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Religion in the Neolithic Age

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  • 0:03 Neolithic Age
  • 1:27 Fertility & Nature
  • 2:45 Calendars & Temples
  • 3:42 Funerary Rites
  • 4:54 Dolmens
  • 6:23 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Aida Vega Felgueroso

Aida has taught Spanish at the University in Italy. Spanish is her mother tongue and she has a master's degree in Spanish Language and Literature.

In this lesson we will explore the Neolithic religion. We'll see how climate and social changes influenced changes in religious beliefs. We'll also learn about the cult of the Mother Goddess, funeral masks and dolmens.

Neolithic Age

The Neolithic Age, or New Stone Age, is the third period of the Stone Age. During this period, the climate became warmer, which allowed for a whole series of changes. Historians disagree on the duration of the Neolithic period. One of the most extensive ranges given indicates that the Neolithic period occurred between 10,000 B.C. and 3,000 B.C.

Dates differ because the Neolithic Age is considered a cultural rather than a temporal age. The Neolithic Era commenced with the beginning of farming and settling and ended when metal tools appeared. However, the beginning of farming and the appearance of metal tools did not occur exactly at the same time in different geographical areas. Therefore, the Neolithic Age developed at different times and with different characteristics.

During the Neolithic Age, man became more sedentary. When humans settled in fixed places, they began to cultivate the earth and raise animals. In this way, humanity changed and hunter-gatherers became rancher-farmers. By changing their way of life, they also changed their social rituals and, little by little, their religious beliefs. In this lesson, we'll look at Neolithic religious beliefs and burial rituals. Keep in mind that there was no such thing as a single Neolithic religion, but instead several religions that, in many cases, shared some characteristics.

Fertility & Nature

Paleolithic man had many hunting-related rituals and believed in the influence of the wild animal spirit on men. In the Neolithic Era, people focused more on the importance of fertility, or productivity and reproductivity. The fertility of the land needed to grow crops, the domestic animals that fed the people and the reproductive abilities of women, so that children could care for the fields and for their parents in old age, were all major concerns during this time.

Neolithic people worshiped the Mother Goddess of earth fertility, who also represented the life cycle of plants. She died and disappeared when the weather turned cold only to be reborn in the spring. The Mother Goddess was the mistress of nature and the protector of animals and crops. She typically took the form of a small clay statue in the shape of a girl or a woman giving birth.

People of the Neolithic age were animists. They believed that all the elements of the natural world, like animals, forests, mountains, rivers, and stones, had self-consciousness. We do not know exactly what properties Neolithic men attributed to natural elements. However, by studying the animist religions that survived, we can suppose that Neolithic people assumed that the elements found in the natural world had a soul and that they could benefit or harm people.

Calendars & Temples

Because they followed the migrations of animals, nomadic peoples had no need to measure time. Sedentary individuals, on the other hand, needed to know what time was the best time to plant or harvest crops. For this reason, the first calendars were developed. The simplest astronomical cycles to observe were those of the moon. That is why the first calendars were lunar. Later in the era, solar calendars began to appear. Neolithic artifacts that may have been lunar calendars have been found in France's Dordogne River valley. A lunar calendar made of tusk found in Serbia may have been used by farmers around 8,000 years ago.

During the Neolithic Age, there were numerous religious rites related to the climate and crops. Neolithic peoples performed rituals when they wanted it to rain or the sun to rise, or so that pests would not affect their crops. The first temples, or places of worship, and the first priests appeared during this time.

Funerary Rites

One very interesting aspect that allows us to study the religion of primitive peoples are funerary rites, which involve burying, cremating or other forms of interring the dead. Funerary rites already existed during the Paleolithic period. During Neolithic times they continued and evolved.

In the Neolithic Age, people buried the dead under their houses with their heads in a certain orientation. The bodies were buried with objects of daily use, which allows us to suppose that the Neolithic people believed in life after death. Funerary rites varied depending on the geographical area and time. In some cases, bodies were buried with pottery, food, or even small animals that Neolithic people believed the deceased needed in the afterlife.

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