The earliest evidence of religious ideas dates back several hundred thousand years to the Middle and Lower Paleolithic periods. Archaeologists refer to apparent intentional burials of early homo sapiens from as early as 300,000 years ago as evidence of religious ideas. Other evidence of religious ideas include symbolic artifacts from Middle Stone Age sites in Africa. However, the interpretation of early paleolithic artifacts, with regard to how they relate to religious ideas, remains controversial. Archeological evidence from more recent periods is less controversial. A number of artifacts from the Upper Paleolithic (50,000-13,000) are generally interpreted by scientists as representing religious ideas. Examples of Upper Paleolithic remains associated with religious beliefs include the lion man, the Venus figurines, cave paintings from Chauvet Cave and the elaborate ritual burial from Sungir.
In the 19th century, various theories were proposed regarding the origin of religion, supplanting the earlier claims of Christianity of urreligion. Early theorists Edward Burnett Tylor and Herbert Spencer proposed the concept of animism, while archaeologist John Lubbock used the term "fetishism". Meanwhile, religious scholar Max Müller theorized that religion began in hedonism and folklorist Wilhelm Mannhardt suggested that religion began in "naturalism", by which he meant mythological explanation of natural events. All of these theories have since been widely criticized; there is no broad consensus regarding the origin of religion.