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Video transcript

There are over 4,000 religions existing in the world and 85% of the world's people are considered to be believers and through time and across the world we have no knowledge of a society that doesn't have beliefs it seems to be a natural characteristic a product of our hugely inventive minds that we communicate with beings and worlds beyond nature. As fully modern people we go back a 100,000 years and certainly we recognize in the archaeological record from Africa and from Southeast Asia and Australasia really ancient things that show the modern human species beginning to symbolize thoughts. The oldest object that we have which shows us very clearly that we are having a conversation with something that does not exist in nature is the figure of the lion man. The lion man is made of mammoth ivory This is the biggest animal in the late Ice Age environment the fiercest animal in the environment was the cave lion bigger than a modern African lion without a mane, a huge fierce creature What the sculptor who made the lion man has done is to combine the mammoth, the lion and the human So we have human legs and groin the navel in the correct place for a human being and then as you come up the body you come into these immensely broad and strong shoulders and a head, the head of a lion made with such naturalism that we can see that he's watching, that he's listening the little furrow behind his ear, is the furrow created as the muscles tense for the ear to be turned and alert while listening His eyes are looking forward and his mouth in this extraordinary grin this combination of human and animal features this alertness, this participation suggests that there's a conversation going on here a conversation of a human who is so much part of nature but wears clothes, makes tools, has fire but yet is in awe of this fierce lion from whom it's important to protect oneself but also to admire. So this is a really important conversation happening here now I can't say whether this sculpture represents an avatar or a deity or a creation story none of that really matters, what matters is this conversation this sign of mind and this sign of using a belief in beings and worlds beyond nature that help us to get by, that help us to give us meaning and understanding and to overcome the things that frighten us but also to share stories with one another around the fire and we know this has happened with the lion man because his body is polished by the wear of being passed from hand to hand and he's found in a cave, Stadel cave not far from Ulm in Baden-Württemberg deep in its recesses the lion man was carefully put away after sharing stories around the fire bonding, socialising, planning for tomorrow thinking about the possibilities so it shows beliefs in other worlds, in other beings being a really important part for social cohesion and for confidence for human beings to have meaning and carry on with their lives.