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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ancient monuments in a new context
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...
Published on 4 Jan 2007 by A reader

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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great ideas, mixed execution
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...
Published on 22 Oct 2006 by Jonathon Smith


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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ancient monuments in a new context, 4 Jan 2007
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A reader (Maidstone, UK) - See all my reviews
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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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 (Ottawa, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
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?

In moving communication with spirits out of caves and involving more of the community, religious figures - shamans - assumed a different role in society. The authors note that all religions possess an ecstatic component, and nearly every individual has experienced various forms of altered consciousness. From this, the authors postulate "the consciousness contract" in which those who could experience and interpret the results of altered consciousness rose to become religious and community leaders. Instead of waiting for visions to occur, the shamans came to prompt them through physical exertion or psychotropic drugs. Thus supercharged, the visions seemed more intense, hence, more meaningful. Even if the community shared but a lower-level version of the visions, they were sufficiently aware of them to understand what the shamans described. What was already lodged in the mind emerged with greater force and wider acceptance.

Group activities reached peaks of drama and expression with the establishment of burial sites and stone shrines in Western Europe and the British Isles. Although the best known today, Stonehenge is but a small facet of what belief produced in shrines and burial places. Lewis-Williams and Pearce provide an impressive guided tour of the sites, their structure and arrangement. There is a good deal here to indicate how altered states of consciousness can be transformed into the physical world. Spirals, for example, often seen by those in trance or other altered states, are a fundamental component of many burial and shrine sites. The illustrations, including colour plates, depict these and other manifestations to greatly enhance an already vivid text. Although, the reader's preconceptions about religion or early societies may be challenged, but they will have no difficulty in understanding the evidence or conclusions the authors provide. A truly stimulating and provocative book, well worth the time and investment to understand thoroughly. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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12 of 13 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
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. Although the book states 'there was no difference between social and spiritual power' in neolithic times - I think there are some who might dispute this.

I think it will stand however as a landmark in its field, with ideas and concepts which should be further built upon - that perhaps one day we might get close to understanding the Neolithic mind - without modern lunatic cults or the narrow minds of modern archaeologists.
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3.0 out of 5 stars cognitive-neuroscience take on neolithic society, religion, and artifacts, 4 Feb 2014
By 
rob crawford "Rob Crawford" (Balmette Talloires, France) - See all my reviews
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This is an interesting, if uneven, book that attempts to penetrate the thought processes of neolithic peoples in the Near East and Western Europe. For anyone who is familiar with the issues, the sudden appearance of cities, stone structures, and art objects constitute a great mystery. Sure, they accompanied the adoption of agriculture, but what did they mean? Why did they share certain characteristics? How did the creators think of them at the time? How did they conceive of life and the cosmos?

The authors attempt, via the precepts of cognitive neuroscience, to answer these questions. While I have doubts about the approach, archaeologists currently view cognitive neuroscience - maps of how brains process information - are a fundamental step forward in their methodology, on the same level as radio-carbon dating and the application of population genetics were in the latter half of the 20C.

The principal ideas are strikingly clear. First, the human mind is "hard wired" with certain concepts, which are universally found in all cultures. In this case, the relevant ones involve a kind of cosmological hierarchy, whereby there is an underworld (death/birth), the mundane world of the everyday, and an ethereal realm of transcendence (afterlife/realms of the gods). Second, this hierarchy is displayed in everything that survives of neolithic culture, from the burial sites and stone architecture to the hallucinogenic states of ecstatic religious visions so central to religious experiences. Third, as supported by anthropological evidence in existing primitive cultures, the mental categories of the neolithic mind were more fluid than ours are today, melding into each other, e.g. so that a person can be in a trance and thus elsewhere as well as momentarily dead, only to return to life later. It also meant that religious authorities represented power relationships, reflected in the division of labor, class. In this way, society, religion, cosmology, art, architecture, and even work are all of a piece, hardly distinguishable as mental categories but seen as part of a continuous spectrum. Fourth, religion can be defined as a) experience; b) the beliefs that come therefrom; c) the practices that are hence adopted to support them. Fifth, and this was really new to me, the authors argue that this hierarchical ideology took hold BEFORE the adoption of the agricultural innovations that have come to define the period.

Everything in the neolithic can, the authors assert, be understood in accordance with this framework of ideas. Not only are architecture, design motifs, and sculpture a reflection of this hierarchy, but so were the organization of society and religion. This provides a tidy way to interpret things. With the urbanization that was made possible with farm-food surpluses, elites could justify themselves and their place in the hierarchy by their monopoly on visions and access to other realms. Even animal totems are explainable: as water is a nether realm, so snakes that inhabit land and water are gateway beings between the hierarchical levels, hence merge with man in certain visions.

This is all fine, but there are some serious problems with the approach. Most importantly, the authors never defined to my satisfaction what they meant by "neurologically hard wired". On the one hand, they say it is the common basis of all mankind, but never explore whether we are born with it, whether the brain's structure is the reason, or if experience programs it in. On the other hand, they repeatedly assert that their argument in not deterministic. This is irreconcilable in my opinion. In addition, there is no way to prove or disprove their conjectures scientifically, except to fit all available archaeological observations into their framework. Finally, they apply as support for their argument many observations from contemporary cultures, such as the bushmen of south Africa. Perhaps it wasn't always so. At any rate, the jumps in logic were often too much for me, for example when they state what the meaning of red paint would have been (blood, underworld, or some such as sacred).

Regarding the book's scope, there were too many loose ends for my taste. Without more on the cognitive neurosciences, I often felt adrift with the jargon and could not accept their assumptions. Then, why did this hierarchical politico-religious ideology arise at the time it did? I think it is easier to assume that it followed the spread of farming rather than the other way round, as the authors continually argue, but this theme, too, is glossed over and not explored in the depth that such a revolutionary claim deserves.

This is an interesting book and it is a fun read. Unfortunately, I found the prose rather clunky and academic, too abstruse, if often well expressed. Recommended with these caveats in mind.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, 7 July 2013
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This review is from: Inside the Neolithic Mind: Consciousness, Cosmos and the Realm of the Gods (Kindle Edition)
Having read 'The Mind in the Cave' this was an obvious progression. Many themes revisited but also new material which all seem to make sense.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 20 Aug 2014
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Excellent book
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hardwork, 3 Dec 2013
This review is from: Inside the Neolithic Mind: Consciousness, Cosmos and the Realm of the Gods (Kindle Edition)
I don't pretend to be an interlectual, so maybe I shouldn't have expected to wade easilly through this book. The ideas are no longer new, but it is an interesting read about what could be the making of us now and how we got from mesolithic to neolithic and why.... though, I expect that since it is all unprovable and speculation anyway, we will never know for sure, will we?
The neolithic transition is a fascinating part of human history, but maybe not so different from what came before.. it makes you wonder how future generations will look back 4000 years to the 21st C and make judgemants from our art and buildings and monuments, about who we were and how we think and who are our Gods.
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9 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars But whose is the neolithic mind?, 10 Jun 2010
By 
Rev. G. Drummond (Essex, UK) - See all my reviews
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Considering the hype on the cover you'd think it was pretty groundbreaking, but the two Davids seem to be rather more immersed in their own agendas than in the matter at hand - what can we say about the thought processes and mind sets of Neolithic people. Granted that there are many gaps in the available evidence and that there has to be an element of conjecture, if I had used the sort of woolly logic and arguments employed in this book as a student I would rightly have had my work rejected out of hand. Nevertheless an interesting starting point for a fascinating area of study.
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5 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inside the Neolithic Mind: Consciousness, Cosmos and the Rea, 31 Mar 2006
By A Customer
Lucid and convincing in it's arguments. In particular presents a clear framework for analysing the relationship between religious experience, religious belief and religious practice.
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