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Inside the Neolithic Mind: Consciousness, Cosmos, and the Realm of the Gods Hardcover – October 17, 2005

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Thames & Hudson; 1ST edition (October 17, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0500051380
  • ISBN-13: 978-0500051382
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.4 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #938,766 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Advance praise for Inside the Neolithic Mind: 'Wonderful' - Dr Christopher Chippindale, Cambridge University; 'An important book' - Professor Richard Bradley, University of Reading; 'Compelling... an exciting read' - Professor Andrew Sherratt, Oxford University

About the Author

David Lewis-Williams is Professor Emeritus and Senior Mentor at the Rock Art Research Institute, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. He is the author of The Mind in the Cave, Conceiving God, Inside the Neolithic Mind, and Deciphering Ancient Minds.

David Pearce is a research officer at the Rock Art Research Institute.

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69 of 71 people found the following review helpful By D. Johnston on April 20, 2006
Format: Hardcover
A praiseworthy attempt to understand what was going on in the Neolithic era - in particular the thinking behind the construction and decoration of megaliths.

The authors take us from Turkey to Ireland, from Neolithic to Bronze Age. They investigate the "religious" thinking of the era. We are frequently reminded that the three dimensions of religion are "experience, belief, and practice". Neolithic monuments and often houses are related to the cosmos in its separate layers.

Catal Huyuk, Bryn Celli Ddu, Newgrange and Knowth, and Brittany are given particularly detailed treatment. The rock scribings of these and other monuments are looked at in depth. The explanation is put forward that the designs represent the visions experienced by people undergoing a "religious" experience as in a trance-like state. In this the authors reject the concept that the designs relate to astronomical phenomena.

At the end a comparison is made between the age of the neolithic and our own times with our reliance on science, and the part played by Aristotle and the Greek philosophers in changing human thinking.

The book is very readable,well presented and illustrated.

Desmond Johnston.
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37 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Michael Joseph on February 14, 2007
Format: Hardcover
It wasn't until having completed this book and put it away when I realized the full impact of it's narrative. Mostly, because it is so understated. It's speculations about the Neolithic psyche are compelling and with the reminder that we can't underestimate in our secular world-view the interweaving of altered-states, cosmological beliefs, and eventual early human advancements. For example, we like to think of early domestication as a reasoned development to provide easy availability of food, milk and hides. Yet, it is likely, if not highly probable that domestication of aurochs, for example, was a product of a dominating supernatural cosmology. To quote the authors, "The associated assumption that rational decision-making and processes, such as sensible adaptation to the environment, can account for all past human behaviour is groundless. It imputes contemporary Western values to past societies. We must be more alert to the irrationality of the past (and of the present.)"

The main thesis of this book is that altered-states of consciousness and our beliefs in and attempts to control supposed supernatural forces may have played a significant role in some major technological advancements from the Neolithic age. Moreover, these altered state experiences are not only central to the development of religious beliefs, but are also neurologically hard-wired into our central nervous systems. The archeological evidence and arguments are worth the effort of understanding, if just to get a speculative glimpse of the Neolithic world. What is less convincing, however, is the scant neurological backing the authors provide. This is one of the major shortfalls of this book.
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90 of 103 people found the following review helpful By Atheen on September 15, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The book is definitely an intriguing one. I was impressed with the amount of newer information on the Neolithic, especially that about Mellaart's old site at Çatalhoyuk in Turkey. I had read something of it in another book, but Lewis-Williams' work definitely gave me more of a sense of venue.

The discussion of modern work on hallucinogens and what it has to say about the neurology of perception and spiritual experience was very interesting also and in line with some of the books on mind/brain studies I've read. That one can look at the development of religious experience in an evolutionary manner has been suggested by other authors as well, most notably by Newberg in Why God Won't go Away.

I do have some reservations with respect to the author's approach, however. While I can appreciate that Neolithic thought made no distinctions between the spiritual world and the natural one, since many present people still don't, I find it difficult to accept that we can actually "know" the content of their thoughts, especially the emotional significance of them.

The author insists that by examining the cultural remains left by Neolithic groups one can come to an understanding of how they thought about their world. He uses the frequency of specific concepts in art found among a variety of people, both past and present, which suggest a degree of continuity. Somehow I'm doubtful.

First and foremost, one culture often has no real understanding of the significance of cultural items outside of their specific culture. Sometimes we don't even know how different individuals perceive these items within a shared culture.

For instance, my feelings about Christmas and Christmas icons, like pine trees, wrapping paper and blinky lights, are very upbeat.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on March 1, 2007
Format: Hardcover
If anything jars your sensitivities, it's the claim that your brain is driving you instead of the other way around. Yet, many cognitive studies suggest that's often precisely the case. If David Lewis-Williams and David Pearce are correct, then mentally-driven activities have contributed to the making of many social conditions. One of those conditions, a universal which provides support for their thesis, is religion. The definition of "religion" has been subjected to some drastic changes lately. It's been broadened to encompass many "spiritual" themes. Today's spiritual movements tend to hark back to earlier, simpler modes. The authors assert that some of these can be traced to the Neolithic period in Europe and Western Asia.

Using the recent finds of archaeology and the cognitive sciences, the authors postulate that Neolithic society developed the foundations of religion. Moreover, religion pre-dated the adoption of agriculture and husbandry. Archaeology has revealed sites in Asia Minor suggesting that hunter-gatherer groups built shrines, seasonally visited for ritual purposes. Communities grew around these shrines and agriculture was developed to support them. The shrines marked a departure from earlier practices of dealing with the spirit realm in caves, represented by such sites as Lascaux and Chauvet as described in Lewis-William's previous book, "The Mind In the Cave" [2002]. The above-ground shrines allowed greater community participation and a new social structure. One aspect of that change was the burial of heads beneath the floors of houses. Some of the corpses may indicate more than just ancestral burial, and represent sacrifices. Was spiritual power derived from those buried heads, the authors query?
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