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