Exploring new interpretations
of past and place
in archaeology, folklore
Articles on archaeology, folklore and mythology
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Sacred Places: Prehistory and popular imagination
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- Leslie Ellen Jones
- The evolution of the eighteenth century Druid
The image of the druid, the priest of the pagan Celts, has held a
grip on both the popular and scholarly imagination for over 2,000
years. However, the way in which the druid has been interpreted has
varied consider- ably over time. Part of the reason for this enduring
fascination is, ironically enough, the lack of information about what
druids were up to. Reading the accounts of the earlier classical ethnographers
- references to Posidonios, the works of Strabo, Diodorus Siculus,
Caesar, Tacitus - provides a picture of a priest- hood at the centre
of Celtic society, determining the course of government and war, educating
the youth, as well as constructing theology and conducting religious
ritual. Later classical commentators, such as Pliny and Lucan, depict
a less ubiquitous organization relegated to dark groves and grottos,
practicing whatever they did practice in secret.
Medieval Celtic Lives of saints depict druids making a last-ditch
effort to hold onto their status as advisors to kings and educators
of the young, but the Irish law tracts of the same era
class druids with other undesirables such as werewolves and vagrants,
and assume that what a druid would be up to was small-scale magic
and witch-doctoring. Thus, writings from the period from
c.135 BC to c.900 seem to show the druid on a course of downward mobility,
beginning as the companion of kings and the regulator of elite culture,
and ending as a figure of folk medicine, folk religion, and folk lore.
- Alby Stone
1930 was to prove something of a landmark year for mythologists and
Indo-Europeanists. In the Journal Asiatique for that year, Georges
Dumézil published an article on social structure in ancient Indian
and Iranian cultures. He asserted that the early Indo-Iranians were
formally divided into three social classes. To those
of us raised in a notoriously class-conscious society, in which the
Hindu caste system is also now a feature in some places, such a statement
might seem fairly innocuous. But Dumézil’s article was the beginning
of a major reappraisal of Indo-European myth, legend and social tradition,
and sparked a debate that continues to this day.
- Bob Trubshaw
Every house is built on the earth. Each house is under the sky. The
traditional materials of construction are taken either from the earth
or the plants growing on it. Further, in many traditional belief systems,
the creation of the earth and the plants is closely linked to the
ritual dismemberment of a primeaval human or giant.
An Indian story relates how the gods created the world by performing
a sacrifice with the body of Purusha, the first person. The sky rose
from his head, the air from his navel, the earth from his feet, the
moon from his mind, the sun from his eye, and the four quarters of
space from his ear.
- Mike Parker Pearson and Colin Richards
- Late neolithic Orcadian houses
The Orkney Isles lie off the most northern tip of the British mainland.
The archaeological evidence which characterizes the Neolithic period
of Orkney is the presence of a number of well-constructed stone buildings
and monuments. These include houses often clustered in ‘villages’,
passage graves, and henge monuments enclosing large stone circles.
Perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of these constructions is the
use of the local, easily laminated, sandstone slabs both to create
extremely sophisticated masonry and as furniture and partitioning
within the structures: hence the almost perfect survival of the most
famous Neolithic settlement in Britain, Skara Brae.
- Jeremy Harte
Few archaeologists have been as skilled at identifying earthworks
as the late Leslie Grinsell. But sometimes even he met with the unexpected.
In 1934, during a survey of Surrey he called on Lord Camrose’s place
at Chertsey and mentioned a prior arrangement to view some barrows.
Yes, they could be seen from out in the yard. He walked round the
corner and there, lined up against the wall, every wheelbarrow on
the estate stood ready for inspection.
After a few words of explanation, Grinsell strode on in his inimitable
way (he never bothered with the temptations of private transport)
towards Barrow Hills on the Chertsey-Egham border. Here three mounds
had appeared as threm burghen in a charter of 672-4, and so they were
duly scheduled in the county list as Chertsey nos.1-3. But ironically,
inspection later on showed them to be natural hillocks - landmarks
which were no more archaeological than the wheelbarrows in the yard.
Grinsell, like the estate workers, had been misled by a similarity
- Bob Trubshaw
- ‘Far away is close at hand
in images of elsewhere’
A peep at TAG 96
The Theoretical Archaeological Group conference 1996 - TAG 96 to everyone
- raises the daunting prospect of about 200 lectures in under three
days. It is physically impossible to attend more than a small proportion
as most of the time no less than six sessions are running in parallel.
This article attempts to summarise some of the papers which stimulated
me - although I am well aware, from talking to other delegates, that
I missed many equally good presentations.
The quotation in the title of this article is intended to reflect
the emphasis of a number of different papers given at TAG 96, which
all revealed an increasing importance of the ‘Otherness’ of the past
- a recognition that other cultures do not share the same ways of
thinking about, say, place or time as modern Western society.
Full text of ‘Far away is close at hand in images of elsewhere’
- summaries of articles in academic journals, newspapers, etc.
- Sandra Billington and Miranda Green (eds) THE CONCEPT OF THE GODDESS (Routledge 1996)
- Christopher Tilley AN ETHNOGRAPHY OF THE NEOLITHIC (Cambridge UP 1996)
- Mary Low CELTIC CHRISTIANITY AND NATURE (Edinburgh UP 1996)
- Paul Devereux RE-VISIONING THE EARTH (Fireside 1996)
- D.C. Starzecha (ed) MAORI ART AND CULTURE (British Museum Press 1996)
- Bill Griffiths ASPECTS OF ANGLO-SAXON MAGIC (Anglo-Saxon Books 1996)
- Bill Griffiths SAXON VOICES (Runetree 1996)
- John Peddie and Patrick Dillon ALFRED'S DEFEAT OF THE VIKINGS (Runetree 1994)
- David Pickering CASSELL DICTIONARY OF WITCHCRAFT (Cassell 1996)
- Gwenfran Gwernan INTRODUCTION TO WITCHCRAFT (Quest 1996)
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