Archaeologists and their ilk are clever folks. From a few bones and other odds and ends they can reconstruct much more of the lives of people and cultures long gone (although not always as long gone as they would like to think) than one might realise is possible. It’s quite amazing, really. Here are some choice extracts from my current textbook, Religions of the World:
“In addition, archaeologists have found bear skulls, apparently carefully arranged, in Neanderthal burials, which may suggest a worshipful attitude toward the bear.”
“Sometimes the [Cro-Magnon] burials show the corpse was left curled up in a fetal position. To some, this might indicate that the dead were seeking rebirth in the next life.”
“It is believed that by painting the animals being killed or retracing the paintings, the priests were hoping to predict the events of a successful hunt.”
What will the archaeologists, anthropologists, et al think of the things that we leave behind, you may wonder. Wonder no more, my friend–I can tell you. I hereby present some excerpts from that famous book, published in A.D. 15,023, Twenty-First Century Life: What Do We Know? (I am still in discussion with my legal advisors as to whether I can make known exactly how I obtained these extracts.)
In many of the photographs from the early part of the twenty-first century, the careful observer is struck by the profusion of small, rectangular objects, into which an individual would gaze, or which he would hold to the side of his head. The video recordings that we have retrieved show that these objects would emit various sounds, sometimes harsh and threatening, which appeared to be the cue for an individual to remove the object from a place of safety and symbolic importance–the head or the thigh–and place it to his head. Sadly, our linguistic experts are still unable to translate the words that would then follow, but many experts are of the opinion that these objects were used as means to attempt communication with the spirit world.
Some experts are also of the opinion that the custom of offering sacrifices to household deities–a custom which for many centuries had been neglected in Western culture–was revived during this period and in fact became a ritual after almost every meal. At the close of a meal, a family member–often a woman–seems to have donned a sacred robe and offered the remains of the meal to the gods. Placing the dishes inside a large and secure box, she would add liquid or powder (probably a form of incense) and close the door of the box. The low rumbling noises that ensued evidenced that the gods had accepted the sacrifice, which acceptance they showed by returning the dishes to their state of original purity. Should the dishes repeatedly be left with the offerings still intact, the evidence suggests that great distress would ensure, particularly for the female members of the family, who were the most ardent worshippers of the household deities. Under such circumstances, resort would often have to be made to a priest, who, arriving with many curious objects, would for a fee perform certain mysterious rituals in the box in order to placate the gods and encourage them to accept the sacrifices in the future.
There! Who’d have thought?
(Disclaimer: I know that there are many archaeologists, historians, and so forth who really are very learned. Moreover, said textbook contains a lot of helpful information. But as with so many things, even the words of these learned people sometimes need to be taken with a pinch of salt…. Furthermore, as I think I have read in more than one place, there is a big difference between knowing the facts and being able to interpret the facts.)