I've read some by him before, and mostly enjoyed it and felt I'd learned some things. But this...well. It's Homo Necans and purports to find the origins of animal sacrifice in ancient hunting practices and rituals. Okay, sounds plausible to me. Tell me, Walter, how did we get from hunting to "make a parade with some basket-carrying girls, a flute player, and the cow, throw some barley, kill the cow and burn it's thighbones and it's time for a nice big supper!"?
Well, I'm not a hundred percent sure, because we've spent the majority of the first part of the book on how "ancient hunting practices" involve weird assumptions about aggression and sociobiological theories about how men are the "breadwinners" and hence through their hunting provide for their women and children. (Honestly, breadwinners. Hunters bring home bread. Really? No thinking that one through? Granted, this is translated from German and my German isn't good enough to know if the word in that language involves Brot or not, but still.)
See, primates aren't predators by nature, so when humans invented weapons and became predators, they became Ultra Dangerous to each other. This required channeling all that (male, natch) aggression towards hunting. In order to guarantee aggression during hunting, males are required to see the prey as totally masculine, because male responses to seeing women and children would sap them of their vital masculinity--I mean, would undermine aggressive responses. Somehow, though, sex with women is an extension of male aggression.
Yeah, I don't know either. But hey, maybe he's right! I mean, it's not like research has shown that in hunter/gatherer societies it's women's activities that actually provide the majority of their group's nutritional needs. And it's absolutely a universal that in such societies men do all the hunting and women stay home watching babies and foraging for berries. Right?
A vast amount of ethnographic and archaeological evidence demonstrates that the sexual division of labor in which men hunt and women gather wild fruits and vegetables is an uncommon phenomenon among hunter-gatherers worldwide. Although most of the gathering is usually done by women, a society in which men completely abstained from gathering easily available plants has yet to be found. Generally women hunt the majority of the small game while men hunt the majority of the large and dangerous game, but there are quite a few documented exceptions to this general pattern. A study done on the Aeta people of the Philippines states: "About 85% of Philippine Aeta women hunt, and they hunt the same quarry as men. Aeta women hunt in groups and with dogs, and have a 31% success rate as opposed to 17% for men. Their rates are even better when they combine forces with men: mixed hunting groups have a full 41% success rate among the Aeta."
But this here, this is amazing. Read this:
In the shock caused by the sight of flowing blood we clearly experience the remnant of a biological, life-preserving inhibition. But that is precisely what must be overcome, for men, at least, could not afford "to see no blood," and they were educated accordingly.
No, seriously, you just read that. Walter Burkert said, in public--in print no less--that men could not afford to avoid seeing blood with the implication that women could, indeed, spend their lives free of the sight of blood.
He said it in print, in German, and then allowed it to be translated into English so even more people could slam their heads against their desks after reading it. This is more egregious even than calling hunters who bring home meat "breadwinners" while dismissing the nutritional contribution of the folks who are, in his (quite faulty) model, actually providing the plant part of the diet. And the fact that he wrote that sentence and never seems to bat an eye over it....
Seriously? I mean, seriously? If he doesn't start giving specifics about actual sacrificial rituals real soon this bad boy's flying across the room.