The appearance of secret societies arguably represents the first major change in religion in 2,000,000 years. This change plausibly set the stage for all subsequent developments leading up to the world religions of today. The watershed in religious development that secret societies represents probably first occurred among complex hunter/gatherer societies of the Upper Paleolithic in Europe and involved the creation of the great painted caves of that time. The big question that I will begin to address in this pilot project is why this occurred and happened when and where it did. There are many subsidiary questions related to this issue, such as what impact these changes had on other aspects of these cultures and why secret societies occur in so many cultures. Curiously, secret societies as a phenomenon have been ignored by archaeologists, with a few local, culture-specific exceptions (e.g., California “sweat houses”). In order to deal with these questions, I will first undertake an extensive literature review of ethnographic secret societies to define them and document their internal dynamics and roles in tribal societies. A major outcome will be writing a synthesis of these ethnographic observations to generate models that help identify prehistoric cases and contexts of secret societies. I will also carry out excavations on the Northwest Plateau to confirm our preliminary interpretations of secret society structures among the prehistoric complex hunter/gatherers at the Keatley Creek site. The outcome of this will be a second published volume. A third aspect of my research will be a field study of the use of caves by secret society specialists in Sumba, Indonesia, which will be a rare and unique opportunity to document secret society uses of caves. In sum, I expect the results of this project to radically change perspectives on secret societies, religion, and community dynamics for archaeologists, anthropologists, students of religion, and other scholars.
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