The Archaeology Coursebook: An Introduction to Study Skills, Topics and Methods

By Jim Grant; Sam Gorin et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 8

Religion and Ritual

YOUR GOALS

You need to understand

the key concepts drawn from sociology and anthropology that archaeologists use to help define and explain past beliefs and rituals

the techniques and sources archaeologists use to interpret evidence of religious belief and practices

case studies from your area of study, which illustrate religion and ritual from that period or culture

how to use evidence to support longer pieces of writing.

For periods where there are written sources such as Ancient Greece or medieval Europe, archaeologists have tended to use texts as the means to interpret and understand past belief systems. For cultures where there are no written sources, many archaeologists have held the view that uncovering the nature of past religious belief from material remains is beyond their ability. In the 1950s Hawkes argued that there was a hierarchy of inferences which archaeologists could make from their sources. Using material remains they could say a great deal about technology and economics, much less about society and very little about belief. How can you understand thoughts from bones, sherds and postholes? His argument has become known as Hawkes’ ladder of inference (see Figure 8.1).

Since the 1960s there has been an explosion of interest amongst the general public in past religions, especially those of the later prehistoric period. The reluctance of many archaeologists to discuss religion left a gap that was filled by a range of other explanations, which fed on public interest in ancient monuments. Often these involved projecting current concerns onto evidence from the past. The most famous was Von Daniken’s depiction of god as an astronaut. This view attributed great monuments from the past to aliens. For example, the Nazca lines in Peru became alien

-137-

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The Archaeology Coursebook: An Introduction to Study Skills, Topics and Methods
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Brief Contents v
  • Contents vii
  • Figures xix
  • Index of Skills xxii
  • Acknowledgements xxiii
  • Illustration Acknowledgements xxiv
  • Introduction xxv
  • Part One - Understanding Archaeological Resources 1
  • Chapter 1 3
  • Chapter 2 25
  • Chapter 3 58
  • Chapter 4 80
  • Chapter 5 93
  • Chapter 6 105
  • Chapter 7 120
  • Part Two - Studying Themes in Archaeology 135
  • Chapter 8 137
  • Chapter 9 165
  • Chapter 10 196
  • Chapter 11 236
  • Part Three - Examination Success and Beyond 259
  • Chapter 12 261
  • Chapter 13 283
  • Chapter 14 - Where to Next? 296
  • Chapter 15 - Finding the Best Information 301
  • Appendix 305
  • Glossary of Terms and Abbreviations 307
  • Bibliography 315
  • Index 319
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