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Inside the Neolithic Mind: Consciousness, Cosmos and the Realm of the Gods [Hardcover]

David Lewis-Williams , David Pearce
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
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Book Description

19 Sep 2005
This brilliantly argued and elegantly written book examines the intricate web of belief, myth and society in the Neolithic period, continuing the story begun in the bestselling and critically acclaimed book The Mind in the Cave. Drawing on the latest research, the authors skilfully link material on human consciousness, imagery and religious concepts to propose provocative new theories about the causes of an ancient revolution in cosmology, the origins of social complexity and even the drive behind the domestication of plants and animals.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Thames & Hudson (19 Sep 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0500051380
  • ISBN-13: 978-0500051382
  • Product Dimensions: 3.3 x 15.8 x 23.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 161,341 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'A clearly written, provocative and absorbing read'
-- Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

About the Author

David Lewis-Williams is Professor Emeritus and Senior Mentor in the Rock Art Research Institute, University of the Witswatersrand, Johannesburg. Among his previous books are The Mind in the Cave, Believing and Seeing and, with Jean Clottes, The Shamans of Prehistory. David Pearce is a researcher in the Rock Art Research Institute, University of the Witswatersrand, Johannesburg.

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
4.1 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
43 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bringing the gods home 1 Mar 2007
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME
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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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ancient monuments in a new context 4 Jan 2007
This text is a folow on from The Mind in the Cave where Lewis Wiliams showed how neuorological elements in the human brain, combined with different levels of consciousness, give rise to religious experiences and belief systems. Taking this model on to the neolithic sites of Catal Huyuk in Turkey and the Boyne Bend monuments in northern Ireland, the authors attempt to explain the structures in terms of belief systems that may have been held by the builders. The great strenght of this thesis is that it has flexibility built around a core of basic ideas. This does allow different interpretations to be made, but based upon a relatively simple model. The interpretative powers are of course limited - we cannot replay the past - but we now have the best window found yet into the minds of those ancient builders and their belief systems. No extravagant claims are made by the authors (though that wil not stop others), but it does offer an opportunity to think constructively about an area of archaeology and ancient history that has been far too neglected until now. Religion simply cannot be ignored when attempting to understand ancient societies - this is an invaluable contribution to our attempts to understand the people and the contexts in which they built their structures and the ways in which their societies may have functioned.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great ideas, mixed execution 22 Oct 2006
Before I begin, let me make my bias explicit. I took a masters in Archaeology focusing on psychedelic art in prehistory. In that respect, David Lewis-Williams is one of my heroes and it seems like a no-brainer that the core theories underpinning this book are valid. I don't think you'll need the same kind of academic background as me to understand this book, although a dictionary will definitely be handy in places (I had to look up at least one word every chapter!). Now that's out the way, let me do the review.

Inside the Neolithic Mind sets out on a bold premise: that similarities in religions can be explained by the physical wiring of the human mind. It presents a clear and well articulated explanation of the fundamental structure of religion and a compelling argument for the art of megalithic Europe being derived from altered states of consciousness.

However, Inside the Neolithic Mind ultimately fails to deliver on all its goals. The authors have tried to come up with a theory that can be applied to every society. The problem is its broad application is hampered by lack of evidence. If every unexplained archaeological discovery can be interpreted in the light of altered states of consciousness, how exactly are we supposed to know when we are interpreting it correctly? The authors are silent on this question. It relegates much of the book (particularly the parts dealing with the origins of farming in the near east) to a `nice story' rather than a `compelling argument.' But I'd still implore you to read this book. Every archaeologist, historian, anthropologist and anyone with religious beliefs of any kind, should be aware of what makes us tick.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable Neolithic Jaunt 31 Jan 2009
By Ogmios
I enjoyed reading this book. It seems to focus mainly upon Neolithic sites in Turkey and Ireland (and some in Angelsey), but also interjected some interesting comments from various research into indigenous shamanism from all over the world. The most interesting part of the book I thought was the link between the neolithic artwork and symbols seen in altered status of consciousness. I thought it gave a good insight into Neolithic religion, society and the cultural heritage of the Europeans.

Whilst it is well worth the read if you are an archeaologist or a neo-pagan or just interested - what I would say is, I wish the scope of the book had been larger to include more of the neolithic monuments. It makes some passing comments on Avebury complex and Stonehenge, but really could have been more encompassing, perhaps the authors will expand on this in a later work. I found the insights into Bryn Celli Ddu very interesting indeed concerning the stew. The authors also made interesting references to western art and philosophy - particularly in the beginning with the philosophy of Rosseau 'The Noble Savage', which I felt was a kind of tongue in cheek jibe at the seventeen century Druidic revival, which the book seems to comment on in rather a negative fashion, which it later descibes as a mixture 'mumbo-jumbo, socialism, politics etc'. That aside, whether you feel the jibes are justified or not - it is still and excellent read.

What I liked is that it gave a realistic view of religion and society in neolithic times that it wasnt 'A pastoral golden age' as some might paint it, but had competing groups of people and more importantly a religion based around altered states of consciousness. The reader could not but help feel sad that in modern times there is not such a thing.
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