The Mother of the Living and the Dead in the Paleolithic Era The first evidence of religious ritual comes several million years after the famed "Lucy" and her ancestors, who are thought to be the first humans, appeared in Africa. 3 As far back as 70,000 to 50,000 B.C.E., Neanderthal peoples carefully buried their dead, often in a fetal position. Some Neanderthals apparently also placed or planted flowers around the body at the time of burial.4 Burial in a fetal position suggests that Neanderthals may have thought

that we are returned to the body of the Mother of the Living and the Dead. Perhaps Neanderthals believed as well that we would be reborn, individually or communally, from the womb of the Mother5

From the Upper Paleolithic, or late Old Stone Age (c. 32,000-10,000 B.C.E.) come the many Paleolithic Goddesses, small carved female statues and reliefs, full of figure, and usually unclothed, including the Goddesses of Willendorf, Lespugue, and Laussel. (See Figures 1 to 3.) Most of these images are small enough to have been held and easily carried by the nomadic peoples who made them.