Religious practices and beliefs of prehistoric peoples, as inferred from archaeological findings. The oldest burials that attest to a belief in life after death date from 50,000–30,000 BC. Corpses were buried with goods such as stone tools and parts of animals, suggesting an attempt to placate the dead or equip them for the next world. The Middle Paleolithic Period provides the first evidence of animal sacrifices, which may have been offerings to the dead, to a higher power, or to the fertility of the animal species. Prehistoric human sacrifices have also been found, usually of women and children. From the Bronze Age on, weapons and jewelry were often thrown into springs, wells, and other bodies of water as sacrifices (probably of war booty). Animals such as bears were important in prehistoric religion from the Upper Paleolithic Period on, probably seen as guardian spirits and associated with magical powers. Fertility rites were also practiced, as evidenced by small, corpulent female figures, known as Venus statuettes, with highly emphasized breasts and buttocks.
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