Ancient Cult of the Brave Bear, Feared and Revered

Ancient Cult of the Brave Bear, Feared and Revered

All across the far northern hemisphere bear folklore is widespread, and as far back as the Paleolithic period around 50,000 years ago archaeologists have discovered evidence of bear cults where the great beast was the lord of the animals, a semi-divine god and ancestor of humans, until the 10th century when hunting and habitat loss drove them to extinction.

Cave bear fossil (Ursus spelaeus), a relative of the brown bear and polar bear from the Pleistocene epoch in Europe. (Public Domain)

Cave bear fossil (Ursus spelaeus), a relative of the brown bear and polar bear from the Pleistocene epoch in Europe. (Public Domain)

The earliest bears to roam the planet inhabited what is today North America and these creatures were small raccoon-like creatures and members of Ursidae between the Eocene and early middle Miocene periods, 38 to 18 million years ago, and the Allocyon which existed in the early Oligocene period, between 34 and 30 million years ago. Controversially, evidence of Paleolithic cave bear (Ursus spelaeus) cults among Neandertals in Western Eurasia in the Middle Paleolithic period was investigated by archaeologist André Leroi-Gourhan who discovered bear skulls, “arranged in a perfect circle in Saône-et-Loire” and this was attributed to Neanderthals performing “some sort of ceremony,” but his critics claim the apparent geometry was created by environmental conditions like swirling winds. Either way, the bears skulls had been brought together and collected.


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