Exploring new interpretations
of past and place
in archaeology, folklore
Articles on archaeology, folklore and mythology
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SEX AND GENDER SPECIAL ISSUE
- summaries of articles in academic journals, newspapers, etc.
- Bob Trubshaw
- Beyond Indiana Jones versus the Mother Goddess
At the Edge aims to cover the broad territory where the disciplines
of archaeology, folklore and mythology ‘converge’ on place-related
topics. This is a wide-ranging scope in its own right. Why then should
we be moving off into the apparently unrelated topics of sex and gender?
Put simply, the answer is that those who are questioning how modern
society constructs sex and gender are creating waves which ripple
out into the comparative backwaters of, say, sacred landscapes and
‘earth mysteries’. However, so far as I am aware, little of the exciting
and provocative thinking in gender issues has been surfacing in the
more popular periodicals. This issue of At the Edge makes attempts
to get behind the verbosity and highlight some of the ideas that are
The deeply entrenched ideology of Western culture has created biased
thinking at the deepest levels of anthropological and scientific theory
and method. This legacy of ‘modernism’ is being challenged from two
main directions: firstly, by postmodern critiques and, secondly, by
feminism. There are some similarities between the two movements but
few feminists are willing to label themselves postmodernists and,
similarly, many who might be described as postmodernists are profoundly
sceptical of recent feminist thinking.
Full text of Beyond Indiana Jones versus the Mother Goddess
- Lynn Meskell
- Constructing sex and gender in archaeology
In the past decade archaeologists have become increasingly interested
in constructions of gender in past societies and have endeavoured
to (re)construct the culturally specific meanings of those categories.
Basically, archaeologists engage in a form of gender tourism with
the past: I take this term to describe our contemporary excursions
into gender constructions and experiences in the past. From this perspective
archaeologists fulfil the role of tourist or voyeur, exploring distant
cultures from which we are separated through time and space. We attempt
to travel in unknown territories, exploring Other cultures and Other
constructions of self trying to envisage ourselves in someone else’s
body, situated in a foreign society, performing their tasks and their
rituals. Despite all attempts, our ventures at present represent fairly
superficial excursions. One particularly popular destination is the
Aegean, because its rich suite of iconographic material has suggested
to generations of scholars the possibility that a very different set
of gender relations was operative. I would like to firstly address
current developments in feminist and masculinist theory and their
relationship to archaeology. I will then examine more closely the
Aegean to see how sex and gender have been constructed by archaeologists
in the twentieth century and how this relates to current ideas in
- Hilda Davidson
In the early years of the twentieth century, Sir Benjamin Stone published
several volumes of splendid photographs which he called Records of
National Life and History, and the first of these was devoted to festivals,
ceremonies and customs. It contains pictures of little girls in clean
pinafores, small boys immaculately turned out, dignified bearded gentlemen
in bowler hats and stately old ladies in bonnets, with one or two
quaint but restrained local characters. These are seen receiving gifts
from charities, celebrating May Day, clipping the church at Painswick,
or gathering for the Hallaton Hare Pie festival. Here we have folklore
as approved by the establishment, and the fact that the subjects had
to remain motionless while the slow process of early photography went
on adds to the atmosphere of picturesque respectability.
However, we know that popular customs were not all like that, even
in Sir Benjamin’s time. There are many accounts of wild activities
and outbursts of rioting by young men - and sometimes older ones -
bonding together to take part in individual trials of strength, contests
between neighbouring groups, or attempts to get money for a party
or drinking bout. While delighting the folklorist, such customs were
less welcome to residents at the receiving end, whose fences were
smashed, shop windows broken, or gardens vandalised; they were usually
sternly denounced in the local press, declared to encourage hooliganism
and drunkenness, and eventually banned by the local authorities.
- Susan Evasdaughter
- A sacred island - a feminist perspective on bronze age Crete.
Although Classical Greece is widely accepted as the cradle of European
civilisation, the Arian settlers who were to become the Greeks were
barbarians when they invaded the Aegean. Their systems of learning
were appropriated from the sophisticated indigenous tribes whom they
subjugated. The ideological struggle that accompanied the overshadowing
of these earlier cultures is recorded in the Greek myths and the struggle
for power between Zeus and the Great Goddess in the form of Hera.
Much of the action of these epic tales of manly daring-do takes place
on Crete because the invaders found the islanders’ commitment to their
deity so difficult to subdue. Rodney Castleden describes the
early civilisation of Crete as an example of one of the occasions
when ‘the energies of that ocean [of human culture] have gathered
together into towering waves of achievement.’
The ‘waves of achievement’ of the bronze age Cretans towered and glittered
for two millennia, from around 3000 to 1100 BC. It was from this advanced
culture that the Greeks derived the political, philosophical, legal,
mathematical, medical and scientific systems that they are credited
As prehistoric Aegean specialist George Thomson put it, ‘Behind
the work of the humane poets who composed the Iliad and Odyssey lies
an age of brutality and violence, in which the bold pioneers of private
property had ransacked the opulent, heratic (sacred), sophisticated
civilisation of the Minoan matriarchate.’
See also Susan Evasdaughter's book Crete Reclaimed: a feminist exploration of bronze age Crete
- Bob Trubshaw
For the Kogi the ceremonial house is not the only microcosmic image.
So too is the loom. In Kogi belief, the Earth is a vast loom on which
the Sun weaves two pieces of cloth a year. The four corners of the
square of cloth represent the four Columbian cities at the corners
of the Sierra Navada de Santa Maria, and the crossing point of the
two diagonals at the centre represents the holy mountains at the centre.
The top and bottom bars of the loom represent the passage of the Sun
through the sky at the Solstices.
- Thorskegga Thorn
- Spinning in myths and folktales
The folk heritage of spinning has been ignored, misrepresented and
misunderstood by historians and folklorists alike. This is a terrible
shame as spinning was hailed as the most worthy of a woman’s tasks
up until the Industrial Revolution. The craft has been lost in obscurity
and has no apparent relevance to the modern world. Maybe as a pagan
social historian and spinner I can bring this noble craft back into
- Jeremy Harte
- Pussycat, pussycat, where have you been?
An 'engendered' look at witches and their familiars
It was a dark and stormy night. A man was running home through the
rain; he threw himself through the door of the house and slammed it
behind him. His wife jumped up, surprised, and even their old tom
cat looked up curiously from beside the fire. Asked what was wrong,
the man came out with a queer story. As he had been walking along
the lonely wet road homewards, he came across a long line of cats,
like a procession – and as he said this, their own cat paced towards
him. This procession seemed to be a funeral, since there were four
cats at the front carrying a coffin draped in black – and here their
own cat fixed his deep green eyes, fascinated, on the speaker. On
top of the coffin there was a little cushion, and on that cushion
a crown . . . and at this, their own cat swelled up to twice his size
and hissed out the words ‘So! Old Tom’s dead and I’m King of the Cats!’
And he turned round and bolted up the chimney before either of them
could stop him.
‘It’s nature breaks through the eyes of a cat’, say the Irish. ’Someways
they would put a dread on you. What company do they keep? When the
moon is riding high and the wind tearing the trees, and the shadows
black with cold, who is it calls them from the hearth? Tell me that’. Cats pass unchanged from the cold, wet wild into the home,
and at a time of their own choosing go out again. There is no other
animal, wild or tame, that behaves like this, which is why folklore motif B342
is always told as King of the Cats. It is a simple enough drama, with
three actors, and a parallelism of plot. First the man speaks, and
the cat is surprised: then the cat speaks, and the humans are surprised.
The man goes in from the lonely road to the warm hearthside; then
the cat goes out from the house to the wild. And the wife sits by
the fire, listening to them both, passive and domestic.
But what of women who did not stay at home? Might they not, like cats,
slip out unseen at night to meet strange company in the woods and
fields? Lady Sybil of Bernshaw Tower certainly did. She was a woman
of independent spirit; she rejected all advances from men, but the
Devil made her a better offer and she sold her soul to him. After
that she spent her days wandering among the crags and cliffs that
rise beyond Burnley, and her nights dancing with the Lancashire witches.
Lord William of Hapton Tower was the most persistent of her suitors,
and at length his moment came, for he came across Sybil when she was
in the form of a doe and he hunted her down with his dogs until she
was compelled to change back to human form and agree to be his bride.
The marriage was not a success. Within the year Lady Sybil was out
again at nights, this time in the form of a white cat. She and her
unholy sisters enjoyed themselves hugely spoiling all the corn of
the neighbourhood, but when they were at Cliviger Mill they kicked
up such a racket that the miller’s boy woke up, stumbled into the
building knife in hand, and hacked away at the fleeing animals. Next
morning Lady Sybil lay indisposed in bed, her right arm thrust firmly
under the bedclothes, but the miller’s boy was angrily knocking at
her husband’s door, and in his bag he carried a lady’s severed hand.
Full text of Pussy cat, pussy cat, where have you been?
- Lynn Webster Wilde CELTIC WOMEN IN LEGEND, MYTH AND HISTORY (Blandford 1997)
- Eric Hirsch and Michael O'Hanlon (eds) THE ANTHROPOLOGY OF LANDSCAPE: Perspectives on Place and Space (Clarendon 1996)
- A.J. Hale THE ORIGINS OF THE PARISH AND HUNDRED OF TANDRIDGE (publ. author 1996)
- BEOWULF Read in Anglo-Saxon by Trevor Eaton (2 CD set, Pavilion Records 1997)
- Eric Ratcliffe STRANGE FURLONGS (Astrapost 1996)
- EARTHED No.1
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Created February 1998; updated November 2008