Eliade 2020 : 376)
This universalist view of shamanism has led many scholars to the conclusion “that shamanism appears so regularly in human societies, especially among hunter-gatherers, suggests that it characterized the lives of many ancestral humans as well” (Singh 2017: 2). The idea has proven attractive as a lens with which to interpret Paleolithic archaeological sites. Eliade’s universalist approach has been expanded to include the idea that “shamanism represents a biological foundation for religiosity, or a ‘neurotheology’” (Sidky 2010: 69) This concept has been fully articulated by Michael Winkelman, who wrote that “the shamanic paradigm can contribute to a reconciliation of scientific and religious perspectives by providing a universalistic biopsychosocial framework that explicates the biological underpinnings of spiritual experiences and practices” (Winkelman 2004: 193). In this new light, shamanism has been seen as an important phenomenon in the Upper Paleolithic, and a necessary stage in the cognitive developments which led to the modern human mind. “Hominid collective rituals expanded over human evolution in enhanced capacities for mimesis, music, and dance, factors selected for as part of an enhanced behavioral and symbolic capacity for ritual participation” (Winkelman 2015: 267).
Michael Winkelman is notable for his work in establishing the cross-cultural, etic validity of shamanism as a type of religious figure found in many cultures around the world. He states that “a clear understanding of the shaman’s characteristics and practices has been hampered by their association with magic and religion and by a lack of systematic cross-cultural study methods” (Winkelman 1990: 309). He describes the interchangeable use of terms such as shaman, healer, and magician, and stresses the need for an empirical typology of religious practitioners. Using “quantitative analyses of data from a representative worldwide sample to establish the cross-cultural presence of similar ritual healing practices in the premodern world” (Winkelman 2015: 268), Winkelman arrives at a secure etic definition for shamanism. Winkelman analyzed 47 societies from around the world, characterized by more than 200 variables. He was able to identify several clusters of variables using a set of standard data analysis techniques, including cluster analysis and factor analysis, among others. For that cluster which Winkelman labeled as shamanism, some notable characteristics include selection for mental or physical abnormalities, the use of trance, the consumption of hallucinogens, and the movement between a physical and supernatural realm on behalf of others (Winkelman 1990: 318).
For Winkelman, any individual trait within the cluster is not sufficient to identify a shaman- one must evaluate the religious practitioner across a broad set of variables in order to accurately assign them an ideal type. For example, several other clusters identified by Winkelman can include the use of trance, meaning that other variables are necessary to distinguish between different types. It is important to note that for Winkelman, shamanism is not a religion, but simply a convenient term for a cluster of traits that are present in many different religious systems. This view mirrors the idea of a religious “configuration” proposed by Pharo (2011). To call a particular religious system “shamanistic,” in this sense, would be similar to labeling a religion as “monotheistic.”
David Lewis-williams and Jean Clottes (1998) have proposed that neurologically based shamanic practices were central to the production of Paleolithic cave art. “The ubiquity of cross-culturally very similar altered states among hunter-gatherers points to the high antiquity of the form of ritualized altered states that we call shamanism” (Lewis-Williams and Clottes 1998: 15). They have interpreted the painted caves of Western Europe as tied to shamanistic experiences- arguing that “all this is wired into the human nervous system. There is a cave in the mind,” and that the cave is “a chthonic realm, an underworld that shamans have the power to visit” (Lewis- Williams and Clottes 1998: 15). The justification for this approach is the fact that by the Upper Paleolithic, archaeologists begin to agree that one can see an undeniably human mind at work. Even if one cannot know the details of the beliefs behind the cave art in the Upper Paleolithic, “there is a neurological bridge between us and that remote period” (Lewis-Williams and Clottes 1998: 14). This neurological bridge allows one to bring the universal phenomena of altered states of consciousness into the picture. Allowing this claim, the authors only take one more step: to imagine that these altered states of consciousness were of ritual significance.
Stephen and Miranda Aldhouse-Green (2005) suggest some traits archaeologists might look for as suggestive of shamanism in the Paleolithic. A major component of the shamanic toolkit relates to the creation of a trance. Clues that may help demonstrate the practice of trance include instruments like drums and rattles, as well as osteophones, large animal bones struck to create certain sounds (Aldhouse-Green and Aldhouse-Green 2005: 16). Another important component which can be detected is the preferential use of locations that may have been perceived as entrances to other worlds. Locations far removed from contemporary settlements, especially caves, fissures, pools, and similar locations in particular are a good starting point (Aldhouse-Green and Aldhouse-Green 2005: 17). For example Bender (1989) discusses the numerous small cave passages and alcoves across Spain and France which seem designed to exclude, places of ritual available to limited numbers of individuals at one time (Bender 1989: 91). Burials are particularly relevant when considering Weber’s Charismatic Authority as the concept requires, almost by definition, direct evidence for individuals with special social significance. One trait that might be indicative of a shaman or figure of religious authority is the presence of physical abnormalities that may have served to set the individual apart as ‘other’ (Aldhouse-Green and Aldhouse-Green 2005: 17). Unusual grave goods and accoutrements associated with a burial might also be a clue.
The “Red Lady” of Paviland Cave provides an example of a possible shaman burial from the mid Upper Paleolithic, around ten thousand years prior to the development of the Magdalenian or Solutrean industries. Most recently dated to roughly 28,000 B.P. (Jacobi and Higham 2007), the “Red Lady” has been identified as really being the burial of a young man. The location of the cave is remote, and it’s repeated evidence for ceremonial or ritual use, combined with the “precious little evidence for other than the most brief of visits to the British peninsula - likewise is evocative of the site’s ‘specialness’” (Aldhouse-Green and Aldhouse- Green 2005: 37). Artifacts from the site are evocative as well. For example a mammoth skull near the mouth of the cave has been interpreted as an osteophone (Aldhouse-Green and Aldhouse-Green 2005: 35). A set of ivory rod fragments excavated with the burial have been interpreted as “magic wands” (Aldhouse-Green and Pettitt 1998: 766). Other artifacts which have been found to be younger than the burial itself (Jacobi and Higham 2007: 902) are suggestive of the continued ritual significance of Paviland Cave. For example, an ivory pendant excavated in 1913 was imagined by Sollas to possess magical properties (Sollas 1913: 364). Three bone knives found at the site “possess silhouettes that could be seen as stylized human representations, perhaps related to the “Venus figurines” found elsewhere in Europe” (Jacobi and Higham 2007: 902) . The artifacts associated with the “Red Lady” and with Paviland Cave hint at an individual of special significance or authority, although the evidence is far from conclusive.
The Brno II burial of the Moravian Gravettian, dates to 23,680± 200 B.P. (Pettitt and Trinkaus, 2000). The individual was interred “in a grave sealed by loess (wind blown sand), and far from any settlement site” (Aldhouse-Green and Aldhouse-Green 2005: 34). The dating of the burial places it near the end of the Moravian Gravettian, several thousand years younger than the “Red Lady” of Paviland Cave. It provides another example of a possible shaman. The individual itself consists of “a red colored human skull (Brno II) and parts of red colored human bones” (Dočkalová and Vančata 2005: 295), the bones having been covered with ochre. The individual was covered with a mammoth scapula, and buried with numerous animal remains, such as mammoth tusk, rhinoceros ribs, horse teeth, and mollusk shells which were interpreted as decoration for a head covering (Dočkalová and Vančata 2005). A reindeer antler discovered with the remains have been interpreted as a drumstick, suggesting a performative element to the burial (Aldhouse Greene and Aldhouse Greene 2005). A male humanoid figurine made of ivory was discovered with Brno II. Finally, the individual likely suffered from periostitis (Aldhouse-Green and Aldhouse-Green 2005). The remoteness of the burial, the disability of the individual in question, combined with the unique and elaborate assemblage of grave goods and a potential drumstick makes a shamanistic interpretation tantalizing.
The burial known as “Il Principe” provides a third example of a possible shaman burial from Paleolithic Europe. The burial is located in Arene Candide, a large cave about 90m above sea level on the Caprozoppa promontory, on Italy’s Ligurian Coast. Excavations at the site have revealed numerous upper Paleolithic and Neolithic burials, indicative of the specialness of this place for thousands of years. The individual in question was buried with a bed of red ochre, and with numerous grave goods. These included a headdress made of hundreds of perforated shells and deer canines, as well as pendants of mammoth ivory (Pettitt et al. 2003: 15). Additionally, The Prince, a young man, was buried with four perforated batons of elk antler. “Virtually any Gravettian artifacts of bone or antler stand out as being very rare in Italy” (Aldhouse-Green and Aldhouse-Green 2005: 38). The batons could have conveyed ritual information only certain individuals were able to retrieve, and the volume of grave goods relative to other Gravettian burials in Italy certainly set this individual apart as special in some way. The Prince has been AMS radiocarbon dated to 23,820- 23,060 BP, “clearly within the 24th millennium BP” (Pettitt et al. 2003: 16). Like in the cases of the Red Lady and Brno II, this burial dates to the mid- Gravettian, thousands of years prior to the unambiguous development of complex foraging societies(Flannery and Marcus 2012). Such examples of individuals possessing social significance, and particularly possessing ritual authority, must either be explained through tenuous early evidence for social complexity, or through an understanding of inequality more akin to Weber’s Charismatic Leadership.
Joyce Marcus and Kent Flannery argue that social inequality might have first emerged among those Upper Paleolithic foraging groups which possessed clans. “Although one is born into a family, one is initiated into a clan” (Marcus and Flannery 2012: 16) and membership in a clan implies differentiation between groups, an increase in symbolic behavior, and controlled access to ritual knowledge. We may see then, how the formation of complex social relationships could dovetail with the emergence of shamanism, of parietal rock art, and other phenomenon which emerge in the Upper Paleolithic. Marcus and Flannery’s perspective begins to put more emphasis on the symbolic and ritual elements of social inequality.
Barbara Bender fully articulates this idea in her chapter The Roots of Inequality (1989). Bender points to the cave and mobile art of Northwest Spain and Southwest France in the Upper Paleolithic as evidence for the presence of social inequality. To her the root of this inequality lies in the growth of larger social groupings, forms of regional organization that required mediation, “formalized and negotiated through ritual” (Bender 1989: 88). Others like Gilman (1996) and Gamble (1982) tie these social groups to alliance networks that served to address the problems of population growth and resource control. However, these researchers still focus on those forms of inequality which are formalized into class divisions on the basis of differential access to resources. They simply shift the goalpost from agricultural societies, to economically complex foraging societies. Bender moves past such a view, arguing that “ We can be fairly sure that artefact, cave and landscape demarcate a ritual rather than an economic homeland” (Bender 1989: 89). David Kertzer also takes a symbolic approach to inequality, arguing that “people are not merely material creatures, but also symbol producers and symbol users. People have the unsettling habit of willingly, even gladly, dying for causes that oppose their material interests, while vociferously opposing groups that espouse them” (Kertzer 1988: 8). He argues that other bureaucratic and economic forms of inequality represent outgrowths of a more fundamental, symbolic form of differentiation.
There is no reason to assume that “simple” societies lack a capacity for social inequality, especially for the most fluid and unstructured forms of inequality which may be inseparable from the origin of symbolic and ritual behavior. Weber points out that “the ‘natural’ leaders- in times of psychic, physical, economic, ethuical, religious, political distress- have been neither officeholders nor incumbents of an ‘occupation’ in the present sense of the word,” (Weber 2017 : 89), but rather individuals set apart by unique personal characteristics. While many anthropologists romanticize the past as an egalitarian Eden, the truth is we may be much more similar to our paleolithic ancestors than we would like to admit.
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However many nations live in the world today, however many countless people, they all had but one dawn." ~Anonymous, Popul Vuh
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The present contains nothing more than the past, and what is found in the effect was already in the cause." ~Henri Bergson
Archaeologists may not always see the trees, but we capture the forest with great clarity" ~Robert Kelly
The past is never dead; it's not even past." ~William Faulkner
No civilization has survived forever. All move toward dissolution, one after the other, like waves of the sea falling upon the shore. None, including ours, is exempt from the universal fate.” ~Douglas Preston
If you go into a museum and look at antiquities collected there, you can be sure that the vast bulk of them were found not in buildings but in graves." ~Leonard Woolley
Ice breathes. Rock has tides. Mountains ebb and flow. Stone pulses. We live on a restless earth.” ~Robert Macfarlane
We always stand on the shoulders of our ancestors, whether or not we look down to acknowledge them." ~David Anthony
That which always was, and is, and will be everliving fire, the same for all, the cosmos, made neither by god nor man, replenishes in measure as it burns away." ~Heraclitus
Shamanism is not simply a component of society: on the contrary, shamanism, together with its tiered cosmos, can be said to be the overall framework of society." ~David Lewis-Williams
Opened are the double doors of the horizon. Unlocked are its bolts." ~Utterance 220 of the Pyramid of Unas
If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten." ~Rudyard Kipling
The mountains are fountains of men as well as of rivers, of glaciers, of fertile soil. The great poets, philosophers, prophets, able men whose thoughts and deeds have moved the world, have come down from the mountains." ~John Muir
The ecological thinker is haunted by the consequences of time." ~Garrett Hardin
Through the experience of time, Dasein becomes a ‘being towards death’: without death existence would be care-less, would lack the power that draws us to one another and to the world." ~Iain McGillchrist
The dead outnumber the living fourteen to one, and we ignore the accumulated experience of such a huge majority of mankind at our peril." ~Niall Ferguson
Tell me what you eat and I'll tell you what you are." ~Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
We live in a zoologically impoverished world, from which all the hugest and fiercest, and strangest forms have recently disappeared." ~Alfred Russel Wallace
Humans have dragged a body with a long hominid history into an overfed, malnourished, sedentary, sunlight-deficient, sleep-deprived, competitive, inequitable, and socially-isolating environment with dire consequences." ~Sebastian Junger
Except in geographical scale, tribal warfare could be and often was total war in every modern sense. Like states and empires, smaller societies can make a desolation and call it peace." ~Lawrence Keeley
The first people were aware of the signs and signals of the natural world. Their artifacts were projectiles, blades, and ivory sewing needles, either used on animal products, or made from them, or used to procure them. The world around them was a cycle of animals of all sizes, from voles and falcons to some of the largest mammals seen in human evolution." ~Craig Childs
The number of herbivores sets a cap on the number of carnivores that can live in a region. Of course, adding an additional predator of fairly large body size, like a modern human, would produce repercussions that would ripple though all the other predators in the area and their prey." ~Pat Shipman
When viewed globally, near-time extinctions took place episodically, in a pattern not correlated with climatic change or any known factor other than the spread of our species." ~Paul S. Martin
However splendid our languages and cultures, however rich and subtle our minds, however vast our creative powers, the mental process is the product of a brain shaped by the hammer of natural selection upon the anvil of nature."
Behavior is imitated, then abstracted into play, formalized into drama and story, crystallized into myth and codified into religion- and only then criticized in philosophy, and provided, post-hoc, with rational underpinnings."
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In the long paleontological perspective, we humans must be considered invasive in any locale except Africa." ~Pat Shipman
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Sedentary culture is the goal of civilization. It means the end of its own lifespan and brings about its corruption." ~Ibn Khaldun
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There is a cave in the mind."
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To speak of truth sounds too grand, too filled with the promise of certainty, and we are rightly suspicious of it. But truth will not go away that easily. The statement that ‘there is no such thing as truth’ is itself a truth statement, and implies that it is truer than its opposite, the statement that ‘truth exists’." ~Lain McGillchrist
The Sphinx will always have to be looked after."
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Civilizations exist by geological consent, subject to change without notice."
When at last we anchored in the harbor, off the white town hung between the blazing sky and its reflection in the mirage which swept and rolled over the wide lagoon, then the heat of Arabia came out like a drawn sword and struck us speechless"
The best prophet of the future is the past."
An archaeologist is the best husband a woman can get. The older she gets the more interested he is in her."
Archaeology is the peeping Tom of the sciences. It is the sandbox of men who care not where they are going; they merely want to know where everyone else has been."
What would be ugly in a garden constitutes beauty in a mountain."
I have never been able to grasp the meaning of time. I don't believe it exists. I've felt this again and again, when alone and out in nature. On such occasions, time does not exist."
Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths. "~Joseph Campbell
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Always my soul hungered for less than it had"
History is filled with the sound of silken slippers going downstairs, and wooden shoes coming up."
Back home, I'm always focusing on something happening in the future. On expeditions, time stops, and you become like a stone age man, acting on instincts and knowing you are part of the universe."
Genes are rarely about inevitability, especially when it comes to humans, the brain, or behavior. They're about vulnerability, propensities, tendencies." ~Robert Sapolsky
The Land is not old. It only changes, becoming one thing and the next. We are the ones who ascribe age, the brevity of our lives demanding a beginning, middle, and end."
Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books."
The only thing that belongs to us is the time."
To abhor hunting is to hate the place from which you came, which is akin to hating yourself in some distant, abstract way." ~Steven Rinella