Friday, 22 August 2014

Archaeology and the psyche: part five ― archaeology as religion

Temple of Hatshepsut, Luxor, Egypt. Hathor
photo: Steve F-E-Cameron (Merlin-UK)
There is only one religion and we all follow it. It's name is faith. It does, however, have many expressions and these are called religions (plural). There are what are called "the great religions" because of the large numbers of people who follow them: Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism and so on. However, there are others that most people would not recognize as being religions at all. The one that amuses me the most is Atheism as it reacts against the common (and illiterate) idea that religion means belief in a god or gods. Religion comes from the Latin word which means to bind. We cannot find an origin for the word faith in the Latin fides which is cognate, but we might in proto Indo-European: *bʰeydʰ- (“to command, to persuade, to trust”).

Some religions or sects of religions are utterly intolerant of others whose followers they might call infidels, or unbelievers, while others express more universal or "meta-religious" views, such as Universal Sufism and Sikhism which exhibit great tolerance to other expressions.

I am sure that many of you who are reading this are already thinking "I don't follow any religion at all"; "but I have lost my faith", or something similar, but even if you are a cynic, you have faith in that. Faith can be expressed strongly or weakly, but we all have faith in something at some time. One of my favorite examples of this comes from Wolfgang Pauli, a physicist for whom I have great respect, perhaps because he was a close friend of C. G. Jung, and my personality type (INFJ) is also sometimes attributed to Jung, himself.:
"Werner Heisenberg [in Physics and Beyond, 1971] recollects a friendly conversation among young participants at the 1927 Solvay Conference, about Einstein and Planck's views on religion. Wolfgang Pauli, Heisenberg, and Dirac took part in it. Dirac's contribution was a poignant and clear criticism of the political manipulation of religion, that was much appreciated for its lucidity by Bohr, when Heisenberg reported it to him later. Among other things, Dirac said: "I cannot understand why we idle discussing religion. If we are honest – and as scientists honesty is our precise duty – we cannot help but admit that any religion is a pack of false statements, deprived of any real foundation. The very idea of God is a product of human imagination. [...] I do not recognize any religious myth, at least because they contradict one another. [...]" Heisenberg's view was tolerant. Pauli had kept silent, after some initial remarks. But when finally he was asked for his opinion, jokingly he said: "Well, I'd say that also our friend Dirac has got a religion and the first commandment of this religion is 'God does not exist and Paul Dirac is his prophet'". Everybody burst into laughter, including Dirac." (Wikipedia)

When I was engaged in voluntary public relations work for the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild, I thought that the easiest approach in arguing against US import restrictions on collectors coins and demands that legitimacy should be established with documented evidence of sales of coins prior to the UNESCO convention of 1970, would be the fact that most collectors coins have no chain of ownership, and that demanding such was thus nonsensical. Proving this fact is simplicity itself: you can find no end of auction catalogues which record no prior histories and in which most of the coins are not even illustrated. As coins are multiples, any mention of one type of coin could be claimed for many others. There are many Glendinning's catalogues which had no illustrations at all. Claiming that even a significant proportion of ancient, medieval, and early modern coins would have come from looted archaeological sites is pure fiction. Yet none of my arguments had any effect, whatsoever, on those who had claimed otherwise. I concluded that those people had to be either very stupid or were deliberately lying to the public for their own private and nefarious motives. No matter how hard I tried to discover which explanation was true, I could not do so.

Last night, I realized that I had been faced with a paradox, and as soon as I realized that, I was able to solve it through transdisciplinarity. It was a "Eureka" moment (especially so as it came to me while I was soaking in a hot bath at the time). The included middle of that logical dilemma was faith being expressed by those who still demanded non-existent proof or evidence. I was dealing with a religious issue expressed as Logos. All of these people were believers and I was an infidel in their eyes. I should have realized this earlier: in the early seventies I was involved in fighting against mind-control cults, so much so that, after a colleague was murdered by cult members, the rest of us started sleeping with a loaded pistol by our beds for a while. When we confronted the cult on public television, the police actually set up roadblocks around the television studio to protect us. We had worked with the RCMP in Canada, and some of my friends had also been FBI witnesses in a US. case against the same cult. These actions had only limited success and the cult still exists. Cult faith is insidious.

I can give another very clear example of how previous sales can be impossible to establish: A certain coin dealer purchased a very large number of coins from a member of the public in the late nineties. The bulk of them were 17th century silver coins from Austria, but the group also contained ancient coins (including fifty Roman denarii). The oldest coin was a drachm of Alexander the Great and the most recent coins (in mint condition) were dated 1850. It was part of an estate inherited by a woman and included the deceased's house and contents. She had no idea of the coins existence before she started going through the house contents. It took her eighteen months to find them all. They were hidden everywhere: every pocket of each item of clothing in the closets had a group of coins in them. Most of them had no accompanying holders, but a few did, and together with a few scraps of paper evidence established that the collecting period was in the early nineteenth century. The deceased was Jewish and had fled to North America in 1938 to avoid Nazi persecution. For about sixty years no member of his family even knew of their existence. Some of the coins had obviously been collected by a silver buyer, but there was a group of more than seventy-five 15 kreuzer pieces of Leopold the Hogmouth which had no duplication by mint or by date. That lot was certainly a numismatic collection. This morning, I contacted the dealer to get the above details and I asked whether I might identify the company for this blog. The answer was that, while the dealer had nothing personal against anyone knowing, my identification might make the woman who had discovered them known and this would violate her legal privacy rights. Coin dealers are frequently asked by "heritage cult members" to break the law, thusly.

Most archaeologists have not made a religion out of their interest, and are thus silent about such matters, but some who have are certainly zealots, yet everyone has some indications of religious belief, even if they do not consider themselves religious at all. It is visible in scientism and skepticism as a philosophical stance, it is also very visible in strong nationalist feelings concerning the past. Frequently, archaeologists and museum workers are irrationally opposed to trade and profit, and we can compare this to Christ overturning the tables of the money lenders in the temple. At its most mundane, faith in the preservation of marriage vows, and even a child's belief in Santa Claus are exactly the same. This is all apart from any realities, and the nature of reality, itself, is hotly debated by theoretical physicists who often postulated particles long before their existence could be proven (as happened with Pauli and what later was called the neutrino)

The root of all religious belief lies in the collective unconscious.It is ineffable, not subject to any laws of science that we are aware of and only seen through a glass, darkly. Jung thought (Psychology and Religion) that the archetypes were passed genetically but, of course, we cannot verify his ideas about that and those whose religious beliefs include any varieties of reincarnation might well have other ideas. None of this can be verified or negated by science in its current state and this might never be possible at all.

As human beings, we all share the same brain structures and these must affect the mind that inhabits that brain. Organisms who have no brains at all, have given evidence of mind-like functions in experimentation (like planarian worms who have only a bundle of nerve tissue that is only called a brain), so we cannot even be certain that that a brain is even necessary for sentient life in the universe. It is possible that minds evolved brains and not the other way round. We cannot create life to test this and it is thus beyond the scope of science. Ideas about these things, too, are theoretical or only a matter of faith.

Unlike religions (plural), religion (singular, faith) cannot be accessed by the consciousness, yet in the "upper levels" of the latter, certain patterns can be detected and demonstrated. I have some ideas, in that regard, concerning the quaternity as described in Jung's Mysterium Coniunctionis, together with alternative ideas from Jung's on how it might be reconciled with the Christian trinity, and I might start looking into this in the next series here. On Monday: archaeological fetishism.


  1. Thanks. Interesting. The cult of context?

  2. Hi Peter, while there are examples of the value of context, such claims are grossly exaggerated and the public might easily get the impression that always below the topsoil lie undisturbed archaeological sites with everything in place like a ghost ship, or some of the remains at Pompeii. Such sites are quite rare, as common sense would indicate. Even undisturbed sites are not a "record of meaning" and different archaeologists might have different interpretations. When the Le Catillon, Jersey, hoard was discovered it was thought to have been buried by Gallic war refugees. We now know that it was later than that date. Some British Durotriges coins in the hoard were dated too early as a result (quarter staters that were based on a late Gallic war type in gold, but which later was gradually debased to silver and billon). Quite often, though, interpretation is not even attempted by the excavators in their reports.

    That many coins have no reported find spots is rarely a big problem either: there are frequently enough that are reported to construct accurate distribution maps and I found that even continental Coriosolite coin hoard contents did not show any significant difference in their revealed coin distribution patterns if they contained 85 coins or many hundreds. I identified a British metal detectorist's single find of a Campano-Tarentine didrachm saying that the coin could have been an ancient or a modern loss. Any single metal-detector find has no context, either, and the wording of the Treasure Act recognizes this.

    Other typical cult behavior is attacking people who criticize, or attempting to suppress such criticism; encouraging people to break the law (in these cases by violating privacy laws about source), attempting to cause harm to businesses acting legally by encouraging people not to buy most of their stock thus placing a greater importance on things and ideals than on people's livelihoods , and confusing some professional ethics (which members of organizations set up as conditions of membership) with personal morals which people base on their own values (another negation of the individual).

    In repatriation cases, the objects are often put on special display just as ancient societies set up battle trophies, for political reasons. Similar sorts of objects from archaeological excavations can lie neglected and uncatalogued in museum stores and never be seen by the public.

    Other very typical cult behavior is the projection of the cult's beliefs onto the public at large and accusing people of doing what cult members, themselves, frequently do. The cult I was investigating in the seventies actually had this technique published in their internal polices, the reason given that if you accuse others of doing certain things, then no one will suspect you of doing the same. Almost across the board, with cults or certain beliefs is the idea that illegal or "extralegal" behavior is allowed as "the end justifies the means". Such people believe that they are above the law.

    In England, it has been often noted that the reporting of metal detecting finds diminishes in regions where detectorists are criticized by archaeologists and increases where the archaeologists grant detectorists greater respect and attempt to work with them. The classic example of the latter was the archaeologist Tony Gregory in Norfolk. Cult behavior frequently neglects pragmatism and promotes absolutism as they project their own personal morals onto society in general. They can also thus be identified by their rigid and unchanging views, ignoring valid practical concerns and by offering nothing in return for agreements which eliminates any success as can happen with established mediation methods.

  3. John,

    Simply because some archaeologists are irrational in their demand does not make them proponents of faith or religion; that would be giving them far too much credit. Certainly reason has it's boundaries and human reason and consciousness does reside outside the bounds of what pure reason can discover as Kant clearly demonstrated. However he also laid the groundwork in how one can approach metaphysics and what we would now call the social sciences through the use of a priori syncretic concepts. When someone, such as certain archaeologists you mention, abandon logic and reason they are simply living out the portion of the psyche that wants to always be right. It is a definite feature of human psychology to be right regardless of evidence. This leads to propaganda and politics both of which require no sound reason or science in order to be successful.

  4. I think we are essentially saying the same thing in different ways. From a Jungian perspective rational and irrational take meanings different from the commonly accepted definitions. In the sense that you are using the word (which is the commonly accepted definition), I would say "neurotic" instead of "irrational" so as not to confuse it with the Jungian sense of the word. As an INFJ, I am one of the Jungian irrational types. If I became neurotic, though, my "shadow" would cut in and I would express that neurosis in rational terms. This opposite, or compensatory tendency runs through Jungian thought. For example, the anima of the male is an expression of the worst or weakest form of a female, just as the animus in a female is an expression of the worst form of a male.

    People who have certain religious views and know it, or people who can compare what they believe with various aspects of different religions (I fall into the second category) are not the people I am discussing here, and you are right -- if I was comparing these archaeologists to such people, I would, indeed, be giving them too much credit.

    Perhaps we could come to a definition agreement if I used "quasi-religious" instead? I think that such people (who would also deny that they manifest faith) are operating at a neurotic level where the shadow of their rationality manifests itself as a religion. By taking that view, it can better prepare us to deal with it. Attempting to use reason against a neurotically generated and quasi-religious attitude can only strengthen that attitude. When members of a certain religion come to my door with the hopes of converting me, I simply say that I already have my own religious views and I am quite happy with them. This always ends the discussion. Perhaps some of them might think that I am damned and there is no hope for me, but that is not expressed because they know that there is nothing they could say that would change me. They are not acting in a neurotic way by trying to continue such conversion.

    Misery loves company, so we do see neurotic people gathering together in groups that reinforce their neuroses. It does little good to argue head-on with such people, and I think that the best solution would be to address the source of the neurosis to free them from it than by addressing its manifestation directly. Collectors and anti-collectors can both make the same sort of mistake and each side then reinforces such attitudes in the others. Anti-collectors say that collectors are the real looters, and collectors lump all archaeologists into the neurotic category. Both attitudes do not progress any debate and we end up with the Hatfield's and the McCoy's. Whenever I criticize bad archaeology, my most vocal critics say that I am condemning archaeology.

    There is also enantiodromia expressed in such groups: S.A.F.E. (Saving Antiquities For Everyone) is also denying antiquities for anyone. Such antiquities are supposed to end up in "public collections" where they are protected under glass and we are not supposed to interact with them through touch or by bringing them into our lives in a real and personally meaningful way. If they were to be successful in this, then really, no one would ever develop an interest in archaeology and it would vanish as a discipline. Many consider the coin collector Sir John Evans, to be one of the fathers of modern archaeology. This is not happenstance. The most famous and popular Greek archaeologist is discussed by Yannis Hamilakis in _The Nation and its Ruins_ in the chapter, "The Archaeologist as Shaman: the Sensory National Archaeology of Manolis Andronikos" He had stressed the actual physical and personal contact with the past.

    Does my clarification to "quasi-religious" handle your concerns?

  5. John

    In the end the best term would be the one that resonates with the most people. While I appreciate Jung I come more from the perspective of Kant in regards to matters of truth and probably mostly Popper when it comes to investigating the material world in what we now generally classify as hard sciences. In any case when a group makes arguments as the archaeologists do, that fly in the face of reason and facts, the primary duty is to explain the actual facts and truth of the matter. This is not to convince the opposition which as you have pointed out is a futile effort, but to convince neutral parties. I think this has been accomplished which is why in the United States the irrational archaeologists now rely on the dictatorial power of their one branch of the State Department. I think the Jungian view of neuroses and the shadow will help to explain how and why those irrational archaeologist behave the way they do. Clearly they are trying assuage some cognitive dissonance with reality by creating a fantasy world where every data point from every artifact is forever preserved and utilized. As long as they can live in their fantasy, enact import restrictions, and continue to assault an "other" in the form of collectors they will avoid hitting rock bottom with their philosophy and avoid changing their thinking.
    Longer term I would be interested in the true analysis on the value of history and when is it used for propaganda versus learning. Within that scope what is the value of artifacts truly. It seems to me that the current views of UNESCO and the archaeologists that support import restrictions is designed to further enhance the closed nationalism that I thought we had all discovered to be quite harmful seventy years ago.

  6. I agree with you about the cognitive dissonance etc. I have not looked into Kant and the only work by Popper in my library is _The Poverty of Historicism_ but it has been a while since I read it -- I'll look at again.

    That UNESCO was founded so soon after WW2 and yet, in its inaugural address, promotes a single world government and the use of eugenics boggles the mind.

    I think that the thing I am most proud of in my life was, with a friend, starting the ball rolling which culminated in the the abolition of Alberta's eugenics laws which imposed mandatory sexual sterilization on patients in mental hospitals here. We accomplished this with a few strong words in Peter Lougheed's ear (publicly) just before he became Premier, and then spent some time in his hotel suite at a political convention talking about it with his research assistant.

    It all resulted in the largest compensation award in the legal history of Alberta. I later came to know one of the victims: a woman admitted into hospital for depression and then sterilized -- barbaric!