Wednesday, January 31, 2007

An Extremely Fascinating Hominid

Salon has a good interview with the anthropologist Barbara J. King about the role played by religion in early homo sapiens and our primate cousins.

I especially like two things about King's reading of our primitive past. First, I think her treatment of religion not as a set of propositions about the universe but as a way of making social and symbolic relationships (i.e. meaning) is basically right. Also, this reinterpretation lets her make a very interesting argument: that religion in this sense isn't an accident of our evolutionary development, but actually let us outcompete the Neanderthals, who had a sophisticated sense of religious practice, but apparently not sophisticated enough.

And like King, I think the Neanderthals -- complicated humanoid primates who walked the earth with homo sapiens but who evolved completely independently -- are just super-cool.

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