Prehistoric religion is a general term for the religious beliefs and practices of prehistoric peoples. More specifically it encompasses Paleolithic religion, Mesolithic religion, Neolithic religion and Bronze Age religion.
Intentional burial, particularly with grave goods may be one of the earliest detectable forms of religious practice since, as Philip Lieberman suggests, it may signify a "concern for the dead that transcends daily life."
A number of archeologists propose that Middle Paleolithic societies such as Neanderthal societies may also have practiced the earliest form of totemism or animal worship. Emil Bächler in particular suggests (based on archeological evidence from Middle Paleolithic caves) that a widespread Middle Paleolithic Neanderthal bear cult existed (Wunn, 2000, p. 434-435). A claim that evidence was found for Middle Paleolithic animal worship c 70,000 BC originates from the Tsodilo Hills in the African Kalahari desert has been denied by the original investigators of the site. Animal cults in the following Upper Paleolithic period, such as the bear cult, may have had their origins in these hypothetical Middle Paleolithic animal cults.
Animal worship during the Upper Paleolithic was intertwined with hunting rites. For instance, archeological evidence from art and bear remains reveals that the Bear cult apparently had a type of sacrificial bear ceremonialism in which a bear was shot with arrows and then was finished off by a shot in the lungs and ritualistically buried near a clay bear statue covered by a bear fur with the skull and the body of the bear buried separately.
There are no extant textual sources from the Neolithic era, the most recent available dating from the Bronze Age, and therefore all statements about any belief systems Neolithic societies may have possessed are glimpsed from archaeology.
The archaeologist Marija Gimbutas put forward a notion of a "woman-centered" society surrounding goddess worship throughout Pre History (Paleolithic and Neolithic Europe) and ancient civilizations, by using the term matristic "exhibiting influence or domination by the mother figure".
However, these views are questioned by the majority of the scientific community. Archaeologist Sarah M. Nelson criticizes Gimbutas suggesting that she used the same techniques used in the past to disparage women but in this case to glorify them, and quotes another archaeologist, Pamela Russell as saying "The archaeological evidence is, in some cases, distorted enough to make a careful prehistorian shudder".