Religion: about 294,000 years older than some religionists believe?

21 01 2008

According to this article in the British online current affairs magazine First Post, the arrangement of 27 skeletons of Homo heidelbergensis, along with a hand axe carved in rose quartz, in a cave in Spain’s Atapuerca hills, suggests to at least one archaelogist evidence of deliberate burial:

As archaeologist Susana Callizo explains: “Sixty metres beneath us here is the Sima de los Huesos, the Pit of Bones. That’s a cave where we have found 27 skeletons of Homo heidelbergensis, who lived here 300,000 years back.”She continues: “The question you have to ask is, how did those skeletons get down there? The Pit of Bones is inaccessible. Even today it is difficult to approach – the archaeologists have to abseil down a narrow chasm, then crawl through passages, before they can start digging. Some people think the bodies might have been washed down there, by rainstorms or wind, but most believe that this is very unlikely, given the remote nature of the cavern.”

Callizo concludes: “It is likely that the bodies were deliberately buried here. Interred by their relatives maybe.”

The term ‘buried’ is deeply contentious when talking of hominids from so long ago, because it implies religion.

Obviously the practice of religion had to start somewhere, but why does burial “imply” religion? Certainly it would imply some kind of ritual or ceremony, but it seems a bit of a stretch to extrapolate faith in a god/gods or the afterlife from a burial ground.

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9 responses

21 01 2008
Bruce

They were put there by the Devil to tempt man, and lo man and his insipid, faithless science has lead ye astray and into the Devil’s trap! All the truth you need is spoke true in the bible!

Sorry… It’s late. Parody is all I’ve got at the moment. 😉

21 01 2008
Reed Braden

I read part of the first page of this article and couldn’t read further. I don’t trust it. The author talked about the bones of an ancient Homo species (jumping to the conclusion that they were Homo sapiens sapiens our of convenience for his argument) in Spain and automatically assumed that the dating and taxonomy were inerrant (and gave no sources for anyone to fact-check this claim) and then further speculated that humans evolved separately in Europe and Africa. Currently, there is no biological basis for the concept of race and it seems that this writer (I won’t call him a journalist) wants to re-create that divisive comment by reaching his conclusion and then re-interpreting other evidence to support it.

If the dating of these bones is correct, it does not destroy the Out of Africa theory. as the author was so hasty to suggest. Just as the zero-G effect of parabolic flight, well within the range of Earth’s gravitational field, does not destroy gravitational theory. It may alter the date of the Out of Africa migration, or it may infer a smaller, previous migration, or it may just be a set of improperly dated bones.

I may be jumping to a hasty conclusion, but it seems that this writer wants to use a completely unrelated story to the Out of Africa theory to sow seeds of unnecessary doubt in the theory to further drive the separation of races.

21 01 2008
wineymomma

I can see that people would jump from burial to religion because often the burial togs, in this case the rose quarts ax, suggest some belief in an afterlife. I don’t necessarily believe this myself but I can follow the “logic” (sorry about the misuse of this word but I have been inhaling house hold cleaners this morning and couldn’t find a different word).

21 01 2008
zedtheist

I’ve seen Archaeologists jump to that conclusion before. Assuming that burial meant some sort of Religious belief. In reality, if you take into consideration the environment that these humanoids were faced with another explanation seems more accurate: They would have needed to keep the dead bodies from attracting predators. Thus bury and cover with flowers to hide the scent, or burn them. It wasn’t God they were trying to appease, it was animals hey were trying to avoid.

21 01 2008
wineymomma

See I knew the chemically induced haze would go away and then I would come back and someone would have said what I was trying to blather through!

22 01 2008
AV

Reed: I can’t see where the author is claiming that the bones are Homo sapiens sapiens specifically. He was referring to the discovery in the same area of a human molar dated at 1.2 million years old, and I think at this point we can put his speculation that the molar could have belonged to an ancestor of Homo sapiens down to journalistic flourish/sensationalism rather than racism. (That is to say, until I know more about the politics of the journalist I’m prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt.) Given that the exact proto-human species to which the molar belongs remains unknown, its discovery certainly doesn’t rule out the Out of Africa theory.

22 01 2008
22 01 2008
Scavenger

Hw mn thsts ds t tk t chng lghtblb? Nn, th prfr t rmn n th drk.

Stay on topic — AV

2 02 2008
What do doggies think about humans? « The Thinkers’ Podium

[…] this question recently when Bad made a comment on elephant burial (in relation to a post at Five Public Opinions where the practice of burial by Homo heidelbergensis 300,000 years ago was interpreted as […]

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