There was a story in the news about the oldest human figurine yet discovered. It is a 35,000-year-old image of a “Venus”. This figurine is of a woman with exaggerated sexual features. What was the carver thinking? Shame on him! Men haven’t changed a bit in 35,000 years!
This is a fascinating story on many levels. What does this figurine, along with the beautiful cave paintings, say about early man? Human beings are artists, from cave man to Leonardo da Vinci. Other humanoids did not share this ability, such as the Neanderthals who never created artwork. Imagination seemed beyond the Neanderthals. But early mankind had an abundance of imagination. Perhaps imagination is one of the key defining qualities of humanity, along with the ability to think symbolically.
What do these continuing discoveries have to say about religion? Some think these carvings were shamanistic. There are theories that cave paintings represented a form of magic in their imagery of game animals. There is a more sophisticated theory that the cave setting for the cave paintings actually represented a physical depiction of what a shaman experienced in his spiritual journey into the underworld/spirit realm.
The shaman would enter the pitch-black cave with only his torch for illumination. As he descended into the cave, animals would appear as if out of nowhere as his torchlight fell on the painted imagery. One “spirit” image of an animal would appear, fades away and then another image would appear in the light. If combined with hallucinogens it would really feel as if he had entered the spirit world. These painted caves were not meant for the masses, but represented the shaman’s experience and journey
If this was the actual reason for the cave paintings, then it reveals an advanced spirituality…and imagination. It seems imagination and spirituality co-exist like brothers. As far as we know the Neanderthals lacked a similar sense of spirituality.
How did human imagination mysteriously appear? Long ago something very strange happened in human evolution. We may never know how or why. But somehow imagination came into the world.
In Greek myth the Titan Prometheus molded mankind out of clay and then stole fire from Zeus, giving it to mankind to better their lives. In the Prometheus myth fire seems to be a metaphor for intelligence and mastery over matter. Zeus punished Prometheus by chaining him to a rock to have his liver eaten by vultures. Why was Prometheus punished for giving mankind knowledge? Perhaps the ancients recognized that human nature itself is a double-edged sword…capable of both good and evil.
In the Bible God also made Adam from clay. Eventually Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge and were transformed from innocent animal-like creatures into self-aware humanity. Once more, as punishment for gaining knowledge, they were cast out from the Garden of Eden. The ancient authors recognized a state of existence before “human” and that it was different from we are now. Also, there is a dear price necessarily associated with self-awareness.
Here is the news story about the 35,000 year old Venus: