Ian Crofton writes in 50 world history events you really need to know, regarding division of labour in pre-historic hunter-gatherer societies:

Before the coming of farming there was some division of labour. In hunter-gatherer societies the women usually did most of the gathering and the men most of the hunting, while certain individuals, sometimes with some form of disability, became shamans.

Because the book is a short synopsis for a layman audience, there isn't a citation for the evidence to support this claim.

My question is, how do we know that some disabled people became shamans in pre-historic, hunter-gatherer societies?

  • A simple google search reveal multiple sources. (a few of which are credible).
    – MCW
    Jul 30, 2017 at 1:18
  • 1
    We have absolutely no evidences on that subject. Maybe, if prehistoric archeology will have much more found graves, we could answer the question, but all "evidences" on the subject are purely speculative. And BTW, it could be a great fallacy by itself, to think that there existed anything common in behaviour for all prehistoric communities, for all prehistoric times. Maybe only, the most base things, as sex, death, birth, food, drink.
    – Gangnus
    Jul 31, 2017 at 10:51

1 Answer 1


Your source might be referring to the potential link between schizophrenia, or more specifically milder versions of it, and religiosity. Cases of "possession" and "inner voices" attributed to gods and spirits that eventually led to organized religion could indeed have been mild cases of schizophrenia. The theory originates from Paul Radin in the 1930s.

Interesting lecture on the topic: Dr. Robert Sapolsky on Biological Underpinnings of Religiosity. He discusses precisely the topic you're wondering about around 12:00. There's also an interesting bit on the link between ritualism and OCD around 30:00.

  • Any scientific hypothesis must have a proposition of an experiment how it could be checked and confronted. If it hasn't such proposition, it is a pure speculation. If a hypothesis had passed several such checks, made by independent scientisists, it could change its name to "theory". And practically 99% of behavioral anthropology is such speculation. The very use of the word "theory" for the mentioned thoughts is absolutely incorrect. It was not even ever a hypothesis, let alone theory. Behavioral anthropology has same "science"rights as astrology.
    – Gangnus
    Jul 31, 2017 at 11:00
  • @Gangnus: Faire enough, but FYI experimental psychology has been studying behavior patterns related to religiosity and cult groups for a while now, and has primarily been doing so using reproducible experiments. Comically, an anecdotal observation described how, in the aftermath of a failed doomsday prophecy, members of a cult split in two groups: one stepped away in disbelief, while the other went from reclusive to enthusiastic proselytes. Jul 31, 2017 at 12:10
  • Hi, Denis. "reproducible experiments" is not enough. The correct testing of a hypothesis must include: 1) checkable questions for which hypothesis will say "yes" 2) questions, answers for which must be "no". 3) questions, answers for which must be pre-known, and fail in these answers mean fail of the hypothesis. 4) These experiments should check the hypothesis in really harsh way, and for all thinkable fails. (#4 - is the demand for theory)
    – Gangnus
    Jul 31, 2017 at 12:59
  • Have you read at least ONCE the history of a behavioral anthropology hypothesis that had ONE pre-prepared question of #3 kind that was checked AFTERWARDS? Even more, could you imagine such check for the proposed hypothesis?
    – Gangnus
    Jul 31, 2017 at 13:00
  • Biological anthropology and Genetic anthropology - they are OK. They are sciences for their hypothesis can be checked and were checked many times. Many of them were thrown off because they haven't passed these checks. That is the sign of the real science. Experimental psychology nowadays can work honestly, too. But the question does not belong to them.
    – Gangnus
    Jul 31, 2017 at 13:03

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