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Saturday, 20 April 2013

Flights of Fantasy......



After a pleasant day mending the roof, I got round to watching that programme.  It's called "Stonehenge -- the Missing Link" and it's part of the Flying Archaeologist series featuring Ben Robinson.  It's on BBC iPlayer here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01s1ll4/The_Flying_Archaeologist_Stonehenge_The_Missing_Link/

I must say that I was distinctly underwhelmed.  There was some interesting information in the programme, but I found the central thesis -- that valleys and ridges had different ritual significance, and that there was a profound symbolism in Mesolithic and Neolithic times attached to springs and rivers -- singularly unconvincing.  Of course different components of the landscape have different significance economically, but why the need for RITUAL significance too?

What I heard was a good deal of fantastical enthusiasm but no actual evidence. People put settlements near water because they (and the animals which they hunt) need water, not because rivers and springs are sacred or magical.  At least that point did come over in the last part of the programme, relating to Vespasian's camp, where it was explained that people congregated there and used the location for over 2,000 years, probably because that was where animals came down to drink and where hunting was easier and probably more successful.  In exactly the same way, tribal people in Australia and Africa know that animals MUST come to their watering places regularly, making hunting a great deal easier.

I still find it intriguing that there seems to be a whole generation of archaeologists out there who insist on seeing sacredness, ritual significance and  MEANING in the simplest of things where all I see is evidence of people scraping together a living, trying to survive, and seeking to minimise effort.  And, of course they occasionally had a bit of a party, and had fun.


11 comments:

Constantinos Ragazas said...

Brian you write,

“I still find it intriguing that there seems to be a whole generation of archaeologists out there who insist on seeing sacredness, ritual significance and MEANING in the simplest of things where all I see is evidence of people scraping together a living, trying to survive, and seeking to minimise effort.”

I agree, and said so often before. This misdirected preoccupation by archeologists on 'sacredness and ritual' is forced on them by the narratives they seek to force. As they try to explain the 'sensible' through the 'sublime'. Putting Religion ahead of Reason.

Do the T-shaped pillars of Gobekli Tepe idols for worship or had some practical function? In the absence of facts, beliefs feel the vacuum. But vacuum it remains!

Kostas

TonyH said...

Many people find their ritual behaviour in congregating at football matches (right-shaped OR wrong-shaped). Others find strength in numbers by shopping in gigantic indoor shopping malls, with the innate comfort of being with others. Yet others compete in grandiose Marathon runs, to feel a part of something Bigger than themselves. Yet others write historical novels...

Quite a few of us have always taken an interest in the possibility of a Creative Force in the Universe, and this has led us to various so-called "religious" approaches to Life, "orthodox" or less so. Yet others proudly claim no need in their lives for Something Other. We are all, it seems, free to choose.

Francis Pryor, for one, despite all his talk of "ritual" in his writings and interpretations of British archaeology, is, perhaps surprisingly enough, an atheist. Perhaps someone will explain what exactly is "sensible" about a henge monument, e.g. one that involves an upturned tree inserted into the ground, as at Seahenge in East Anglia (in Francis Pryor's 'patch')?

Constantinos Ragazas said...

Tony,

I do not disagree with what you are saying here! Yes, to believe is human. And often beautiful and sublime. And always personal. Needing nothing but Spirit and Nature. So much can be argued by the personal divine revelations of all the Biblical prophets and founders of great religions.

Though religious experience is always personal, the building of religious temples is not. It takes a village to built a temple. And this requires culture and capabilities. Economic resources and social organization to harness the collective effort to a common purpose.

What I find troubling in the case of Gobekli Tepe (and also Stonehenge I might add) is the willingness by archeologists to dismiss culture as precondition to monument building.

Kostas

chris johnson said...

Ritual ..... I wonder what better word there is to describe the deposition of artifacts, some never used, into a spring over thousands of years.

Plenty of evidence of gifting things to water even in the historical record, often with a wish and a prayer or sometimes a curse. Religion? Sort of.

Whatever better words can be found, it remains a remarkable find.

TonyH said...

Archaeologists are increasingly citing the importance of the PROCESS of building prehistoric ancient monuments e.g. in the BBC half-hour programme, the female archaeolgist, Ms Whitstead (or similar) emphasisied this aspect as a motivating factor in the building of this immense Neolithic 6,000 year old, 80 metre long mound, with precious little found inside what was left of it. Similarly, Jim Leary & Dave Field have stressed process in the incremental human creation of Silbury Hill.

TonyH said...

Helen WICKSTEAD is the archaeologist's name.

BRIAN JOHN said...

I'm not sure I like this process of "mystifying" the process of doing something! Of course doing something has a meaning, or one would not do it. All that needs to be said.

Anonymous said...

Probably the same ceremonial ritual that takes place in most homes today on three piece suites.

Will intellectuals debate in 7000 years time the merits of how once the strange 20th century people used to 'deposit artefacts, some never used' to the great sofa god, that they clearly believed must have lived below the seat cushions, otherwise why would these objects be there?

Was this a way to ensure 'long life and prosperity' for the couch potato or complete nonsense made up by insufficient information?

Constantinos Ragazas said...

Brian/Tony/Chris,

I have been doing some reading on Gobekli Tepe. Makes Stonehenge a child's play! Since the dates for Gobekli Tepe calculate to 12,000BP. Archeologists argue small nomadic bands of hunter-gatherers built this 'religious temple'. I argue, the dates are wrong! Where do each of you stand on this?

Chris: “Ritual ..... I wonder what better word there is to describe the deposition of artifacts, some never used, into a spring over thousands of years.”

Recognize your underlying assumptions here? Such reasoning is circular at best! As none of these assumptions are proven!

Kostas

TonyH said...

Anonymous 21.37 @21.04.13

Archaeologists and their helpers have similarly found plenty of MUNDANE evidence to do with the DOMESTIC lives of everyday Neolithic/ Bronze Age etc Folk that may turn off many punters in the same way that "The Archers" theme tune causes many of us to literally turn off our radios or other personal devices. By no means is everything categorised as ritual or religion!

Anonymous said...

"On the roof's the only place I know
Where you just have to wish to make it so
Let's Go Up On The Roof!"

MYRIS & THE MESO-DRIFTERS