Human aspirations and beliefs are notoriously difficult to document from the early phases of human development, where the techniques of archaeology have to be used. The approach here (building on our earlier focus upon representation and on measurement) is to focus on two key themes which are universals of the human condition. 'Play' is a major feature of human social behaviour, clearly rooted in animal behaviour. On the other hand, the symbolism associated with death, the treatment (and disposal) of the dead, is uniquely human. The aim is to understand their earliest origins and development. This project addresses these two linked questions related to the emergence of ritual behaviour and spiritual belief in humans. It will result in two books arising from symposia driven by contributions from renowned experts in a variety of fields. The first theme examines the human reaction to death. The deliberate burial of human remains is one of the earliest actions in the archaeological record which we may associate with ritual and spirituality. This project will examine such questions as the development of belief in an afterlife or survival of the spirit, the influence of 'ancestors' upon the living, and the role of reactions to death in the development of ritual and belief. The second theme examines the emergence and role of ritualised and play behaviours in humans and other species, focusing on the relationships and differences between animal and human ritual behaviours, what distinguishes religious or spiritually-based rituals from those that are secular, in present and past societies. Building on the success of the 'Roots of Spirituality' project, 'Becoming Human' will advance our understanding of the development and role of ritual in early human societies. The outcomes of the project will influence thinking in these academic fields, and in wider thought, for the next 10-15 years.
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