The Ancient Record of Religion Among Archaic Hominids

Written By:  G. R. Morton

Copyright 2004 G.R. Morton  This can be freely distributed so long as no changes are made

There are two viewpoints I am arguing against here.  They are Dick Fischer’s late Adam hypothesis and Hugh Ross’s Adam within the past 60,000 years assertion.  Both views hold that altars only go back no more than 24,000 years or so.  Dick distinguishes between animal sacrifice and other religions.  Dick thinks animal sacrifice didn’t exist further back in time than the Adamic covenant, which he places in the Sumerian period. Dick Fischer writes:

Presumably, any outsiders living at the time of Adam would have been outside the old covenant, and unable to enjoy this unique status, which included the hope of being claimed by God through (1) the Adamic bloodline, (2) the discipline of self righteousness, and (3) the ritual of animal sacrifice.

The beginnings of God-awareness or seeking after God can be substantiated in history by the evidence of religious relics and altars dating as far back as 24,000 years ago, but there is no evidence that the Creator manifested Himself to any of these forerunners as He did to Adam.

Catal Huyuk in south-central Turkey was excavated in the 1960s. This city was settled as far back as possibly 8300 B. C., but by about 5600 BC it was abandoned. From analysis of the skeletal remains found there, a French expert concluded that two distinct racial types were represented, on European, the other Asian.  Although many shrines were unearthed at Catal Huyuk, there were no signs of animal sacrifice.

….animal sacrifice apparently was not practiced inside the shrines, as there is no evidence of a slaughtering block or a catchment for the runoff of blood.

If animal sacrifice was a covering for sin began with Adam and his descendants after the Fall, then apparently Catal Huyuk was not populated by Adamic or Semitic populations. Also, 5600 BC is far too soon for any Semites and a little too soon for Adamites.” (Fischer, 1996, p. 194)

Dick seems to place lots of weight on the animal sacrifice issue.  He seems to (erroneously) think that animal sacrifice didn’t occur until Adam, living sometime around 4500 BC. (Fischer, 1996, p. 196)

The problem I see is that this creates two classes of people – the Semites (Jews and Arabs) who are descended from Adam with the image of God and others who don’t have it.  This creates weird situations like my family in which my wife and children would be descendents of Adam and have the image of God, and I wouldn’t.  (My wife occasionally thinks this may be true when she sees some of the stuff I do)  But at root, such a view in my mind could encourage racism.  In fairness to Dick, whom I like, he would deny this and he certainly holds no racist views. . But given what humans do with racial differences, I think it is a valid worry.

Hugh Ross says some equally silly things.

Bipedal, tool-using, large-brained primates (called hominids by anthropologists) may have roamed the earth as long ago as one million years, but religious relics and altars date back only 8,000 to 24,000 years.  Thus, the secular archaeological date for the first spirit creatures is in complete agreement with the biblical date.

Some differences, however, between the Bible and secular anthropology remain.  By the biblical definition, these hominids may have been intelligent mammals, but they were not humans.  Nor did Adam and Eve physically descend from them.  (According to Genesis 1:26-28 the human species was created complete and brand-new by God through His own personal miraculous intervention.)  Even here, though, support from anthropology is emerging.  New evidence indicates that the various hominid species may have gone extinct before, or as a result of, the appearance of modern humans.  At the very least, ‘abrupt transitions between [hominid]species’ is widely acknowledged. (Ross, 1993, p. 141)

Now to the archaeological issues.  Animal sacrifice has gone way back much farther back than Dick acknowledges, and that, in my mind falsifies his views.  And altars go way back beyond the 24,000 years Ross claims.  Indeed, altars go further back than the 60,000 year limit Ross claims the Bible teaches for Adam’s existence.  He says that the Bible is false if Adam is older than 60,000 years.  While I don’t see any Biblical support for such a view, it is his view.  As you read below, notice the sacrifice of bears, deer, and even humans seen in the distant past, long before Dick thinks they exist.  Also notice the existence of monuments built for the purpose of the sacrifice and religion which exist long before Ross claims..

Recent discoveries have revived the debate about how old religion is.  I will follow several evidences of religion back into anthropological history.  El Juyo is around 13,000 years ago.  Freeman and Echegaray describe it:

Presiding over all these associated features from a position directly overlooking the small structure (in the middle of its southeast side), was a good-sized vertical stone, one of whose surfaces, that facing the structure and the old cave entrance, had been deliberately transformed into a semi-human face.  The stone measures thirty-five by thirty-two centimetres and is twenty-one centimetres thick.(Freeman and Echegaray, 1981, p. 10.)

From the description given above and an examination of the photograph and drawing, the reader will realize that the stone face represents a being whose nature is dual, although the two sides of its character have been harmoniously integrated into one single face.  The proper right side of the face is that of an adult male human, with moustache and beard.  The proper left side is a large carnivore, with oblique eye, large lachrymal, and a moderately long nose, ending in a good depiction of a naked rhinarium. The chin is triangular, and a sharply pointed tooth projects above the mouth. On the muzzle there are three sub-parallel lines of black spots suggesting the bases of whiskers or vibrissae, a characteristic feature of felids.  Taken as a whole, these features represent a large cat, probably a lion or leopard (both existed near El Juyo in Magdalenian times).  (Freeman and Echegaray, 1981, p. 15-16.)

The form of the structures and the peculiar way in which they were built also call for an explanation from beyond the realm of ordinary domestic activities.  As examples, we may cite the careful disposition of the regular lots of earth which go to form the bulk of the mounds, either in rosettes or in double lines; the fact that the several rosettes were plastered over with clay of vividly different colors; the sprinkling of red ochre over the whole at several different stages of construction; the channel uniting the two mounds, by which something organic and greasy was evidently poured from the small structure into the large one; the vertical antler tine found in the middle of an ochre layer in the bottom of the larger trench; the positioning of the two large slabs, one horizontally over the large structure, the other on edge nearby.  The symmetry of spatial relationships, with pits between and at either end of the two mounds, other pits on either side of the large horizontal slab and the vertical slab oriented parallel to the small mound and both perpendicular to the large one.  Finally, the very presence of these enigmatic mound-trench complexes, which have no apparent economic explanation.  The behaviour involved in the construction of this structural aggregate is obviously symbolic and its meaning obscure.  (Freeman and Echegaray, 1981, p. 15.)

Clearly, this religious monument goes much further back in time than Ross and Fischer believes.  There was apparently an altar in Chauvet Cave (dated 31,000 years ago [Balter, 1996, p. 449]).  A bear skull was precariously placed on a flat topped stone and fire was burned just behind the skull.  Chauvet et al, write:

A little further on we were deeply impressed by what we discovered.  In the middle of the chamber, on a block of grey stone of regular shape that had fallen from the ceiling, the skull of a bear was placed as if on an altar.  The animal’s fangs projected beyond it into the air.  On top of the stone there were still pieces of charcoal, the remains of a fireplace.  All around, on the floor, there were more than thirty bear skulls; now covered in a frosting of amber-coloured calcite, they were purposely set out on the earth. There were no traces of skeletons.  This intentional arrangement troubled us because of its solemn peculiarity.” (Chauvet et al, 1996, p. 50)

The lack of bear skeletal parts proves that these were not stray bears that got trapped and died in the cave. Their heads were removed elsewhere and brought into the cave. There were no postcranial elements.

The fact that 30,000 years ago man was apparently worshiping the bear, lends credence to the next oldest probable religious site.  Except this one was built by Neanderthal. At Bruniquel, France.  Archeologists have excavated a square stone structure dating to more than 47,000 years ago (prior to the advent of modern man in Europe) in which the Neanderthals burned a bear.  Bednarik (1996, p. 104) writes:

The cave of Bruniquel in southern France has just produced fascinating new evidence. Several hundred metres in from the cave entrance, a stone structure has been discovered.  It is quadralineal, measures four by five metres and has been constructed from pieces of stalagmite and stalactite.  A burnt fragment of a bear bone found in it was radiocarbon analysed, yielding a ‘date’ of greater than 47 600 years BP.  This suggests that the structure is the work of Neanderthals.  It is located in complete darkness, which proves that the people who ventured so deep into the large cave system had reliable lighting and had the confidence to explore such depths.  Bruniquel is one of several French caves that became closed subsequent to their Pleistocene use, but were artificially opened this century.

This appears to have been the ritual sacrifice of a bear. It is also the first proof that man went deep into caves long before they painted the walls. (Balter, 1996, p. 449)

Neanderthals at Nahr Ibrahim, Lebanon, appear to have ritually sacrificed a deer. Marshack writes:

In the Mousterian cave shelter of Nahr Ibrahim in Lebanon the bones of a fallow deer (Dama mesopotamia) were gathered in a pile and topped by the skull cap.  Many of the bones were unbroken and still articulated.  Around the animal were bits of red ochre. While red ochre was common in the area and so may have been introduced inadvertently, the arrangement of the largely unbroken bones suggests a ritual use of parts of the animal.  (Marschack 1990, p. 481)

The ochre was proven to have been brought in from elsewhere by the discoverer (Solecki, 1982).  This site is greater than 40,000 years old.  This is animal sacrifice long before Dick says it exists. Perhaps these ancient peoples should have read The Origins Solution so that they wouldn’t do these things.

The 80,000 year old site of Drachenloch, Switzerland, also appears to have been a religious site, once again a Neanderthal site.  Bachler found what appeared to be ritually arranged cave bear bones and ashes on what he called a sacrificial altar.  (Lissner, 1961, 187-188). Campbell and Loy write:

The most famous example of what has been claimed to be Neanderthal hunting magic is the so-called bear cult.  It came to light when a German archaeologist, Emil Bachler, excavated the cave of Drachenloch between 1917 and 1923.  Located 8,000 ft (2,400 m) up in the Swiss Alps, this ‘lair of the dragons’ tunnels deep into a mountainside.  The front part of the cave, Bachler’s work made clear, served as an occasional dwelling place for Neandertals.  Farther back, Bachler found a cubical chest made of stones and measuring approximately 3.25 ft (1 m) on a side.  The top of the chest was covered by a massive slab of stone. Inside were seven bear skulls, all apparently arranged with their muzzles facing the cave entrance.  Still deeper in the cave were six bear skulls, seemingly set in niches along the walls.  The Drachenloch find is not unique.  At Regourdou in southern France, a rectangular pit, covered by a flat stone weighing nearly a ton, held the bones of more than 20 bears.  (Campbell and Loy, 1996, p. 441)

Honesty demands that one note that Drachenloch (not Regourdou) is controversial so for an alternative view, see Kurten (1976, p. 84-86) For a discussion of why I don’t think Kurten’s critique is correct see Morton (1997, p.73-75)

There is an even earlier altar, which is not controversial, found at Bilzingsleben, Germany.  The excavators, Dietrich and Ursula Mania have found a 27-foot-diameter paved area that they say was used for “special cultural activities”  (Mania et al,1994, p. 124; See also Mania and Mania, 1988, p. 92). Gore writes:

But Mania’s most intriguing find lies under a protective shed.  As he opens the door sunlight illuminates a cluster of smooth stones and pieces of bone that he believes were arranged by humans to pave a 27-foot-wide circle.  ‘They intentionally paved this area for cultural activities,’ says Mania.  ‘We found here a large anvil of quartzite set between the horns of a huge bison, near it were fractured human skulls.’ (1997,p. 110)

I would contend that the symbolism here, if found in a modern village, would be enough to cause one to turn and flee for his life.  Such an arrangement of objects would immediately be interpreted as evidence of religion, and a hostile religion at that.  Bilzingsleben dates to around 425,000 years, not the mere 24,000 years that Ross prefers for the oldest evidence of religion.  If Ross wishes to claim that religion doesn’t go back further than 24,000 years, he should explain why the above five examples don’t qualify as examples of religion?  It is clear that evidence of religion in the anthropological record prior to 24,000 years is not rare.  Ross can’t prove his case by ignoring these sites and this data.

Then, there is the de-fleshing of human bones which has occurred at Bodo Ethiopia, 600,000 years ago.  The skull has the same kind of cut marks one got when a body is de-fleshed for burial. Medieval and early Christians engaged in this practice.  The bones of the saints were cleaned (using knives) and then the bones were put in niches in the wall.  We see these kinds of cuts that long ago.

One can only conclude from the above that both Fischer and Ross are ignoring the archaeological data in order to maintain their belief system.  This twisting of the observational data for apologetic purposes, is a time honoured tradition among apologists.  It is something that must stop if Christianity is to ever develop a successful apologetic.

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