Inside the Neolithic Mind, David Lewis-Williams and David Pearce , 2005


That, much earlier, change-over in human history was characterized by the adoption of social and subsistence practices that have been labelled ‘modern human behaviour’. Until quite recently, this change was called ‘The creative “explosion” and ‘The human revolution”. The suddenness with which new  tool types, new hunting strategies, complex burials and, above all, art appeared in western Europe seemed to justify the use of “explosion” and “revolution”. This burst of creativity was associated with populations of Homo sapiens who, some 30,000 to 40,000 years ago were living in western Europe side by side with anatomically more ancient groups of Homo neanderthalensis, famed Neanderthal Man. When the two species of Homo came to live in proximity to one another in western Europe, conditions were ripe for an efflorescence of cave art and beautifully carved portable objets d’art (that is how we tend to see them today), as well as new tool types, new raw materials and new social structures.  This apparently swift change was emphasized by the archaeologist Gordon Childe when he memorably added the highly charged word ’revolution’. The ‘Neolithic Revolution’ was for him one of the few great changes in mode of production (to use a Marxist term – Childe was a Marxist) that preceded the Industrial Revolution … P17-18:


How, then, can we explain the first farmers decision? By and large, some archaeologists suggest two moving principles: climate change and rising populations. In very general terms, it is argued that as droughts intensified, food became harder to obtain and, at the same time, there were more mouths to feed. The changes started in the economic infrastructure, and then the belief system was appropriately transformed. 20


In the 1960s, anthropologists had concluded that agriculturalists in fact work harder than hunter-gatherers.


We align ourselves in large measure, if not entirely, with the french archaeologist Jacques Cauvin. He neatly transformed Childe’s phrase ‘Neolithic Revolution’ into ‘Symbolic Revolution’. To the dismay of some archaeologists, he argued that major changes in thought (superstructure) preceded changes in subsistence (infrastructure): people changed their religion and symbolism before they became farmers, not as a result of becoming farmers. For strict environmentalists and adaptationists, this is heresy, but, somewhat ironically, there is hard, material evidence (rather than just theory) for the precedence of religion at this particular turning point in human history.


The Religious belief is more divisive than religious experience. 28


It then suggests that the switch to domestication came about as a result of frequent ritual and construction activities that took place at Gobekli Tepe, in our terms, religious practice. Large numbers of people, possibly measured in hundreds, would have been needed to make the Gobekli Tepe structures and pillars, and this would have necessitated the gathering and processing of much wild grain to sustain the workers. This activity would, in time, have resulted in fallen grain springing up, being gathered again and thus becoming domesticated. 33


We suggest that conversion from one belief system to another means accepting new understandings of the functioning of the human brain and the mental states that it produces (though, of course, the people themselves do not see it that).What were once regarded as aberrant, meaningless mental states may, with a change in religious perspective, become central divine intimations.  34


The Religion or as Rousseau would prefer it, ‘Theism’ was the first foundation for social discrimination that went beyond the criteria of age, sex and physical strength. 40


The neurological approach we prosecute in our research is thus in no way deterministic: all the stages and experiences of consciousness that we distinguish are mediated by culture.

Certain beliefs and experiences crop up in religions around t the world. We argue that the commonalities we highlight cannot be explained in any other way than by the functioning of the universal human nervous system. 41


Hypnagogic experiences are frequently so detailed and strange and include such peculiar transpositions of familiar and unfamiliar objects that those  who experience them feel that they wish to draw their imagery. Artists such asMax Ernst, Salvador Dali and Rene Magritte have succumbed to this urge. Hypnagogic experiences are vivid mental imagery experienced in an intermediate state between wakefulness and sleep. 45


To the Classic Maya all natural openings into the earth whether caves or cenotes (sunken waterholes), were portals to the Otherworld. 53


Throughout all the accounts we have given we see an interaction between experiences that are activated in altered states of consciousness and the culturally specific content that is incorporated into those experiences. Human brains exist in societies. 55


It was easy for him to dismiss organized religion as he [Rousseau] knew it in his time, but it was more difficult to explain away the universality of religious belief. 56


Altered states of consciousness: we may all pass through the three stages of altered states of consciousness inadvertently if we happen to experience sensory deprivation, prolonged hunger, certain pathological conditions or any of the other triggering factors. Another realm of experience is, so to speak, always just around the corner.


Copernicus, Darwin, Einstein and Weber are enthroned in our Pantheon. We know that this emphasis on rationality is not found in all societies, nor has it always been the case in the West. During the Middle Ages, people believed that God could communicate with them in dreams and visions; they did not laugh off their dreams as readily as we do.


In Medieval Christianity, for instance, visions bestowed power, political as well as spiritual. The more intense forms of meditation and prayer were therefore the preserve of the clergy: it was they who, through extended prayer, solitary, meditation, fasting, self-flagellation, repetitive ritual and chanting, altered their consciousness, and possibly even induced visions. In doing so, they entrenched or raised their status.


Importantly, it was the shifting nature of human consciousness that led people to suppose that there was another realm of existence and that beings in that realm interacted with people in the material world. The more a person, or group of people, inhabited the introverted end of the consciousness spectrum the closer they considered themselves to be to that other realm. That closeness distinguished them from ordinary people and was worth defending: access to spiritual states was regulated. Religion and social discrimination went hand in hand. 58


The difficulty with placing Purgatory derives from the fact that it is a doctrinal creation, a construction of religious belief, whereas the three-realm cosmology is, we now argue, ultimately neurological in origin and thus derived from religious experience. 62


All the cosmos is accessible when the art of transformation has been mastered. Reference is made to Shaman ability to change into animals to fly etc. 67


Why did Near Eastern Neolithic people perform such elaborate and multistage burial practices? A commonly advanced, and indeed attractive, answer is that the rituals created social cohesion and thereby contributed to the society’s adaptation to its environment. 78


We suggest that their view of the cosmos entailed multiple stages of post-mortem existence that were lived out in multiple cosmological levels analogous to those we find in small-scale societies. Worldwide the living had to ‘help’ the dead from one stage to the next with a series of sometimes widely spaced mortuary rites. 75


Human sacrifice is usually associated with complex societies that have marked differences in wealth and power.


During the west European Upper Palaeolithic, people went in deep limestone caves and, relying on flickering tallow lamps and torches, made images by various techniques on walls, floors, ceilings, stalactites and stalagmites. A persuasive explanation for this behaviour is that they believed that the caves led into a subterranean level of a tiered cosmos. There, in the dark, silent passages and chambers they sought spirit animals in visions that bestowed supernatural power and status. Those visions may have been triggered by sensory deprivation in the Stygian, silent, chilly caverns, by the ingestion of hallucinogens, by pathogenic conditions or by other means. 82


The images are therefore not pictures of animals seen outside the cave, as is often supposed: there is never any painted suggestion of a ground surface (the hoofs often ‘hang’ as the animals float on the rock wall), nor of grass, trees, rivers or indeed anything in the natural world. Rather, the fixed visions often blended with the form of the rock, a natural nodule) for instance being used as an animal’s eye…. Images were thus intimately set in and part of the rock face (not as part of a depiction of the outside world), and light and darkness complemented one another in a fecund way. The rock wall, floor and ceiling constituted a permeable ’membrane’ between the vision seekers in the dark passages and an animal-filled spirit realm that lay just out of normal sight.


To this understanding, we add the highly significant fact that Upper Paleolithic people did not bury their dead in deep caves. It seems that passageways and chambers were the realm of spirit animals but not of the human departed. 84


In the Neolithic, people constructed exemplars of the cosmos above ground. In doing so they escaped from the highly varied intricacies of the labyrinthine subterranean passages and chambers that Upper Palaeolithic people negotiated. Each cave is different from others in its topography. Neolithic people eliminated the variable labyrinth and replaced it with more predictable and simpler structures of their own design. In doing so they gained greater control over the cosmos and were able to ‘adjust’ beliefs about it to suit social and personal needs. 85


The continuing neurologically generated experiences provided repeated reinforcement of beliefs about a tiered cosmos. Not everyone travelled through the layers but enough people did, while others saw flashes of it in their dreams and felt the impact of the seers, to make the fundamentals credible, indeed irrefutable.


Many human skeletons were found in a pit, together with aurochs skulls and horns .That sacrifice, both human and animal, is posited on a notion of transition between cosmological realms: the sacrificial person or animal is ‘sent’ from one part of the cosmos to another. Human beings and animals, so different in this world, are united – or transmuted into one another – by cosmological beliefs. (As they are in Stage 3 hallucinations in altered state of consciouness). 87


Many rooms had red-painted niches cut into the walls, seemingly to receive some sort of object. These niches were present in even the earliest decorated room that Mellaart found. We suggest that they may, in a broad sense, parallel the Upper Palaeolithic practice of placing objects in the walls of caves. In the Palaeolithic case, it seems that animals moved two ways through the walls: they appeared out of the walls to vision questers, and people passed pieces of them back to the spirit realm behind the walls.The walls of Catalhoyuk structures were ritually important. They were, we argue, thought of as permeable interfaces between people in the building (and therefore already in a lower level of the cosmos) and a spirit world that lay behind the walls. They were like ‘membranes’ between components of the cosmos; behind them lay a realm from which spirits and spirit-animals could emerge and be induced to emerge. 111


People were placing their hands on the cave walls, which were probably a ‘membrane’ between them and the spirit realm into which the cave itself led. 120


Rano-khauken, a San woman who was a healer and a shaman of the game, said that she kept a castrated springbuck “tied up” by means of a thong so that it did not ‘wander about’. She said that she could untie the springbuck and send it among wild springbuck so that it would lead the herd to the place where her people were camped. Wild animals thus became akin to domesticated animals through the notion of shamanic (control)142


. Once controlled, aurochs herds made greater display statements. The prestige of the seers was thus enhanced and dramatized. In addition, corralled aurochs could provide animals for sacrifice. These sacrifices would, reasonably enough, be presided over by seers. For it was they who established contact with, and stood between, supernatural worlds. 147


Levi-Strauss sees the structure of myth as comprising multiple binary oppositions. 150

Are we animals or more than animals? (Early Neolithic people in the process of domesticating animals were probably concerned with this issue.)


People frequently and repetitively recount myths in what are emotionally charged circumstances and places. It is these heightened contexts that facilitate the evocation of ‘deep’ meaning from what may, to outsiders, seem a trivial narrative studded with bizarre events. Emotion, closely allied to shifting consciousness, internalizes myths and burns them into people’s minds. 152


While Gilgamesh is semi-divine by ancestry and so bridges the human : spirit opposition, Enkidu bridges the human: animal opposition. But Enkidu was seduced by a harlot from, significantly, the city; he lost his innocence and began to be tamed. Enkidu may thus represent the process of Neolithicisation, a process that was probably even more important in early Neolithic societies than it was in the later times of the epic. 156



The Epic of Gilgamesh (3000BC) also shows that, at least at the time of its currency, religion – founded on access to other realms – was under the control of a hierarchy of people to whom the epic refers as ‘high priests and acolytes, priests of  the incantation and ecstasy’… 159


Seers thus gained political power and economic influence as well as religious domination. Therein lies the real, innovative essence of the Neolithic: expression of religious cosmological concepts in material structures as well as in myths, rather than the passive acceptance of natural phenomena (such as caves), opened up new ways of constructing an intrinsically dynamic society. 167


Neolithic people of Atlantic Europe began to construct replicas of caves above ground where they had complete control of their topography. Because of the nature of land ownership, they had to place their legitimizing dead precisely on the landscape in clear relationship to their fields, pastures and villages. Unlike mobile hunters and gatherers, the incipient agriculturalists could not work with natural caves that were not tied to their own tracts of land and that were, in any case, rare in Great Britain 194


It seems likely that the building of Neolithic monuments often took place within a context of religious dissent, linked to political ascendancy and decline. Religion and political control of land are always an explosive combination. 199


Was there in the Neolithic mind a connection between a round pool, concentric, circular ripples widening from a dropped stone and nested circular and spiral motifs? 214


We suggest that the act of pecking motif, together perhaps with the repetitive sound that this entailed, was meaningful. The technique, not just the resulting motif, was significant. Image-making was a complex religious practice. 217


The axes that Neolithic people exchanged, often over considerable distances, were not always made of the best kind of stone for practical purposes: colour and exotic origin seem to have been important. These special axes were easily distinguished from axes made of local stone. People wanted objects that clearly came from distant places and that were associated with the realm beneath their feet.  The realm of ancestors was therefore paralleled by the realm-place from which axes came. 254


There is evidence that people ignored the readily accessible rock and preferred to exploit exposed, high and dangerous locations.  In these precipitous locations, on narrow ledges, Neolithic people opened out fissures, thus creating ‘a series of shallow caves or adits’. 254


If it can be shown that some Neolithic motifs derived from geometric entoptic phenomena, can those motifs be labelled ‘abstract’? Probably not. 261


Category S arts are known to be associated with various ways of altering human consciousness; we know that the artists represented subjective visual phenomena. The arts used were: laboratory experimental drawings; Tukano (South America), Huichol (Central America) Category N arts are known to have no connection with such practices. The arts used were: Roman, Nubian, Benin and Chilkat.


The results of his analysis showed that his selected range of motifs (spirals, zigzags, meanders and so forth) in Neolithic tombs is associated with altered states of consciousness. 264


It may even have been that the image-makers were the novices, in the same way that comparatively junior members of a medieval monastery were the ones who laboriously copied manuscripts. They may not themselves have seen spirals, lattices and nested curves, but they may have hoped to do so some day in t the future when they would be higher up the hierarchy of seers. 278


The importance of the dead was that they moved through the cosmos.


It seems highly likely that motifs within the tombs were so placed to guide the dead on their post-mortem journey….


The silence of the past is what intrigues. 280