Book Excerpt

How Religion Changed in the Bronze Age


  • Brian Hayden Simon Fraser University



neolithic religion, herding societies


Debates over the origin and influences of Indo-European languages and societies have fueled nationalistic passions over ancestral homelands as well as more recent attempts to categorize Indo-European language speaking societies as patriarchal, violent, and disruptive of a Neolithic utopia in Old Europe. While archaeological data is generally not abundant or refined enough to explain the distribution of Indo-European languages, it is possible to generalize that religions of herding societies demonstrate surprising similarities, be they the Nuer or the Masai in East Africa and the historical Indo-European cattle herders of the steppes. Their warrior groups adopt powerful wild animals as totems and form exclusive and independent social groups or classes, with their own deities, rituals, myths, and ritual leaders. Priestly elites also form a separate class, which strives to maintain dominant control over raids, spells, and initiations. Thus, in the pastoral nomad type of society, there is an evident conflict of interest between the major power-wielding sectors (warriors versus priestly elites) resulting in problems of integrating both social groups together, not to mention the people that do most of the herding and gardening. In this respect, religion can be adaptive in both defining special interest groups within a society and in integrating groups together. This represents a further politicization of religion, a tendency that began in the Upper Paleolithic.

Author Biography

  • Brian Hayden, Simon Fraser University

    Brian Hayden is a professor of archaeology at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. He is the author of Archaeology: The Science of Once and Future Things.


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How to Cite

Hayden, B. (2007). Book Excerpt: How Religion Changed in the Bronze Age. Pomegranate, 6(1), 107-126.