The African Interregnum: The “Where,” “When,” and “Why” of the Evolution of Religion

  • Matt Rossano
Part of the The Frontiers Collection book series (FRONTCOLL)


Anatomically modern humans (AMH) emerged about 200,000 years before present (ybp) in Africa , initially differing little from other hominin species . Sometime after 100,000 ybp, Neanderthals displaced AMH from the Levant region of the Middle East, ending their first excursion out of their African homeland. About 60,000 ybp, a more socially sophisticated strain of AMH expanded once again out of Africa and replaced all resident hominins worldwide. A crucial aspect of their increased social sophistication was religion. It was during the time between their retreat from the Levant to their conquest of the world (The African Interregnum) that religion emerged. Using archeological, anthropological, psychological, and primatological evidence, this chapter proposes a theoretical model for the evolutionary emergence of religion – an emergence that is pin-pointed temporally to the ecological and social crucible that was Africa from about 80,000 to 60,000 ybp, when Homo sapiens (but for the grace of God?) nearly vanished from the earth.


Social Bonding Archeological Record Altered State Traditional Society Healing Dance 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Adler D S, Bar-Oz G, Belfer-Cohen A, Bar-Yosef O (2006) Ahead of the game: Middle and Upper Paleolithic hunting behaviors in the Southern Caucasus. Current Anthropology 47: 89–118CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ambrose S H (2002) Small things remembered: Origins of early microlithic industries in sub-Saharan Africa. In: Elston R, Kuhn S (eds) Thinking small: Global perspectives on microlithic technologies. Archaeological Papers of the American Anthropological Society 12:9–29Google Scholar
  3. Ambrose S H (1998) Human population bottlenecks, volcanic winter, and the differentiation of modern humans. Journal of Human Evolution 34:623–651PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Andreoni J, Petrie R (2004) Public goods experiment without confidentiality: A glimpse into fund-raising. Journal of Public Economics 88:1605–1623CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Atran S (2002) In gods we trust. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  6. Balter M (2000) Paintings in Italian cave may be oldest yet. Science 290:419–421PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Barrett J L, Richert R, Driesenga A (2001) God’s belief’s versus mother’s: The development of nonhuman agent concepts. Child Development 72:50–65PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bar-Yosef O (2000) A Mediterranean perspective on the Middle/Upper Palaeolithic Revolution. In: Stringer C B, Barton R N E, Finlayson J C (eds) Neanderthals on the Edge. Oxbow, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  9. Bateson M, Nettle D, Roberts G (2006) Cues of being watched enhance cooperation in a real-world setting. Biology Letters 2:412–414PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bering J M, McLeod K A, Shackelford T K (2005) Reasoning about dead agents reveals possible adaptive trends. Human Nature 16:360–381CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Boyer P (2001) Religion explained. Basic Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  12. Burnham T, Hare B (2007) Engineering human cooperation: Does involuntary neural activation increase public goods contributions in adult humans? Human Nature 18:88–108CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Davenport D, Jochim M A (1988) The scene in the shaft at lascaux. Antiquity 62:558–562Google Scholar
  14. Dickson B D (1990) The dawn of belief. University of Arizona Press, Tucson AZGoogle Scholar
  15. Dowson T, Porr M (2001) Special objects–special creatures: Shamanic imagery and Aurignacian art. In: Price N (ed) The archaeology of shamanism. Routledge, LondonGoogle Scholar
  16. Ember C R (1978) Myths about hunter-gatherers. Ethnology 17: 439–448CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Evans E M (2001) Cognitive and contextual factors in the emergence of diverse belief systems: Creation versus evolution. Cognitive Psychology 42:217–266PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Feblot-Augustins J (1999) Raw material transport patterns and settlement systems in the European Lower and Middle Paleolithic: Continuity, change, and variability. In: Roebroeks W, Gamble C (eds) The Middle Paleolithic occupation of Europe. University of Leiden Press, LeidenGoogle Scholar
  19. Fehr E, Fischbacher U, Gächter S (2002) Strong reciprocity, human cooperation, and the enforcement of social norms. Human Nature 13:1–25CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Gelman S A, Kremer K E (1991) Understanding natural cause: Children’s explanations of how objects and their properties originate. Child Development 62:396–414PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Gergely G, Csibra G (2003) Teleological reasoning in infancy: The naïve theory of rational action. Trends in Cognitive Science 7:287–292CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Gintis H (2000) Strong reciprocity and human sociality. Journal of Theoretical Biology 206:169–179PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Goodall J (1986)The chimpanzees of Gombe. Harvard University Press, Cambridge MAGoogle Scholar
  24. Gurerk O, Irlenbusch B, Rockenbach B (2006) The competitive advantage of sanctioning institutions. Science 312:108–111PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hamlin J K, Wynn K, Bloom P (2007) Social evaluation by preverbal infants. Nature 450:557–559PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Harvey G (2000) Indigenous religions. Cassell, LondonGoogle Scholar
  27. Hayden B (2003) Shamans sorcerers and saints. Smithsonian Institution Books, Washington DCGoogle Scholar
  28. Hoffecker J F (2002) Desolate landscapes. Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick NJGoogle Scholar
  29. Johnson S C (2003) Detecting agents. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B 358:549–559CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Katz R (1982) Boiling energy. Harvard University Press, Cambridge MAGoogle Scholar
  31. Kelemen D (2004) Are children “intuitive theists”? Reasoning about purpose and design in nature. Psychological Science 15:295–301PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kelemen D (1999) Why are rocks pointy? Children’s preference for teleological explanations of the natural world. Developmental Psychology 35:1440–1453PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kelemen D, DiYanni C (2005) Intuitions about origins: Purpose and intelligence in children’s reasoning about nature. Journal of Cognition and Development 6:3–31CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kelly R C (1985) The Nuer conquest. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor MIGoogle Scholar
  35. Klein R G, Edgar B (2002) The dawn of human culture. John Wiley, Sons, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  36. Klima B (1988) A triple burial from the upper Paleolithic of Dolni Vestonice, Czechoslovakia. Journal of Human Evolution 16:831–835CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Lansing J S (1991) Priests and programmers. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  38. Lee R B, Daly R (1999) The Cambridge encyclopedia of hunters and gatherers. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  39. Lewis-Williams D (2002) The mind in the cave. Thames, Hudson, LondonGoogle Scholar
  40. McClenon J (2002) Wondrous healing. Northern Illinois University Press, DeKalb ILGoogle Scholar
  41. McDougall I, Brown F H, Fleagle J G (2005) Stratigraphic placement and age of modern humans from Kibish, Ethiopia. Nature 433:733–736PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Mellars P (2006) Why did modern human populations disperse from Africa ca. 60,000 years ago? A new model. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 103:9381–9386CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Mellars P (1996) The Neanderthal legacy. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  44. Mellars P (1989) Major issues in the emergence of modern humans. Current Anthropology 30:349–385CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Minkel J R (2006) Offerings to a stone snake provide the earliest evidence of religion. Scientific American. http://wwwsciamcom/articlecfm?articleID=3FE89A86-E7F2-99DF-366D045A5BF3EAB1. Accessed 21 May 2007
  46. Mithen S (2006) The singing Neanderthals. Harvard University Press, Cambridge MAGoogle Scholar
  47. Parrinder G (1976) African traditional religions. Greenwood Press, WestportGoogle Scholar
  48. Piaget J (1932/1965) The moral judgment of the child. Free Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  49. Piaget J (1929) The child’s conception of the world. Harcourt Brace, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  50. Rege M, Telle K (2004) The impact of social approval and framing on cooperation in public good situations. Journal of Public Economics 88:1625–1644CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Relethford J H (2008) Genetic evidence and the modern human origins debate. Heredity 100(6):555–563PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Richerson P J, Boyd R (2005) Not by genes alone. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  53. Riel-Salvatore J, Clark G A (2001) Grave markers: Middle and early Upper Paleolithic burials and the use chronotypology in contemporary Paleolithic research. Current Anthropology 42:449–479CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Rossano M J (2010) Supernatural selection: How religion evolved. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  55. Soffer O (1985) The Upper Paleolithic of the central Russian plain. Academic Press, Orlando FLGoogle Scholar
  56. Rossano M J (2007) Did meditating make us human? Cambridge Archaeological Journal 17:47–58CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Rossano M J (2007) Supernaturalizing social life: Religion and the evolution of human cooperation Human Nature 18:272–294CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Seiffge-Krenke I (1997) Imaginary companions in adolescence: Sign of a deficient or positive development. Journal of Adolescence 20:137–154PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Shea J J (2006) The Middle Paleolithic of the Levant: Recursion and convergence. In: Hovers E, Kuhn S L (eds) Transitions before the transition. Springer, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  60. Smuts B B, Watanabe J M (1990) Social relationships and ritualized greetings in adult male baboons (Papio cynocephalus anubis). International Journal of Primatology 11:147–172CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Soltis J, Boyd R, Richerson P J (1995) Can group-functional behaviors evolve by cultural group selection? An empirical test. Current Anthropology 36:473–494CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Sterelny K (2003) Thought in a hostile world. Blackwell, LondonGoogle Scholar
  63. Straus L G (1992) Iberia before the Iberians. University of New Mexico Press, AlbuquerqueGoogle Scholar
  64. Stringer C, Gamble C (1993) In search of the Neanderthals. Thames, Hudson, LondonGoogle Scholar
  65. Taylor M (1999) Imaginary companions and the children who create them. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  66. Taylor M, Carlson S M, Maring B L, Gerow L, Charley C M (2004) The characteristics and correlates of fantasy in school-age children: Imaginary companions, impersonations, and social understanding. Developmental Psychology 40:1173–1187PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Townsend J B (1999) Shamanism. In: Glazier S D (ed) Anthropology of religion. Praeger, WestportGoogle Scholar
  68. Vanhaeren M, d’Errico F (2005) Grave goods from the Saint-Germain-la- Riverere burial: Evidence for social inequality in the Upper Paleolithic. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 24:117–134CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Vitebsky P (2000) Shamanism. In: Harvey G (ed) Indigenous religions. Cassell, LondonGoogle Scholar
  70. Wachholtz A B, Pargament K I (2005) Is spirituality a critical ingredient of meditation? Comparing the effects of spiritual meditation, secular meditation, and relaxation on spiritual, psychological, cardiac, and pain outcomes. Journal of Behavioral Medicine 28:369–384PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. White R (1993) Technological and social dimensions of “Aurignacian age” body ornaments across Europe. In: Knecht H, Pike-Tay A, White R (eds) Before Lascaux. CRC Press, Boca RatonGoogle Scholar
  72. Wiech K, Farias M, Kahane G, Shackel N, Tiede W, Tracey I (2008) An fMRI study measuring analgesia enhanced by religion as a belief system. Pain 139:467–476PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologySoutheastern Louisiana UniversityHammondUSA

Personalised recommendations