Thursday, 13 February 2014

Holographic archaeology -- religious offerings

Llyn Cerrig-bach -- the site of an important Iron
Age offering of metalwork (Geograph)
© Copyright Eric Jones and licensed for reuse
It is common for archaeologists to label all religious offerings as "votive". As the word means an object offered in fulfillment of a vow, it is clear that the word is ill-chosen as evidence of any vow, or even a wish, is usually absent. Informally, such offerings are called an offering to the god(s) -- again, often without any clear evidence that any god is associated with the site. This is complicated even further with Celtic offerings because of the story of Brennus at Delphi: "When the Celts overran the shrine at Delphi in 279 BC, the Celtic leader Brennus laughed at the Greek anthropomorphic images of their Gods." (Diodorus Siculus, XXII, 9.4). Later, Lucian of Samothrace quotes a Gaulish "philosopher": "We Celts do not consider the power of speech to be Hermes, as you Greeks do, but we represent it by means of Heracles, because he is much stronger than Hermes" (Lucian, Hercules). It should be fairly obvious, from this, that metaphor and abstract thinking was a Celtic characteristic and this is also supported with another statement from Diodorus: "...when they meet together they converse in few words and in riddles, hinting darkly at things for the most part and using one word when they mean another..." (V, 31). These phrases are not representative of the stock Classical descriptions of barbarians merely applied to the Celts, but are specific cultural clues.

Caesar describes the Druids as one of the two most important classes of Gauls (the other being knights), and yet, despite the anthropological emphasis in modern archaeology, Druids are often ignored in the archaeological literature. Why would this be? I think that we have to turn to Jung for the answer, and in particular, his work on personality types as these types can have a profound influence on the sort of career one might chose. Archaeology generally insists that it is about the material remains of the past. History and literature are not usually considered material evidence and one is hard pressed to find these subjects appearing in archaeological reports. Related to this is a common mistrust, by archaeologists, to art-historical analyses. All of these topics are more aspects of thought than the material, and even when psychology is addressed, it is most often about the physical workings of the brain. These foci suggest a materialistic view of existence commensurate with Jung's description of the extravert. Inward looking is not only avoided but distrusted, and it is common for some extraverts to merely project their own personality onto others. There is thus not only an avoidance of anything "spiritual" among extraverts, but explanations that impinge on this quality are treated materialistically and are often superficial and without any attempt at justification for what is being said. The word "ritual" in archaeological reports is often a source of humour for the more introverted archaeologists, who see waht is described as a substitution for what is not understood about some aspect of the site in question. Ritual is only one aspect of religious practice, and is often a later development in belief where actions are carried out without a full understanding of the meaning behind it. With "primitive" religions, it becomes ever more difficult to separate the sacred and the profane -- one might even say that everything is sacred. Druids are frequently described as priests yet no classical author has identified them as such. Most commonly, it is written that the Druids were "philosophers" and only officiated over religious practices. Without separating this duty from that of priests (as in modern times many religious events are officiated by a priest or direct equivalent), an even approximate picture of Celtic society is impossible.

So this is an important lesson: whenever you might encounter something in an excavation that appears to have a religious aspect never, under any circumstances, speak of "ritual" or "offerings to the gods" without providing evidence for this attribution. Failing to do this is a psychological projection that might be compared favorably with the ancient author's "stock" criticisms of "barbarians".  This should not be a problem for even the most extreme extravert -- simply describe what you see and avoid the meaningless labels. If you want to include anything of a religious nature in the description of what you are seeing, then you must deal with it properly as evidence -- "ritual" will just not do. At its best, it is just being lazy, at its worst, it is a subjective psychological projection. All of this will become clearer later in this series.

No comments:

Post a Comment