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Probably_Not_Evil t1_jcyf8qc wrote

I wonder how many of these ritual sacrifices were really the ancient equivalent of a community BBQ?


half3clipse t1_jcyont7 wrote

in a lot of places they were kinda. in many ancient religions the gods were viewed as powerful members of the community. You throw a party, you make sure they're included.

More deliberate and specific rituals also happened of course but if you were slaughtering a goat for food and are going to celebrate something? Might as well make a sacrifice to whoever the relevant deity was at the same time. If they like it, you might get a bit of divine favor, and you sure wouldn't want them to feel like they were snubbed.

Its not a coincidence that when animal offerings were burnt or etc, they were often parts we couldn't eat, or only a small part of the animals. Rituals where the whole animal was given up were less common and often reserved for really important things.


xiaorobear t1_jcyzasr wrote

> Its not a coincidence that when animal offerings were burnt or etc, they were often parts we couldn't eat, or only a small part of the animals.

Of course it's not a coincidence, you can't take credit away from Prometheus tricking Zeus into choosing the inedible parts!

(ie a fun explanation for why, as you said, the humans get the best bits)


SwadianZunist t1_jd0w8up wrote

Why don’t people ever talk about this context when they talk about Prometheus? It seems vital.


OtisTetraxReigns t1_jd1xt4k wrote

Most people only know about the black goo. And Guy Pierce’s bad old-man makeup.


cosmotosed t1_jd0i6hh wrote

Clearly Zeus was from Nobility if he couldn’t discern the difference between a pile of bones and a pile of meat with a cow stomach on top ;)


XAos13 t1_jcz79rx wrote

>slaughtering a goat for food

Also the priest makes sure the knife is as clean as possible. The blood drains completely etc. Anything else would be an insult to God. Who might retaliate with a plague.


StekenDeluxe t1_jcz7qhj wrote

> Also the priest makes sure the knife is as clean as possible. The blood drains completely etc. Anything else would be an insult to God.

Sorry in which religion is this the case?


XAos13 t1_jcz87is wrote

In the 1st century BC, almost all of them in the middle east. Today, we leave it to butchers.


StekenDeluxe t1_jcza377 wrote

Sorry, which specific religions are you talking about?

FWIW, it may be worth noting that you can find plenty of sacrificial traditions wherein the blood is commonly included as part of the offering. The Hittites used to pour blood into sacrificial pits. At least in the Luwian-Hurrian sacrificial tradition as attested from Kizzuwatna, the blood of the sacrificial animals was specifically given to the gods to drink. In the Odyssey, Odysseus is similarly said to pour the blood of a ram and a ewe into a pit in the ground, presumably as offerings to chthonic deities, in order to consult the dead. And so on and so forth.


XAos13 t1_jcze64w wrote

>blood ... given to the gods to drink. pour the blood of a ram ... into a pit

Requires the blood to be drained. You just cited two examples of what I meant. The parts reserved for the gods are the parts humans don't eat.


StekenDeluxe t1_jczfoeo wrote

I don't understand what you are trying to say.

Earlier, you wrote the following:

> the priest makes sure the knife is as clean as possible. The blood drains completely etc. Anything else would be an insult to God.

Are you saying that the insult would be to include any of the sacrificial animal's blood as part of the offering? Or that the insult would be to include only a part but not all of the sacrificial animal's blood?

Also, you mentioned an "insult to God," but you still haven't specified which "God" this would be. It's all terribly unclear.

> The parts reserved for the gods are the parts humans don't eat.

Which parts are you talking about? The blood? If so, that makes no sense at all. Gods and men alike could consume blood - it was considered perfectly fine food. Blood was famously a main ingredient in the "black soup" of the Spartans. Surely they weren't alone in this. Folks back then could ill afford to discard any part of a slaughtered animal.

EDIT: I don't mind the downvotes, at all, but would much prefer counter-arguments of some kind. Anyone?


IFailedTuringTestAMA t1_jd089p9 wrote

I think he’s just pointing out how the traditions are rooted in logic for the time. Some were to prevent the spread of disease and others are explanations for why the gods got the bits we don’t want. And I’m pretty sure most cultures didn’t consider blood a food or something to be eaten. I wouldn’t mind seeing your source on the Gods enjoying it, though.


StekenDeluxe t1_jd0dx9m wrote

> And I’m pretty sure most cultures didn’t consider blood a food or something to be eaten.

If you could list a few examples from the ancient world of cultures where cooking with blood was considered wrong or taboo, I'd love to see them.

> I wouldn’t mind seeing your source on the Gods enjoying it, though.

Sure thing!

In Billie Jean Collins' Pigs at the Gate: Hittite Pig Sacrifice in Its Eastern Mediterranean Context, she describes how in a rite from Kizzuwatna,

> "the petitioner digs a hole in the ground and kills a piglet […] so that its blood flows into the pit. Various offerings of grains and breads are placed into the pit and the primordial deities are invited to eat the food and drink the blood of the piglet."

Furthermore, in Gary Beckman's Blood in Hittite Ritual, he explains how

> "… The syntagm aulin karp- must indicate the positioning of the victim’s throat to receive the fatal slashing. After the blow had been struck, the officiant could control the direction taken by the resultant eruption of blood, sending it upward or downward. It is this distinction that is expressed by the pair of technical terms ‘slaughter up’ versus ‘slaughter down’…"

And he continues:

> "In this regard the Hittites seem to have observed a practice similar to that of the ancient Greeks by which animals offered to celestial and earthly gods were generally killed with their throats upward, while those intended for chthonic deities met their end with throats turned earthward."

Apparently none of these gods had a problem with being sprinkled with blood - quite the opposite!

As mentioned, Odysseus' sacrifice of the ram and the ewe is described in the Odyssey - the relevant passages are 10.504-540 and 11.13-50.

Oh and another example from the Greek world - in Pindar's Olympian 1, the deified Pelops is explicitly said to receive "blood-sacrifices" at his "much-frequented tomb."

Likewise, Menander Rhetor describes a happy birth thusly - "every relative and friend was full of hope; they sacrificed to the gods of birth, altars ran with blood, the whole household held holiday."

There are many, many more examples of altars being smeared with blood. Picking a few examples at random, you've got the Hyndluljóð, where the young king smears the sacrificial hǫrgr with ox blood - as does a princess in Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks, and an injured hero in Kormáks saga.

I mean I could go on and on, but yeah - there are plenty of examples.


IFailedTuringTestAMA t1_jd1dk2a wrote

Gods don’t actually exist which is what I was getting at due your phrasing… It’s interesting that now you went out on your own and found all the sources that the person you were originally, pedantically arguing with would’ve found useful to prove you wrong about the blood offerings haha

Also, those are all blood offerings to gods, not those same cultures eating blood… I feel like this is an information dump of irrelevant info

It’s sort of the original commenters point - they offer blood to gods claiming it’s sustenance but those same cultures aren’t necessarily eating that blood. They’re taking the good meat


Ok-disaster2022 t1_jczqccu wrote

So it doesn't take much practice or experience to find leaving blood in the body, especially when cooked is pretty unpleasant. Draining the blood is common pretty much world wide for meat, as is letting it rest to have the rigor mortis dissipate.

Ironically though, depending on society, butchers may be considered a profession for the lowest levels in society. I believe in Japan's social stru ture for example the butchers and leatherworkers were lowest level.


Mayor__Defacto t1_jczyssy wrote

Sure, because they deal with things that are considered taboo/unfit for human consumption (like blood)


StekenDeluxe t1_jd02or5 wrote

> things that are considered taboo/unfit for human consumption (like blood)

To be clear, that is not a universal taboo.

As mentioned, the Spartans (as an example) used pig's blood for their famous "black soup" - surely they weren't alone in thinking of blood as potential food.


DaddyCatALSO t1_jd1gsu8 wrote

Using the drinaed blood as an *ingredient* was not at all rare.


StekenDeluxe t1_jczs0j5 wrote

Right, sure, I'm not denying any of that.

The other gentleman, however, didn't make the claim that the blood of the sacrificial animal was drained because it makes the meat more pleasant to consume for humans, but because not doing so "would be an insult to God" - a very different explanation.


Xtorting t1_jd0q0so wrote

For Judaism, any new Temple that is raised must have all the tools and instruments cleaned with the blood of a red heifer (cow). This was specifically laid out in the law of Moses. Once the 3rd Temple is raised there will be animal sacrifices again. However, it is important to note that Judaism have not had a new Temple to make any animal sacrifices in over 2000 years.

The reason Christians stopped blood sacrifices was due to Jesus shedding his blood as a sacrifice for us. Some sections of Christian faiths believe Christ will bring back blood sacrifices when he returns. Technically, there is a symbolic blood sacrifice for Christians during the sacrament every Sunday. Wine or water symbolizing the blood of Christ.

Muslims have continued the tradition of annual animal sacrifices to this day commemorating Abraham (Ibrahim) sacrificing his son.


nrin005 t1_jd00xso wrote

To be fair to the person you are responding to, your examples are centuries earlier than the 1st century BCE they referred to


StekenDeluxe t1_jd0287e wrote

That is true.

I still wonder which specific 1st century BCE religions the person had in mind, though - would have loved to learn more!


Ok-disaster2022 t1_jczpv1s wrote

Also the priests often got to eat the sacrifices if there was edible elements.


half3clipse t1_jd06jna wrote

Sacrifices specifically performed by priests were not really the norm. They happened, they existed, but often those were for really big really important rituals where you need someone to ensure it's performed correctly. But even then the role of the priest was not much what the modern conception looks like. Ancient polytheistic religions weren't just "Christianity but with more sky daddies'. The priests role was to ensure orthopraxy, not orthodoxy.

The impetus for a sacrifice was far from always some rarefied churchy thing. If someone in your family was making a journey you might invoke some god to look on favor of whatever their goal was and see to their safe return, and propose to the god that if they do so you'd celebrate their return and success, and the god role in it by making a sacrifice to that god. And you might involve a priest in determining if the god agreed to those terms (determine portents was very much seen as a skill and if you ask the god for help and the portents say '"Don't do this" you'd want to put those plans off). But on their safe return you wouldn't just hand the animal off to a priest and wash your hands of the whole thing. The sacrifice would be part of your families celebration of their success and return. It's not the priests eating the food, it's you.

Even if you're not trying to ask for some specific thing, your local gods would be powerful members of your community. So as mentioned if you were celebrating something (Slaughtering an animal and the food that came from it would be cause enough to celebrate) you'd make sure any god who was relevant was included just on general principle. The animal grew well and strong, did not die to illness or wild animals, and now you and your household have a bounty of food. Clearly the gods looked in favor on that, and they'd deserve to be included in that celebration as much or more than any of the members of the household. Unless there was some specific agreement with the god to make a sacrifice, the sacrifice wouldn't be made out of obligation, but because not doing so would just be plain rude.

A lot of sacrifices wouldn't have been "Well we need to waste this animal as a sacrifice to keep a god happy, but a least the priests can eat it", but "We're slaughtering this animal for food to eat ourselves. So we're going to offer some relevant god an appropriate portion of that bounty as thanks." In a modern context, a community BBQ would be a wholly appropriate event to make some offerings, because it would not do to snub some of the most powerful and important figures of that community.


DaddyCatALSO t1_jd1gzne wrote

That's why paul goes on so much about "meat sacrificed to idols" it was really the only red meat msot peoplke got


akodo1 t1_jd09pke wrote

If you don't give something up, it's not a sacrifice. Pouring whiskey on the grave of a deceased friend is a kind of sacrifice. Taking a drink in his honor is not.

If it was a sacrifice then no, it or at least parts of it were not eaten. If all the normal bits were eaten then it would be a feast in honor of x not a sacrifice to x. Note it's likely that a few high value but also symbolic parts were wasted rather than eaten. Lots of sacrifice is of the heart which is burnt (otherwise it's good vitamin rich food) or blood which soaks into the ground (rather than caught in bowls and made into foods like blood pudding)

But humans like to play games, lots of sacrifices were of bits like bones or hooves that had very little use. Or people would sacrifice a proxy, maybe make a little clay cow, and throw that in the fire


StekenDeluxe t1_jd0fli7 wrote

I mean even the term "sacrifice" has been problematised for some of these reasons. As several people have pointed out, a lot of this stuff could probably better be described as large-scale feasts, to which entire communities were invited - including the gods, who were seen as potential allies, to be swayed with food and drink.

If I host a BBQ in my backyard, I might pay for the meat to be grilled, and in that sense I am in a sense "sacrificing" something - in that I am thereby giving up something of value - but calling the entire BBQ a "sacrifice" would nevertheless be quite wrong.

Scholars who study the idea of "sacrifice" are, these days, very aware of all of this and therefore tend to be quite careful indeed about how the term is used.


ArchaeoHugh t1_jd0htmg wrote

Hi, I am one of the coauthors of the paper. In a sense they were community bbq. We theorise that these were built by communities coming together(rather than just family groups). Cattle provide a lot of meat, based off previous studies, one could easily feed hundreds of people.
One thing that is fascinating is we haven't found the remains of the bbq yet. We have only ever found horns and upper cranial elements- never the body. Our new project is focusing on trying to work out where that ritual feasting would have taken place.


Fat0ldguy t1_jd13f7k wrote

Well yeah! The bones were used for tools, weapons, shields...they were as valuable as the meat


ArchaeoHugh t1_jd164nt wrote

We have found bone tools, but they are very small points probably used for aspects of working with skins/leather. The only 'weapons' we have found are arrowheads which were made out of stone and used for hunting. No shields- bone would not be good for that.

Generally when people are 'feasting' on food like animal, you find burnt scraps of bones which are really obvious as they often have butchering marks on it. We have some Neolithic houses and they are chock full of bone fragments from peoples dinner.


dubsnipe t1_jcyu2ph wrote

Yup. One example is the laws of Leviticus in the bible. It's basically well-done bbq, but some is burned to ashes and some is shared with the priests and community to eat at the site.


Catinthemirror t1_jcz8ivj wrote

This is my immediate thought as well. So many "pilgrimage" sites seem to turn out to be market centers later on.


ExileZerik t1_jczbd93 wrote

Evidence of ritualized feasting comes up quite a bit so yes lol


PepeTheElder t1_jczru8j wrote

yo make sure to fix a plate and then pour it out for my boy Ahura Mazda on account of the fact he’s got no caporal form


sugar_tit5 t1_jcz0lxi wrote

Don't know why I've never thought about this


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divaythfyrscock t1_jcznzya wrote

I mean, Islamic animal sacrifice (a continuation of pre-Islamic practice) ends up as community BBQ so it isn’t really a stretch


KLR01001 t1_jd0n41k wrote

Pretty much all of the Hebrew Bible sacrifices.


ArchaeoHugh t1_jd0gx1m wrote

Hi, I am one of the co-authors of the piece. Happy to answer any questions.


kw0711 t1_jd10xeo wrote

How did you find this area? Were you accompanied by someone from Saudi during the project?


ArchaeoHugh t1_jd15rb5 wrote

Our project performed remote sensing(satellite imagery survey) and helicopter aerial photography of thousands of sites in the region. The site we excavated was then visited on the ground by 4x4 and subsequently selected to be excavated.

We have had a lot of Saudi students be mentored by us during our seasons. The article also was co-written by an academic at a local University.


maybesbabies t1_jd1j4wm wrote

Hi there, would it seem plausible that the remains being just skull remnants would imply a sort of slaughterhouse? With how prolific they are, and there being a Green Arabia at the time that could support large herds/flocks, I'm curious as to what they would have done with the rest of the remains, if none were recovered on sites. Was there somewhere else they brought the remains, or were the skulls brought there? These almost seem like pens and sluices at large slaughterhouses.


ArchaeoHugh t1_jd1lf2u wrote

They did slaughter them, just not inside the structure. Where exactly, we aren't sure. We find cut marks on a number of the horns/teeth, so we can see evidence of butchering. But the non-cranial parts of the body haven't been found and were presumably part of a feast somewhere else. Some of the horns we have found appear like they may have been 'treated' as a way to remove the keratin horn sheath from the bone core. So that could indicate they have come from further away and the horn core was removed in order to be transpored.

They definitely had large herds, we can tell that from the rock art and the fact that they are sacrificing bulls that are more mature.

So over the course of the next 2 years, we are going to excavation a mustatil that is in close association with a nearby Neolithic settlement. The idea being to see whether the animal remains in the mustatil match those in the houses.

Important to state, we have identified 1600 mustatil and have excavated 5. So still a LOT more research to go.


maybesbabies t1_jd1lztk wrote

And I'm sorry, one more question if I may. Does this in some way imply large scale processing? If the horns had been treated, perhaps they were used in another application, these were brought here for some other application, the meat was used elsewhere, etc. Would this imply a larger population using the end products of these sacrifices then, like a sort of religious factory work? I'm of limited understanding, but weren't there many bull cults/horned cults in the region at the time?


ArchaeoHugh t1_jd2cawi wrote

Yep, cattle cults are common around the world. You can see them in places like Yemen or the corbeilles in Saharan Africa. All I can say is we know one of the horns appears to have burning inside- almost like it was a torch. But we also find little hearths inside the mustatil, so that could be why. Unfortunately, we can’t answer the question as to whether the horns were used elsewhere first. I’d doubt it but you can’t discount it. We just gotta dig more!!!


jahnatan t1_jd1vima wrote

hi, thanks for the open questions :)

I'm not sure if I follow how/why the sites were dated 7,000 years old. what was the technique to determine the dating ?


ArchaeoHugh t1_jd2d0nh wrote

So we have performed Carbon 14 testing on the animal remains and charcoal present inside. They all came back around 5300–4900 BCE- so roughly 7000 years ago. We have also done a technique called OSL- which is where you can test the last time a grain of sand saw sunlight. So you get sediment from under the structure, that was trapped when it was built- and determine the age pretty accurately.


majestic_failure t1_jd2aslo wrote

Do you think there will ever come a point when we stop finding big deal structures like this? Like there can only be a finite number of them to find.

Also, what was a discovery that made you really change your view of history in some way?


ArchaeoHugh t1_jd2cu1g wrote

So these structures wee first identified in the 70s. They weren’t studied until 2008 but that was just people taking photos. The first one was excavated in 2018. It’s a big world. There is a lot out there that is still to be found.

I actually think the mustatil have changed my view of world archaeology. These are 7000 years old. They cover an area of 350,000 square kilometres(at present). Some are made of over 12,000 tonnes of stone. This suggests a Neolithic period that is so much more complex than I ever imagined. Shared culture, language, and more over such a massive area. Blows my mind.


PinguinBen t1_jd2lkxg wrote

Is it possible they were just shepherds and the mustatils the pen’s where they would keep their animals safe and together. Of course sacrifices will have been made to some gods. What other indications are found to suggest these were used for a gathering of a religious nature?


ArchaeoHugh t1_jd4l0wf wrote

This is the most common suggestion we get. Definitely not pens. The long walls are often not high. Some mustatil have gaps in the walls. Others run up the side of volcanos or steep hill. The entrance into the structures are tiny, most people would need to walk through sideways. Basically, we are positive that they couldn’t hold animals. We also have animal pens from later periods(and perhaps some now from same time) and they are very different. We have excavated 5 mustatil now, of a few different types. Other teams in the region have collectively excavated 4 and we compare results. We have also visited or photographed hundreds more. So we can be really certain about the ritual function. But you are right- the people who made these were shepherds. Moving around the area to take advantage of available grasslands etc. very similar to some of the Bedouin still today. Thanks for the question.


hotmailer t1_jcyqkqu wrote

It says in Islam that there was a civilisation there of the people of Ad and Thamud who were destroyed much like Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed. They were a powerful people that built palaces on mountains as art and entertainment.


pingu183 t1_jd1w5oe wrote

But weren't both in today's Jordan (Petra) or in the Dead Sea (Sodom and Gomorrah)?


hotmailer t1_jd321py wrote

Could have been the same civilisation, Thamud were very advanced. I can't say.

Sodom and Gomorrah are indeed by the dead sea, and it's amazing that they still are there with dead bones and the sulphur pebbles that destroyed them are still there too.


marketrent OP t1_jcxohcn wrote

Excerpt from the linked summary^1 by study^2 co-authors Melissa Kennedy and Hugh Thomas:

>In the 1970s, the first archaeological surveys of northwest Saudi Arabia identified an ancient and mysterious rectangular structure.

>The sandstone walls of the structure were 95m long, and although it was determined to be unique, no further study of this unusual site was undertaken.

>These structures are now known as mustatils (Arabic for rectangle).

>In 2019–2020, we undertook excavations at a mustatil site called IDIHA-0008222. The structure, made from unworked sandstone, measures 140m in length and 20m in width.

>Excavations in the head of the mustatil revealed a semi-subterranean chamber. Within this chamber were three large, vertical stones.

>We have interpreted these as “betyls”, or sacred standing stones which represented unknown ancient deities.


>Surrounding these stones were well-preserved cattle, goat, and gazelle horns. The horns are so well preserved that much of what we find is the horn sheath, made of keratin – the same substance as hair and nails.

>We found only the upper cranial elements of these animals: the teeth, skulls, and horns. This suggests a clear and specific choice of offerings.

>Further analysis suggests the bulk of these remains belonged to male animals and the cattle were aged between 2 and 12 years. Their slaughter would have formed a significant proportion of a community’s wealth, indicating these were high-value offerings.

>While recording these structures after rain, we noted that almost all mustatils pointed towards areas that held water.

>Current evidence suggests that the mustatils were in use between 5300 and 4900 BCE, a time when Arabia was green and humid.

>However, within a few generations, the ancient inhabitants of Saudi Arabia began to reuse these structures, this time to bury human body parts.

^1 Enigmatic ruins across Arabia hosted ancient ritual sacrifices, Melissa Kennedy and Hugh Thomas, 16 Mar. 2023,

^2 Kennedy M, Strolin L, McMahon J, Franklin D, Flavel A, et al. (2023) Cult, herding, and ‘pilgrimage’ in the Late Neolithic of north-west Arabia: Excavations at a mustatil east of AlUla. PLOS ONE 18(3): e0281904.


sushixyz t1_jcy7vta wrote

Excuse my ignorance but isn't it a tad inappropriate to refer to an ancient religion as a cult? I mean, it may have been a cult by today's standards. Obviously we don't sacrifice things anymore, however to these people in their time this was most definitely a normal practice across many different cultures throughout history. To refer to it as a cult is just a bit inaccurate, in my opinion.


whywoulditellyou t1_jcybo63 wrote

Cult in this context is not meant in the derogatory sense it is used today. Rather, it refers to the ritual worship of a group. For example, the worship in the Temple in ancient Israel would be referred to as the “Temple cult” even if a majority of the tribes at any time also believed the same.


fighterace00 t1_jczxt5z wrote

The word cult is not even mentioned in the article at all.


marketrent OP t1_jd0vp9q wrote


>The word cult is not even mentioned in the article at all.

‘Cult’ is the first word in the title of the peer-reviewed research article:

>Kennedy M, Strolin L, McMahon J, Franklin D, Flavel A, et al. (2023) Cult, herding, and ‘pilgrimage’ in the Late Neolithic of north-west Arabia: Excavations at a mustatil east of AlUla. PLOS ONE 18(3): e0281904.


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Beautiful_Fee1655 t1_jczi7ld wrote

Cult, which shares an origin with culture and cultivate, comes from the Latin cultus, a noun with meanings ranging from "tilling, cultivation" to "training or education" to "adoration."


RuinLoes t1_jcywv3b wrote

Cult doesn't mean like brainwashed suicide pact cult here.


thunder_blue t1_jczwsty wrote

'Cult' is the term for 'religion' in an anthropological context.


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flowersmom t1_jd0r34e wrote

I wonder whatever gave ancient man the idea to sacrifice animals and people in the first place


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ChairmanUzamaoki t1_jd23vn0 wrote

but it's such a ubiquitous thing in ancient cultures to sacrifice to the gods I wonder if it arised independently in so many cultures or if it was a tradition passed down from some proto-human from when we were barely able to conceptualize the abstract such as gods nd afterlife.


Ecous t1_jd09duo wrote

I wonder who/when this religious sacrifice/blood-god idea started? Question that time immemorial has lost the answer to, perhaps?


StekenDeluxe t1_jd0grkz wrote

"Sharing is caring." People love sharing things of value - food, drink, flowers, songs, etc. - with friends, family and honoured guests. Only makes sense that the local gods are invited as well.


TheJun1107 t1_jd4sczc wrote

Any clues what their religion was like?


korish77 t1_jd0tj9b wrote

I wonder if any current religions will be considered cults in a thousand years from now