Ancient History & Civilisation

3. The Cosmology of the Paleolithic

R. Joseph, Ph.D.


The emergence of cosmological consciousness and its symbolism, is directly linked to the evolution of the Cro-Magnon peoples who may have developed the first cosmologies, 20,000 to 30,000 years ago. These ancient peoples of the Upper and Middle Paleolithic believed in spirits and ghosts which dwelled in a heavenly land of dreams, and interned their dead in sleeping positions and with tools, ornaments and flowers. By 30,000 years ago, and because they believed souls ascended to the heavens, the people of the Paleolithic searched the heavens for signs, and between 30,000 to 20,000 years ago, they observed and symbolically depicted the association between woman’s menstrual cycle and the moon, patterns formed by stars, and the relationship between Earth, the sun, and the four seasons. These include depictions of 1) the “cross” which is an ancient symbol of the fours seasons and the Winter/Summer solstice and Spring/Fall equinox; 2) the constellations of Virgo, Taurus, Orion/Osiris, the Pleiades, and the star Sirius; 3) and the 13 new moons in a solar year. Although it is impossible to date these discoveries with precision, it can be concluded that cosmological consciousness first began to evolve over 30,000 years ago, and this gave birth to the first heavenly cosmologies over 20,000 years ago.

1. Cro-Magnon Cosmology and the Frontal Lobes

When humans first turned their eyes to the sun, moon, and stars to ponder the nature of existence and the cosmos, is unknown. The Cro-Magnon people were keen observers of the world around them, which they depicted with artistic majesty. The heavens were part of their world and they searched the skies for signs and observed the moon, the patterns formed by clusters of stars, and perhaps the relationship between the Earth, the sun, and the changing seasons. Although it is impossible to date cave paintings with precision, the first evidence of this awareness of the cosmic connection between Sun, Moon, Woman, Earth and the changing seasons are from the Paleolithic; symbolized in the creations of the Cro-Magnon of the Paleolithic.

As based on cranial comparisons and endocasts of the inside of the skull, and using the temporal and frontal poles as reference points, it has been demonstrated that the brain has tripled in size over the course of human evolution, and that the frontal lobes significantly expanded in length and height during the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition (Blinkov and Glezer 1968; Joseph 1993; MacLean 1990; Tilney 1928; Weil 1929; Wolpoff 1980).

It is obvious that the height of the frontal portion of the skull is greater in the six foot tall, anatomically modern Upper Paleolithic H. sapiens (Cro-Magnon) versus Neanderthal and archaic H. sapiens (Joseph 1996, 2000b; Tilney, 1928; Wolpoff 1980). The evolution and expansion of the frontal lobe is also evident when comparing the skills and creative and technological ingenuity of the Cro-Magnons, vs the Neanderthals (Joseph 1993, 1996, 2000b).


Figure: Neanderthal (top), Cro-Magnon (bottom)


FIGURE A modern (dotted line) mesolithic cranium compared with a more ancient cranium (solid line). Arrows indicate the main average changes in skull structure including a reduction in the length of the occiput and an increase and upward expansion in the frontal cranial vault. Reproduced from M. H. Wolpoff (1980), Paleo- Anthropology. New York, Knopf.

Therefore, whereas the temporal, occipital and parietal lobes were well developed in archaic and Neanderthals, the frontal lobes would increase in size by almost a third in the transition from archaic humans to Cro-Magnon (Joseph 1996, 2000a,b, 2001). It is the evolution of the frontal lobes which ushered in a cognitive and creative big bang which gave birth to a technological revolution and complex spiritual rituals and beliefs in shamans and goddesses and their relationship to the heavens, and thus the moon and the stars.


FIGURE: Cro-Magnon

It is well established that the frontal lobes enable humans to think symbolically, creatively, imaginatively, to plan for the future, to consider the consequences of certain acts, to formulate secondary goals, and to keep one goal in mind even while engaging in other tasks, so that one may remember and act on those goals at a later time (Joseph 1986, 1990b, 1996, 1999c). Selective attention, planning skills, and the ability to marshal one’s intellectual resources so as to to anticipate the future rather than living in the past, are capacities clearly associated with the frontal lobes.

The frontal lobes are associated with the evolution of “free will” (Joseph 1986, 1996, 1999c, 2011b) and the Cro-Magnon were the first species on this planet to exercise that free will, shattering the bonds of environmental/genetic determinism by doing what had never been done before: After they emerged upon the scene over 35,000 years ago, they created and fashioned tools, weapons, clothing, jewelry, pottery, and musical instruments that had never before been seen. They created underground Cathedrals of artistry and light, adorned with magnificent multi-colored paintings ranging from abstract impressionism to the surreal and equal to that of any modern master (Breuil, 1952; Leroi-Gourhan 1964, 1982). And they used their skills to carve the likeness of their female gods.



FIGURE: Paleolithic Goddess

Thirty five thousand years ago, Cro-Magnon were painting animals not only on walls but on ceilings, utilizing rich yellows, reds, and browns in their paintings and employing the actual shape of the cave walls so as to conform with and give life-like dimensions, including the illusion of movement to the creature they were depicting (Breuil, 1952; Leroi-Gourhan 1964, 1982). Many of their engraving on bones and stones also show a complete mastery of geometric awareness and they often used the natural contours of the cave walls, including protuberances, to create a 3-dimensional effect (Breuil, 1952; Leroi-Gourhan 1964, 1982).

With the evolution of the Cro-Magnon people, the frontal lobes mushroomed in size and there followed an explosion in creative thought and technological innovation. The Cro-Magnon were intellectual giants. They were accomplished artists, musicians, craftsmen, sorcerers, and extremely talented hunters, fishermen, and highly efficient gatherers and herbalists. And they were the first to contemplate the heavens and the cosmos which they symbolized in art.


FIGURE: The cosmic clock and some of the constellation symbolized by bulls in the Lascaux Cave in Dordogne? There is a group of dots on the back of the bull to the far right (Taurus) which may represent the Pleiades (the seven sisters).


Among the ancients, the Sun and the Moon were of particular importance and the Cro-Magnon observed the relationship between woman and the lunar cycle. Consider, the pregnant goddess, the Venus of Laussel, who holds the crescent moon in her hand (though others say it is a bison’s horn). Although the length of a Cro-Magnon woman’s menstrual cycle is unknown, it can be assumed that like modern woman she menstruated once every 28 to 29 days, which corresponds to a lunar month 29 days long, and which averages out to 13 menstrual cycles in a solar year. And not just menstruation, but pregnancy is linked to the phases of the moon.




When the Cro-Magnon turned their eyes to the heavens, seeking to peer beyond the mystery that separated this world from the next, they observed the sun. With a brain one third larger than modern humans, and given their tremendous power of observation, it can be predicted these ancient people would have associated the movement of the sun with the changing seasons which effected the behavior of animals, the growth of plants, and the climate and weather; all of which are directly associated with cyclic alterations in the position of the sun and the length of a single day over the course of a solar year which is equal to 13 moons.


FIGURE: The entrance to the underground Upper Paleolithic cathedral. The Chauvet cave. Note the sign of the cross. Reprinted from Chauvet et al., (1996). Dawn of Art: The Chauvet Cave. Henry H. Adams. New York.

The four seasons, marked by two solstices and the two equinoxes have been symbolized by most ancient cultures with the sign of the cross, e.g. the “four corners” of the world and the heavens. The “sign of the cross” generally signifies religious or cosmic significance. The Cro-Magnon also venerated the sign of the cross, the first evidence of which, an engraved cross, is at least 60,000 years old (Mellars, 1989). Yet another cross, was painted in bold red ochre upon the entryway to the Chauvet Cave, dated to over 30,000 years ago (Chauvet et al., 1996).

The illusion of movement of the Sun, from north to south, and then back again, in synchrony with the waxing and waning of the four seasons, is due to the changing tilt and inclination of the Earth’s axis, as it spins and orbits the sun. Thus over a span of 13 moons, it appears to an observer that the days become shorter and then longer and then shorter again as the sun moves from north to south, crosses the equator, and then stops, and heads back north again, only to stop, and then to again head south, crossing the equator only to again stop and head north again. The two crossings each year, over the equator (in March and September) are referred to as equinoxes and refers to the days and nights being of equal length. The two time periods in which the sun appears to stop its movement, before reversing course (June and December), are referred to as solstices—the “sun standing still.”

The sun was recognized by ancient astronomer priests, as a source of light and life-giving heat, and as a keeper of time, like the hands ticking across the face of a cosmic clock. Because of the scientific, religious, and cosmological significance of the sun, ancient peoples, in consequence, often erected and oriented their religious temples to face and point either to the rising sun on the day of the solstice (that is, in a southwest—northeast axis), or to face the rising sun on the day of the equinox (an east-west axis). For example, the ancient temples and pyramids in Egypt were oriented to the solstices, whereas the Temple of Solomon faced the rising sun on the day of the equinox.

Thus the sign of the cross is linked to the heavens and to the sun. Understanding the heavens and the sun, has been been a common astronomical method of divining the the will of the gods, and for navigation, localization, and calculation: these celestial symbols have heavenly significance.

Regardless of time and culture, from the Aztecs, Mayans, American Indians, Romans, Greeks, Africans, Christians, Cro-Magnons, Egyptians (the key of life), and so on, the cross consistently appears in a mystical context, and/or is attributed tremendous cosmic significance (Budge,1994; Campbell, 1988; Joseph, 2000a; Jung, 1964). The sign of the cross was the ideogram of the goddess “An”, the Sumerian giver of all life from which rained down the seeds of life on all worlds including the worlds of the gods. An of the cross gave life to the gods, and to woman and man.


FIGURE: The God Seb supporting the Goddess Nut who represents heaven and possibly the Milky Way galaxy. Note the repeated depictions of the key of life; i.e. a ring with a cross at the end.

The symbol of the cross is in fact associated with innumerable gods and goddesses, including Anu of the ancient Egyptians, the Egyptian God Seb, the Goddess Nut, the God Horus (the hawk), as well as Christ and the Mayan and Aztec God, Quetzocoatl. For example, like the Catholics, the Mayas and Aztecs adorned their temples with the sign of the cross. Quetzocoatl, like Jesus, was a god of the cross.

In China the equilateral cross is represented as within a square which represents the Earth, the meaning of which is: “God made the Earth in the form of a cross.” It is noteworthy that the Chinese cross-in-a-box can also be likened to the swastika—also referred to as the “gammadion” which is one of the names of the Lord God: “Tetragammadion.” The cross, in fact forms a series of boxes when aligned from top to bottom or side by side, and cross-hatchings such as these were carved on stone over 60,000 years ago.


FIGURE: Quetzocoatl the Mayan and Aztec god of the cross. The round shield encircling the cross represents the sun.


FIGURE: Ochre etched with crosses, forming a series of cross-hatchings, dating to 77,000 years ago.


FIGURE: Sign of the cross (far left)

Among the ancient, the sign of the cross, represented the journey of the sun across the four corners of the heavens. The Cro-Magon adorned the entrance and the walls of their underground cathedrals with the sign of the cross, which indicates this symbol was of profound cosmic significance. However, that some of the Cro-Magnon depictions of animal-headed men have also been found facing the cross, may also pertain to the heavens: the patterns formed by stars, which today are refereed to as “constellations.”


here is nothing “virginal” about the constellation of Virgo. The pattern can be likened to a woman in lying on her back with an arm behind her head, and this may have been the visage which stirred the imagination of the Cro-Magnon.


FIGURES (above and below) Cro-Magnon / Paleolithic goddess, depicting the constellation of Virgo. La Magdelain cave.



It would be unreasonable to assume that the Cro-Magnon would not have observed the heavens or the illusory patterns formed by the alignment of various stars. Depictions of the various constellations, such as Taurus and Orion, and “mythologies” surrounding them, are of great antiquity, and it appears that similar patterns were observed by the Cro-Magnon people.

Consider, for example the “Sorcerers” or “Shamans” wearing the horns of a bull, and possibly representing the constellation of Taurus; a symbol which appears repeatedly in Lascaux, the “Hall of the Bulls” and in the deep recesses of other underground cathedrals dated from 18,000 to 30,000 B.P. And above the back of one of these charging bulls, appears a grouping of dots, or stars, which many authors believe may represent the Pleiades which is associated with Taurus. These Paleolithic paintings of the bull appear to be the earliest representation of the Taurus constellation.



FIGURE: Ancient shaman attired in animal skins and stag antlers, graces the upper wall directly above the entrance to the 20,000-25,000 year-old grand gallery at Les Trois-Freres in southern France. Possibly representing the constellation of Orion.


FIGURE. (Upper Right / Lower Left) The “Sorcerer” Trois-Frères cave. (Upper Left / Lower Right) Constellation of Orion/Osiris.



In the “modern” sky, the constellation of Orisis/Orion the hunter, faces Taurus, the bull; and these starry patterns would not have been profoundly different 20,000 to 30,000 years ago. In ancient Egypt, dating back to the earliest dynasties (Griffiths 1980), Osiris was the god of death and of fertility and rebirth, who wore a a distinctive crown with two horns (later symbolized as ostrich feathers at either side). He was the brother and husband of Isis. According to myth, Orisis was killed by Set (the destroyer) and dismembered. Isis recovered all of his body, except his penis. After his death she becomes pregnant by Orisis. The Kings of Egypt were believed to ascend to heaven to join with Osiris in death and thereby inherit eternal life and rebirth, symbolized by the star Sirius (Redford 2003). The Egyptian “King list” (The Turin King List) goes backward in time, 30,000 years ago to an age referred to as the “dynasty of gods” which was followed by a “dynasty of demi-gods” and then dynasties of humans (Smith 1872/2005).



FIGURE: (Top) The main freeze of the bulls in the Lascaux Cave in Dordogne. There is a group of dots on the back of the great bull (Taurus) which may represent six of the seven stars of the Pleiades (the seven sisters). As stars are also in motion, not all would be aligned or as bright or dim today, as was the case 20,000 to 30,000 years ago.




Over 20,000 years ago, the 6ft tall Cro-Magnon, with their massive brain one third larger than modern humans, painted a hunter with two horns who had been killed. And just as the constellation of Orion the hunter faces Taurus, so too does the dead Cro-Magnon hunter who has dismembered/disembowled the raging bull. And below and beneath the dead Cro-Magnon hunter, another bird, symbol of rebirth, and perhaps symbolizing the star Sirius.

The constellation of Osiris (Orion the hunter) in Egyptian mythology is the god of the dead who was dismembered; but also represents resurrection and eternal life as signified by the star Sirius. (Upper Right) Constellation of Osiris/Orion and Taurus. (Upper Left) Cave painting. Lascaux. The dead (bird-headed or two horned) hunter killed by a bull whom he disemboweled. (Bottom) Constellation of Orion/Osiris in relation to Sirius.


These peoples of the Paleolithic were capable of experiencing love, fear, and mystical awe, and they believed in spirits and ghosts which dwelled in a heavenly land of dreams. Because they believed souls ascended to the heavens, the people of the Paleolithic searched the heavens for signs. By 30,000 years ago, and with the expansion of the frontal lobes, they created symbolic rituals to help them understand and gain control over the spiritual realms, and created signs and symbols which could generate feelings of awe regardless of time or culture. They observed and symoblically depicted the association between woman and the moon, patterns formed by stars, and the relationship between Earth, the sun, and the four seasons.

The Milky Way galaxy can be viewed in the darkness of night, edge-on, snaking in a curving arc, forming part of a circle. If the peoples of the Paleolithic, through careful observation, deduced the existence of a spiraling galaxy, of which Earth, and the constellations circled round, or which circled round forming a cosmic clock, is unknown.



FIGURE: Quetzalcoatl Maya Galaxy


FIGURE: Petroglyph, date unknown.


FIGURE: Colliding Galaxies


FIGURE: 12,000 B.C.


FIGURE: Sagittarius dwarf galaxy orbiting the Milky Way


FIGURE: Mal’ta, Irkutskaya Oblast, Russia, 12000-15,000 B.C.


FIGURE: Milky Way Galaxy, viewed from Earth, with some of the constellations depicited. Not position of Orion (Osiris) and Gemini (compare with figure below)


FIGURE: Ancient Eguypt: Osiris atended by the Gemini twins, and above: the Milky Way galaxy, and 12 constellations of the zodiac represented by snakes.



FIGURE: Three belt stars of Osiris (above) Three Pyramids of Giza (below)



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