Saturday, 19 December 2009

America's ancient rock art

The New York Times has an article about a magnificent collection of rock art in California.
Everywhere we looked, for a mile or so down canyon, there were images pecked or scratched into the rock faces: stylized human figures in a variety of headgear, stick figures with bows and arrows, dogs or coyotes, bear paws with extra digits, all manner of abstract geometric patterns, zigzags and circles and dots, and hundreds upon hundreds of what looked like bighorn sheep, some small, some larger than life size.
Via Disinformation and catvincent.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Climate change petition

Copenhagen's last-ditch summit to stop catastrophic global warming is failing; world leaders are appealing for massive public pressure to save it. Sign the giant petition below - it may be the largest in history:

Sign The Petition!
With just 2 days left, the historic Copenhagen climate summit is failing.

World leaders have begun the final hours of direct negotiations. The UK Prime Minister has directly appealed to Avaaz to build the tidal wave of public pressure needed to reach a deal that stops catastrophic global warming of 2 degrees.

Sign the petition for a real deal -- the campaign already has a staggering 11 million supporters -- over the next 48 hours let's make it the largest petition in history! The name of every signer is being read out right now in the summit hall.

We are making history in Copenhagen. A group of young people have sat down in the middle of the summit and begun reading the names of every person who signs the petition for a real deal. Another group is doing the same 'petition reading sit-in' in the Canadian Prime Minister's office, and rumours are that more such actions will happen tomorrow. On an emergency conference call with 3000 Avaaz members today, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown said:

"What you're doing through the internet around the world is absolutely crucial to setting the agenda. In the next 48 hours, don't underestimate your effect on the leaders here in Copenhagen"

Earlier, millions watched the Avaaz vigil inside the summit on TV, where Archbishop Desmond Tutu told hundreds of delegates and assembled children:
“We marched in Berlin, and the wall fell.
"We marched for South Africa, and apartheid fell.
"We marched at Copenhagen -- and we WILL get a Real Deal.”
Copenhagen is seeking the biggest mandate in history to stop the greatest threat humanity has ever faced. History will be made in the next 48 hours. How will our children remember this moment? Let's tell them we did all we could.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Save our canals


Inland Waterways Association News Flash


Sign the petition on the Number 10 website

Did you know that over half the population of this country lives within 5 miles of an inland waterway?

You may also know about the media speculation that the Government intends to include the British Waterways’ property portfolio as a component of the £16bn asset sale.

The Government has made no announcements and is steadfastly refusing to be drawn on the subject.

However, we have good reason to believe that Government is seriously considering taking British Waterways’ assets and selling them in a Treasury ‘fire sale’ to raise cash - a decision will be taken in the next few days.

Selling off its assets would mean that BW would be £85 million short of the £120 million it needs to run the canals and waterways of this country.

That will mean inevitable decay and disrepair and will undoubtedly lead to closure as the organisation contracts to preserve a core network- this impact may include the locks and tow path on a canal or river near to you.
I love walking along canals and seeing the narrow boats going up and down. Canals are also wildlife havens. Don't let them fall into disrepair again.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Beaker Folk wisdom

Her Reverence the Archdruid Eileen has posted a marvellous exposition of how the Christians "stole" the Pagan festivals - including some less well known ones like the feast of the Norse god of hangovers, Bleindin.
January 1 - "The Feast of the Holy Name" was originally a feast dedicated to the Norse god of headaches, Bleindin. Believers would stay in their houses, with the blinds down and the lights off. A day of fasting and silence - the fast only broken by special ceremonial food such as raw egg yolks with Worcestershire sauce, and fry-ups.
Anyone who still thinks that the Christians stole the Pagan festivals would do well to read the excellent book Stations of the Sun by Ronald Hutton, which carefully examines the evidence for the origins of the modern Pagan festivals. It's a lot more complicated than you think.

It's also worth reading the following articles from the Association of Polytheist Traditions:

Ritual and Festivals

Friday, 13 November 2009

Why reburial won't work

Some people claim that reburying ancient "pagan" bones is more respectful.

There are several problems with this:
  • We don't know what burial rites they would have preferred
  • If you rebury them with their grave-goods, it's very likely that the grave may be looted
  • Even if we know where and how they were buried, we do not necessarily know if they subscribed to the religious rites according to which they were buried, nor do we know what liturgy was used
  • We do not know that any ritual we perform for them would be acceptable
  • We do not know if contemporary Pagan beliefs are similar to Neolithic, Bronze Age, or even Iron Age beliefs
  • The original site is often no longer available as a burial place
  • Studying them means we can find out more about them - how they lived, where they were born, what illnesses they had - which is the nearest you can get to reconstructing their actual identity
  • Scientific techniques that will be available in the future for bone analysis will be better than those available now
  • If you accept the hypothesis that the bones have some "spirit" residing in them, that spirit might be pleased to be getting all the attention from archaeologists and museum staff
  • Respect does not automatically equate to reburial - it can also mean remembering the dead
  • Some cultures believe that once the grave site has been disturbed, it cannot be re-consecrated
  • There were radically different burial customs in the past - excarnation, display in burial mounds, cremation, and so on - which presumably reflected different beliefs about the body and consciousness (though we can only guess what those beliefs might be by using ethnographic parallels)
  • Many ancient cultures (e.g. the Egyptians and the Norse) believed that the continuation of the name of the deceased was very important. When the Egyptians wanted to erase someone from history, they removed their name from all the monuments. Reburying the ancient dead resigns them to oblivion once more.
  • Everyone in modern Britain is descended from ancient people, and no cultural affinity between modern Pagans and ancient people can be proven, so Pagans have no more right than anyone else to say what happens to the bones of ancient people

Protect First Nations' heritage

An article in the Vancouver Sun points out the shameful neglect and destruction of First Nations' heritage in British Columbia.
In North Cowichan on Vancouver Island, for example, a site on Somenos Creek shows evidence of being occupied since before the pyramids. There are both human remains and remnants of a mysterious structure whose significance still isn't understood but which might be part of some larger complex.

Yet, despite 17 years of requests from local first nations that it be protected and that the owner of the land compensated by the province, Somenos Creek still languishes in land use limbo without formal protection. Renewed requests by Cowichan first nations to discuss the matter have been repeatedly been put off by the province.
Canadians: please write to your MP and ask them to support the private member's bill to protect First Nations heritage.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Prehistoric Oxford

Archaeologists uncover prehistoric landscape beneath Oxford
Archaeologists excavating the former Radcliffe Infirmary site in Oxford have uncovered evidence of a prehistoric monumental landscape stretching across the gravel terrace between the Thames and Cherwell rivers.

A team from Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) has been excavating parts of the 3.7 hectare site. The excavation has revealed evidence of three large prehistoric ‘ring ditches’ along with some evidence of possible associated cremation burials and an enigmatic rectangular enclosure, finds from which are currently being subjected to radio carbon dating.

Friday, 6 November 2009

A triumphal progress

Ten Years of Triumph of the Moon
Academic approaches to studying magic and the occult: examining scholarship into witchcraft and paganism, ten years after Ronald Hutton’s The Triumph of the Moon

A collection of essays edited by Dave Evans and Dave Green

Contributions by: Ronald Hutton, Amy Hale, Sabina Magliocco, Dave Green, Henrik Bogdan, Phillip Bernhardt-House, R.A. Priddle, Geoffrey Samuel, Caroline Tully & Dave Evans

Congratulations to all involved in this - it looks great.

Pagans and academics alike should find this anthology useful, as it explores the changes in contemporary Paganism brought about by the publication of Triumph of the Moon - not least among these changes being the abandonment (by the vast majority of Wiccans) of any idea that Wicca is ancient.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Romani ite domum

A new website has been launched to mark the 1600th anniversary of the end of Roman Britain. There will be digs, conferences, lectures, festivals and exhibitions. Proposed digs include Binchester Fort, Caerleon Fortress, Carr Dyke, Colworth Villa, St Albans, and Vindolanda Fort. There's also a lot of lectures and conferences lined up already. There will also be festivals at Caerleon, St Albans, and Hadrian's Wall.

As you can see from this photo I took on Oxford station in 2007, it's still a live issue...

Romans go home

Life of Brian - Romani ite domum

Thursday, 29 October 2009

A quest for identity

Excellent article about heritage and identity, and how we need to rescue them from the fuddy-duddy image they have in some quarters, because it's creating a vacuum for extremist views.

Madeleine Bunting: The booming interest in archaeology suggests a new quest for identity in a time of rapid change. (Comment is free - The Guardian)

A brave attempt to step into this particular breach and fill it with inspiration for lefties is The Progressive Patriot: A Search for Belonging by Billy Bragg. It's an entertaining and informative read, and I recommend it.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Aubrey Holes update

I received an email from Mike Parker-Pearson with an update on what is happening with the remains recovered from the Aubrey Holes.
We've now had a chance to assess what more needs doing with analysis of the cremations. There is so much material that the researcher is going to have to write a whole PhD on the assemblage.

That means that we will need a 2-year extension to the MoJ licence (to commence from August 2010).

I will keep you all informed about the progress of work. So far, we have identified the remains as being predominantly adult men with two women and probably two children (though these numbers may well change). Generally they were reasonably healthy in life. A few had osteoarthritis, and one had a benign soft tissue tumour behind the knee.

Please bear in mind with this apparently lengthy work schedule that the bone fragments are very small and it is very painstaking work to properly analyse them. It can't (and shouldn't) be rushed.

The remains will continue to be looked after in Sheffield.
It is my considered opinion that two years (the statutory length of time for studying bones under the new legislation) is not long enough.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Ancestral heritage (guest post)

A guest post by Anne Griffith Evans, a member of Pagans for Archaeology:

After watching the debate with Nick Griffin on Question Time, I have been trying to crystallise my own views on national identity, the connected concept of ancestral heritage, and the related archaeological record.

As a British Pagan, I wish to understand the ancient past, and the manner of worship in these lands before Christianity. I want to know and honour the gods of my land. But I am not a racist or a right-winger. Like the guy in the audience who spoke up during
Question Time (and the Folk against Fascism Facebook group), I do not want my love of my country or its traditional/ancient cultures to be subverted to indicate support for views of the BNP.

In attempting to reclaim my ancestral heritage, am I a racist? Today I saw a 1999 TV programme (
Hitler's Search For The Holy Grail) which described how Hitler and his minions undertook archaeological research into the origins of the German 'Volk' and their old myths and gods, to inform what they considered to be their holy war and attempt to purify the Aryan race. Like me, they were searching for their origins to inform their present.

Oh dear.

Have I fallen into a trap? Various people have pointed out the parallel between Pagan reconstructions of the past and fascist attempts to rediscover origins. I wonder if the Nazi rationale explains why some leading Pagan thinkers emphasise the 'neo' part of neo-paganism, as a way of avoiding the entire dialogue about ancient roots and origins?

A quote near the end of 'Holy Grail' points out a non-engagement with the issue of racism by archaeologists, and also points to a way forward for me.

Professor Colin Renfrew of the University of Cambridge (1999) says that what had to be laid at the door of archaeologists and anthropologists, is that:
"at the end of the Second World War, they didn't sort out the issues of ethnicity. The holocaust was so ghastly that they walked away from the issue and didn't analyse it carefully. That ethnicity, the notion of who a people is, is very much what a people wants to be [my emphasis] and is not to be demonstrated or proved from something deep in prehistory.... Archaeologists were very late in saying this and have only been saying it very recently. Academics did not grasp the nettle with sufficient vigour."
I take the Professor's words to mean that ethnicity is not about genetics or race; it's about collective cultural identity. This makes absolute sense to me, and takes away the stigma of potential accusations that my enthusiasm about heritage is race-related.

Watching the
Question Time audience, composed of people of many different ethnic groups (who were collectively though not exclusively against the stance of BNP and Mr Griffin) I was proud to be British and to be one of those opposing the BNP. And I have yet to find examples of racial imperialism in the customs or deities of my pre-Christian ancestors. I like to think I'm out of trouble.

Note: if you feel strongly about the appropriation of Pagan and Heathen symbols by the extreme right, please visit the Heathens against Hate website, which is a long-standing campaign against the misuse of Heathen lore and symbols by fascists.

Pagans for Archaeology is opposed to racism, sexism, homophobia and all other forms of hatred.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Asterix and the Great Debate

BBC News: Should Asterix hang up his sword?
Recently Asterix had his fiftieth birthday, but the anniversary was overshadowed by the fact that many critics say that the quality of the books has declined since the death of Goscinny in 1977. I thoroughly enjoyed the classic Asterix books as a child.

There are many comments for and against, but this one struck me particularly:
Asterix got me into Roman archaeology, 35 years on I'm a professional archaeologist and profoundly grateful to the little Gaul and to the Belgian neighbour who introduced me to him. She also used them to improve my French, which also proved useful, but the key thing is that they were great fun and the wit grows with you as you reread them at different stages of life - from slapstick to ironic comment on popluar culture.

Martin, Wiltshire
I'd certainly say Asterix contributed to my own interest in the past, along with the novels of Cynthia Harnett, Geoffrey Trease, and Rudyard Kipling.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Archaeological finds

(via Sannion)

Monday, 19 October 2009

Anthropology and Magic - an interview with Susan Greenwood

Susan Greenwood is the author of The Nature of Magic: An Anthropology of Consciousness, Magic, Witchcraft and the Otherworld: An Anthropology, and a new book, The Anthropology of Magic. She is a Visiting Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Community Engagement at the University of Sussex.

Pagans for Archaeology interviewed her about her new book.

PfA: What prompted you to write your new book?

When Berg first invited me to write a book on anthropology and magic I didn't initially think much about it as a project, but after a while I realized that as an undergraduate, and as a postgraduate doctoral student, I'd really struggled to find anything that tackled the issue of the experience of magic. Since childhood, I had always felt a sense of magic - the thrill of a thunderstorm, the fascination with being in nature, and the 'make-believe' of creating stories in my head. When I was older I had explored witchcraft and went to university as a mature student to find out more about my magical experiences. During a final year anthropology and sociology project on women's spirituality I realized that I wanted to explore magic through PhD research (this ended up as Magic, Witchcraft and the Otherworld). During my time of studying I found books that were helpful in some ways but nothing that really dealt with the issues of studying the experience of magic. I wrote The Anthropology of Magic in the hope that it might help students and others to think about magic as an aspect of consciousness - it was the book that I'd wanted when I first started studying anthropology.

PfA: How does it differ from your two previous books?

In my two previous books - Magic, Witchcraft and the Otherworld, and The Nature of Magic - I took an experiential methodological position regarding magic. In other words, I used myself as part of my research and explored my own magical experiences. This proved to be quite challenging to anthropology due to the preferred position of not 'going native' and maintaining a more distanced approach. My argument was that we are all natives in this type of magical thought - all humans are potentially capable of having magical consciousness and therefore it's appropriate for the fieldworker to have experiences, and write about them too.

In this new book I have taken that argument further and related it to a classical anthropological debate on mystical mentality; and I have also explored the nature of reality in relation to an inspirited world, developing a new methodology of magic from my own experiences, as well as those of others. In the final chapter I have looked to a new attitude towards science as an encompassing framework that can include magic as a legitimate source of knowledge of this inspirited world, rather than reducing it to individual psychology or social effects, as has been common in the past. My aim has always been to stimulate discussion. I hope that it will encourage people to explore magic, as an aspect of their own consciousness.

PfA. What sort of feedback have you had from anthropologists on your "insider" approach to fieldwork?

Initially, it was more difficult. The more rationally-inclined thought that I wasn't distanced enough, or that I hadn't 'returned' properly from the field, or even that I wasn't a 'proper' anthropologist, but I've had overwhelming support from others who have welcomed a more open perspective and have encouraged my work. I think things in academia are changing.

PfA. What sort of feedback have you had from magical practitioners on your "insider" approach to fieldwork? Is there still a "Luhrmann effect"?

I've had very positive feedback from magical practitioners. As an anthropologist rather than an advocate of any particular practice, I've tried to take a critically sympathetic approach and I think that most have recognized that I've tried to create a bridge of understanding between a magical worldview and the rationalizing social science disciplines. When I first started my research in the early 1990s there was a definite 'Luhrmann effect' and it was difficult gaining trust with 'informants', but things have got easier as more people realize what I've been trying to do. I consider myself to be a magical practitioner, and some of my dearest friends are magical practitioners. I see myself as someone who writes about magical consciousness from 'inside' and 'outside'.

PfA. How do you see the "otherworld" in relation to the material world?

For me - and this is a matter of personal opinion - the 'otherworld' is a spirit dimension of the material world. Some would place much more emphasis on a 'supernatural' understanding and the importance of various deities. I value, and work closely with gods and goddesses in my own magical practice, but ultimately I view them as differing manifestations of nature - we are all nature, an inspirited nature. I choose to understand and explain this through the Anglo-Saxon notion of Wyrd, the pulse of spirit that runs through all life. Ultimately, I don't think it matters too much what we call it or how we structure it through our conceptualizations, it's how we feel it that counts. There are many paths that lead to similar human experiences.

PfA. What do you think are the social effects of practising magic?

Well, that depends on what type of magic you are practising. Magic, as an aspect of consciousness, is amoral - it can be employed in many different ways. I would like to think that the effects of people becoming more aware of themselves through 'thinking with the heart', an aspect of magical consciousness, would have a good effect socially. This can have a major effect on how we see ourselves, how we relate to the world around us. I think that developing magical consciousness can help feelings of social alienation by helping us relate to who we are, the places where we live - making connections with a particular tree down the road, or the birds or other wild animals that might visit a garden, or perhaps a particular local landscape. Opening the heart to feel a connection with others might not stop wars initially, but it's a good place to start.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Stolen frescoes to be returned

The Louvre museum in Paris will return five ancient fresco fragments to Egypt, the French culture ministry has said.

The Egyptians say the Louvre bought the Pharaonic steles in 2000 even though it knew they had been stolen in the 1980s.
This is interesting because it sets a precedent for other artefacts (and possibly human remains), albeit only ones that were looted or stolen.

In my view it only sets a precedent for human remains from other cultures. Archaeologists who dig up ancient British remains have as much claim to descent from those remains as anyone else. However, where indigenous remains from other cultures were looted without the permission of the indigenous people concerned, they should be returned.

In the case of artefacts from other cultures, if they were bought legitimately by the museum in which they reside, then the other country should buy them back. If they were not bought legitimately then they should be returned. In the case of the Elgin Marbles, they were removed when a foreign power was occupying Greece, and should be returned to Greece now that there is a suitable museum for them to reside in.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Talk about Riverside Project research

Mike Parker-Pearson will be talking at Wiltshire Heritage Museum in Devizes at 7pm on Saturday 10 October about the recent research of the Stonehenge Riverside Project.

You can book a ticket online from Wiltshire Heritage Museum.

Monday, 5 October 2009


Mike Parker-Pearson has issued a press release about Bluestonehenge, the site near Stonehenge whose existence was leaked on Saturday. (Another version is available from the University of Sheffield.)
The new stone circle is 10m (33 ft) in diameter and was surrounded by a henge – a ditch with an external bank. These standing stones marked the end of the Avenue that leads from the River Avon to Stonehenge, a 1 3/4-mile long (2.8km) processional route constructed at the end of the Stone Age (the Neolithic period). The outer henge around the stones was built around 2400 BC but arrowheads found in the stone circle indicate that the stones were put up as much as 500 years earlier – they were dragged from Wales to Wiltshire 5,000 years ago.
Picture by Peter Dunn

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Dugong worship

Yahoo! News: French find prehistoric animal worship site
PARIS (AFP) – French archaeologists have discovered the oldest known place of worship dedicated to the dugong, or sea cow, on an island just north of Dubai, two research centres said Thursday.

The sanctuary, believed to date back to 3,500 to 3,200 years BCE, was discovered on Akab island in the United Arab Emirates, 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of Dubai.

(Hat tip to Caroline Tully.)

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Member numbers rocketing

This suggests that people who want to rebury human remains are in a minority amongst Pagans.

New widget

I have just added a "recommended reading" widget to the sidebar of the blog. Check it out and earn some funds for Pagans for Archaeology!

Human remains at Stonehenge

The government has issued a response to an e-petition requesting the reburial of remains from the Aubrey Holes at Stonehenge.

Apparently the Ministry of Justice licence for exhuming the bones stipulated that they must be reburied after two years anyway.

Is two years actually long enough for studying human remains? How will the remains be protected from decay once they are returned to the ground? What if better techniques are devised for studying them in the future?

Monday, 28 September 2009

What do we mean by respect?

We have been discussing the meaning of respect on the Pagans for Archaeology mailing list, and whether the dead have rights. (In international law, the dead do not have rights, but we do have responsibilities to them.)

Nick Ford has written an excellent article clarifying his views on the matter:
Honouring the Ancient Dead': The Care of Elderly Souls and the Rights of Bone Fragments to a Quiet Life. Here's an excerpt:
We know little or nothing about nearly all long-dead people - and generically, what can one say of them? That - just to take one example - the Neolithics are the people who gave us climate change and soil erosion through deforestation and over-grazing? The ones who invented open-cast mining?

I see no necessity at all of according the right to treatment of ancient human remains that demonstrates this assumption that the remains of the long-dead are inherently worthy of the kind of romantic veneration advocated by HAD, but rather a question of its arguable desirability. I do not believe there is an epistemology of positive recognition of the long-dead, whether individually or collectively, and remains do not have rights, even if their deposition was accorded a high profile (often, quite literally) at the time. Has anyone ever heard of a patient suing a hospital for custody of an amputated limb, or a dentist for an extracted tooth? (And this, with an indisputable right of possession of the inanimate by the animate).

Friday, 25 September 2009

Not so far from the truth

An amusing skit on NewsBiscuit about Stonehenge...
'Stonehenge was to be a place where local merchants and tradesmen could gather, in order to peddle their wares and services to the thousands of Bronze Age tribes people who occupied Salisbury Plain at the time'. The document includes a plan, which shows that originally 600 stalls were to be constructed over a 200 acre site that would have also boasted ample grazing for 3500 Oxen and cart. ‘Stonehenge was essentially going to be the world’s first out of town shopping centre,’ said Dr. Bogaard.
Actually they do think that stone circles were used for trade and politics as well as ritual, so it's not as far-fetched as it sounds. For instance, Arbor Low is located at the meeting point of the boundaries of three tribal lands - so could well have been used for trade and negotiation. Just as churches were used as sanctuaries from the law, a stone circle could have been neutral territory because of its sacredness.

I did like the idea of druids as pharmacists, as well.

Hat-tip to Cariadwen.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Staffordshire hoard

An amazing hoard of Saxon jewellery and sword fittings of the standard of Sutton Hoo has been found in Staffordshire.

It also made the front page of the BBC website, and there's a BBC article about it:
Experts said the collection of 1,500 gold and silver pieces, which may date back to the 7th Century, was unparalleled in size.

It has been declared treasure by South Staffordshire coroner Andrew Haigh, meaning it belongs to the Crown.

Terry Herbert, who found it on farmland using a metal detector, said it "was what metal detectorists dream of".

It may take more than a year for it to be valued.
There is also a special website devoted to the Staffordshire hoard.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Open Archive

Open Archive - a new web based system for accessing our past

The wealth of information gathered by local archaeological groups and societies on excavations, surveys and documentary research is one of the important sources of data for the study of archaeology in the UK. Currently, this archive of British archaeology is stored locally, within libraries and local history centres as well as with the originating group themselves. In addition, PhDs and other research can be found in locations often scattered throughout the country. The premise of Open Archive is to collect the records of the past and present and share them with everybody.

Open Archive is an accessible library of user generated reports and publications where archaeology societies, PhD research students, graveyard recording and community groups can share their discoveries with a wide audience.

The easy to use interface combines intuitive searches by period, type of project and location with a map based view showing the location of the selected documents. Each item can then be viewed as either a short description or as the complete publication. This resource creates a public portal to the records of our shared heritage that were previously only available on a few local archaeology group websites OR as paper copies in the local library. The idea is to allow this to be both interactive and open to sharing via feeds and direct data transfer.

This looks like a really great resource, and very usable too.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Neolithic temple found on Orkney

'Neolithic cathedral built to amaze’ unearthed in Orkney dig - The Times
A huge Neolithic cathedral, unlike anything else which can be seen in Britain, has been found in Orkney.

Archaeologists said that the building would have dwarfed the island’s landmarks from the Stone Age — the Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stenness. Nick Card, who is leading the dig at the Ness of Brodgar, said that the cathedral, which would have served the whole of the north of Scotland, would have been constructed to "amaze" and "create a sense of awe" among those who saw it.

It is about 65ft in length and width and would have dominated the Ring of Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness which stand on either side. These important sites, dating back about 5,000 years, might have actually been peripheral features of Orkney’s Stone Age landscape. Mr Card said: “In effect it is a Neolithic cathedral for the whole of the north of Scotland.”
It seems wrong to call this a "cathedral" which is a specifically Christian word meaning the building that houses a bishop's throne; but nevertheless it is a magnificent and and fascinating discovery. I wonder what could be reconstructed of Neolithic religious practice, if anything.

Friday, 14 August 2009

The Mound Builders

The Sinnissippi Mounds were made by a mysterious culture or group of cultures known only as "the Mound-Builders", or the Hopewell tradition, or the Adena Culture.

In his new book about the mounds, Fritz Zimmerman argues that the the Hopewell were Sioux (Dakota and Lakota) along with the kindred tribes of Cherokee and Iroquois (Haudenosaunee). The author explores over 700 mound and earthwork sites in 5 states; it took him eleven winters to complete the project. The book includes photographs of 222 sites and gives directions to the sites.

The Criel Mound in South Charleston, West Virginia, USA.The Criel Mound in South Charleston,
West Virginia, USA.

A Photographic Essay And Guide To The Adena, Hopewell Sioux And Iroquois Mounds And Earthworks, 1000 B.C. to 500 A.D.
By Fritz Zimmerman
ISBN 978-1-934690-14-7
History / Native American Studies

Tasora Books · August 2009

The book also argues that the mound-builders had complex mathematical knowledge which enabled them to build the mounds, and hypothesises that we can work out the purpose of the mounds by linking them with the mythology of the Sioux, Iroquois and Cherokee Nations. Whether or not that is the case (I'm a little bit sceptical), this book is still a valuable gazetteer of the mounds, and will doubtless fascinate anyone who is interested in Native American culture.

Friday, 31 July 2009

A sacred mountain

BBC: In pictures: Kyrgyzstan's sacred mountain

The mountain in Kyrgyzstan has several mosques, tombs, petroglyphs, and sacred caves, and has been held sacred by several different religious traditions.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

We are all Africans

We Are All Africans
All non-African females are descendants of L3 line from Africa, and males have Y chromosome M-168

Nayan Chanda
Businessworld, 21 July 2009

Sweden’s well-known author Lasse Berg often begins his book talk with an attention-getter: “I am glad to see so many Africans in the room”. it invariably makes his (largely blond and Nordic) audience turn around to see where all the Africans are. Of course, Berg means everyone present. The author of Dawn over Kalahari: How Man Became Man proceeds to tell the story of how all humanity emerged out of the so-called dark continent and populated the earth.

The startling 1987 discovery of our common origin by Allan Wilson and Rebecca Cann by studying mtDNA (the maternal DNA) from samples dispersed all over the world led Newsweek to run a cover story with an image of an African Adam and Eve. In the ensuing years, massive amounts of genetic research has laid to rest any doubt about our African origin. While all non-African females are descendants of L3 line from Africa, our earliest common father was one with a Y chromosome marker, M-168.

The scientific evidence that we share the same African ancestry has been around for over two decades. Yet, in speaking about this to audiences across four continents, while presenting my book Bound Together I have encountered great surprise, and some scepticism.
Similarly, I read somewhere that about 25% of the European population could be descended from Julius Caesar. We really are all related.

This is not startling to me - it's something I have been aware of for ages - but I guess if you didn't believe in evolution or understand its implications, it might seem startling.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

A cover-up?

Bartholomew's Notes on Religion reports that a section showing early Greek Orthodox Christian priests defacing the Parthenon has been deleted from an animated film of the Parthenon's history after the Greek Orthodox Church complained.

The Parthenon
The Parthenon
If there is historical evidence of this defacement (which certainly occurred in other cases where temples were converted to churches, such as the Pantheon in Rome, the temple of Minerva in Assisi, and the church of St Lawrence in Rome) then it should be included in the film. There is no point in trying to airbrush out events after the fact.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Excellent news

Congratulations to Ronald Hutton, who has been appointed a Commissioner of English Heritage.
Barbara Follett, the Minister for Culture, announced today that Professor Ronald Hutton has been appointed a Commissioner of English Heritage. His term of appointment runs from 1st October 2009 to 30 September 2013.
According to the University of Bristol:
The commission has overall charge of the affairs of the official national body concerned with heritage, and its members act as statutory advisors to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (and so effectively to the government) in all matters that involve the understanding and conservation of England's past. As such, the appointment carries with it a broader responsibility of acting as an advocate for the importance of history in national life. It will commence in October and last for four years with the possibility of renewal.
This is fantastic news, and a well-deserved honour.

Who does PfA represent?

There is a spectrum of views about archaeology and human remains among Pagans. Paganisms are not dogmatic, so individual Pagans are free to make up their own minds about issues. It is possible to generalise about some Pagan beliefs, but even then one can only safely say, "Most Pagans believe..." (and Pagans are uncomfortable with the word "belief" as it implies dogmatism and an unwillingness to change one's mind in the face of new evidence).

Pagans for Archaeology is a group of people who have signed up to this statement. Whatever I write that is additional to that statement can only be taken as my personal view; it does not represent the views of all members, and certainly not all Pagans. In practice, I find that most members of PfA, and many other Pagans, do agree with the stuff I write; but that cannot be taken for granted unless they have explicitly assented to it.

That is why, when I am asked for the views of Pagans for Archaeology on a particular topic, I write to the members to ask them for their views on it; and when there is a consultation on an archaeological matter, I inform members so that they can respond to it personally.

The other parts of the spectrum are represented by HAD and CoBDO.

CoBDO want all remains reburied after they have been studied.

HAD is an attempt to build a consensus around the issue of human remains. Many of its members want reburial, but they are about compromise and negotiation, and want to be able to perform ritual around the disinterment and re-interment of remains, and to be consulted about museum displays of remains.

Pagans for Archaeology is opposed to reburial (this opposition was part of the statement signed up to by members) but many of its members want to see better displays in museums.

The other aim in setting up PfA was to make links with archaeologists and heritage and help them understand that not all Pagans want reburial and there is a spectrum of opinion, of which CoBDO is definitely not representative.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Great minds think alike

Since we're on the subject of invented histories, Chas Clifton has posted about Druidry and made-up history. He writes:
It is the "crisis of history" again. Can your religion get respect when it is based on non-existent "history"?
The subsequent discussion in the comments is interesting, too. Actually pretty much all religions have a mythical origin story, but some are more plausible than others. And since Pagans like to think of ourselves as reasonable people, having made-up histories is not consistent with our self-image. Religion doesn't need to have an ancient pedigree to be valid; it's your personal response to the great mystery of existence that matters, and how you live your life, and how you deal with the community (which includes other-than-human people, of course).

"Stolen" festivals?

I am frequently disappointed by the number of Pagan blogs and websites still banging on about Christians stealing our festivals. In fact, many of the modern Pagan festivals were "retro-engineered" from Christian ones. But in fairness, it must be pointed out that the reason we don't have continuity with ancient paganisms is because they were stamped out by Christianity (though the transition was not always violent, I know).

Although we honour the same deities as the ancient paganisms, there is a lack of continuity between us and them. We do not make sacrifices to propitiate them; and we are also the heirs of Enlightenment science and individualism, and the Romantic movement, and all the other historical events of the intervening centuries, especially the current environmental crisis. We must create a religion for our own contemporary needs, not a quasi-historical re-enactment of an imaginary past.

Admittedly, when people talk about a festival "stolen" from us by the Christians, they are referring back to the (now debunked) scholarship of the fifties and sixties which assumed that Christian festivals were overlaid over ancient pagan ones (which, in the case of Christmas and Hallowe'en, is actually true). So modern scholars need to get their work out there where it will be read by the general public. Ronald Hutton has done an excellent job of this with his books, of course, but he is the exception to the general rule.

The eight festivals celebrated by contemporary Pagans have their roots in ancient practice, but all eight were not celebrated by any one group, and the modern meanings are different. There are some excellent articles on the Association of Polytheist Traditions website debunking some of the claims about festivals.
Of course, many contemporary Pagans have read Ronald Hutton's Stations of the Sun. If you haven't, you should, along with his latest one, The Druids, and The Triumph of the Moon: a history of modern Pagan witchcraft.

Monday, 20 July 2009

The case for retaining human remains

The case for studying remains
  • Osteoarchaeology can tell us a great deal about past people, both populations and individuals: what they ate, what diseases they had, where they lived, how far they travelled, what they worked at, where they were born. Putting all this information together for a large number of people gives us a picture of a whole society and the lives of individuals within it.
  • Associated grave goods can also give us a picture of what mattered to the individual who was buried there. Grave goods should remain with the skeleton where possible, as they are an integral part of the assemblage, and may have been intended to accompany them into the afterlife.
  • The more knowledge we gain about people of the past, the more it perpetuates their memory. People of the past wanted to be remembered, that's why they built monuments in the landscape. Also, ancient texts such as the Hávamál talk about a person's name living on after they die (another indication that people in the past wanted to be remembered).
  • There was a lot of ethnic and cultural diversity in the past, and because human remains can tell us where people came from, this prevents fascists from claiming that Britain was ever inhabited solely by one particular ethnic group.
The case for displaying them in museums
  • Neolithic long-barrows were not private; people interacted ritually with the remains after they had been placed in the mound.
  • It helps to perpetuate the memory of the dead person.
  • Museums are Pagan shrines; the name means "temple of the Muses" (okay so the proprietors of the museums may not see it that way, but we can choose to do so).
  • It helps us to understand their culture and connect with them.
  • It might help us to come to terms with death.
The case for not reburying
  • In many cases, the original burial context may have been lost or destroyed. The Zuni (or A:shiwi as they refer to themselves in their own language) people of New Mexico see no point in reburying remains, because disinterring them destroys the sacred context of the original burial
  • Looters might steal the grave-goods or the bones
  • We don't know what ritual the dead person might have preferred (though HAD have composed a useful ritual for instances where museums want to rebury ancient pagan remains)
  • The remains should be stored for future study (analytical techniques are improving all the time)
  • Reburial means that we will no longer have access to the knowledge and memory of the person, and will quickly forget them
  • It is difficult to know which group of contemporary Pagans should receive remains for reburial, since we do not have cultural continuity with pagans of the past (who may well have had very different beliefs from us about the soul and the afterlife, and definitely had different practices from us).

A member's response to Arthur's picket

Another response to Arthur's protest at Stonehenge, from Dianne Green (quoted with permission):
I do not enjoy the new demobcracy which appears to take more notice of a vociferous minority than the quiet majority is my response to the Stonehenge protest by Arthur Pendragon. But those who disagree do need to speak up and this is a useful avenue.

I have been very concerned over the insistence on reburial for some time. I, and those whom I have chatted with, mainly Pagans, think that it is acceptable to display human bones in museum settings, respectfully and in context. The human being has gone on and only a shell remains. This argument also applies to ancient remains, which can give us so much information, now and in the future, about these people. It does gives them some vicarious immortality as their lives may be, partially, reconstructed. I loved the making faces part of Meet the Ancestors.

Pagans do not all believe that same things; that is almost a definition of being pagan; individuality and free thinking. Many share their spiritual beliefs with an great interest in their heritage and do support the archaeologists in their search for knowledge. Ancient remains are not personal; great, great, great great ancestors are within, say, a few hundreds of years. I noticed this recently when I felt uncomfortable about seeing the body of a large pigeon, which it was not practical for me to rebury. (Distance and a bird phobia.) When I went by after a few days the bird had been reduced to a partial skeleton, recognisable as it resembled the carcase of a chicken. This did not bother me; the bird, as a living and dying entity, had gone. Remains were just that, remains. I wonder if our ancestors felt the same. It was acceptable to carry around and deposit bones from times past, generalised ancestors, but a known person could be buried under the house where they had lived or in a grave. We just do not know their beliefes, societal or personal.

Reburial also brings many problems in its wake. Who has to pay, where should the remains be placed, how and by whom should any ceremony be conducted? So far I think that neo Druids have claimed the right to interpret the beliefs of the long dead, but no one knows. If any group were to be preferred over others as instruments of reburial it could cause controversy. Christian ministers have reburied those found in Christian contexts; there are no practitioners around to speak for the long dead and, without their name being intoned, or a familiar language spoken, who can say if the spirit, called back by the energies of reburial, might not linger.

It is a terribly complex topic and rouses many heartfelt passions.
Context: Arthur's 7-month protest at Stonehenge is mainly in response to the excavations of human remains by the Riverside Project, but also about the re-siting of the visitor centre.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Any common ground?

There's an excellent article by Dr Corinne Duhig, an osteoarchaeologist and a Pagan, in the latest issue (Summer 2009, number 72) of The Archaeologist, the official organ of the Institute for Archaeologists, in which she cogently makes the case for the diversity of burial practice and afterlife beliefs among both ancient pagans and contemporary Pagans. She too wants to honour the ancestors by telling their stories, which is what osteoarchaeology can do so well.

Oddly, however, whilst the article cites Pagans for Archaeology's interview with Emma Restall Orr, it makes no mention of the fact that Pagans for Archaeology is opposed to reburial (though hopefully our name would give readers of The Archaeologist a big clue).

But it is still an excellent article, and I hope it will contribute to making archaeologists aware that not all Pagans want reburial.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Arthur's protest

My response to Arthur's protest at Stonehenge

Context: Arthur's 7-month protest at Stonehenge is mainly in response to the excavations of human remains by the Riverside Project, but also about the re-siting of the visitor centre.

English Heritage held a consultation about where to put the new visitor centre and it is a difficult decision because just about everywhere around Stonehenge is archaeologically sensitive. I responded to that consultation, and Arthur could also have done so if he wished (maybe he did, I don't know). The new location was announced in May 2009, and it takes time to build things, so I am not quite sure of the need for that part of Arthur's protest.

Also, as English Heritage is a quango, it is not "the government".

As far as the remains in the Aubrey Holes are concerned, they were removed from their context and jumbled up in the 1930s (according to what Arthur said), so I am not too sure of the need either to retain them for study, or to rebury them. Presumably if they are being retained for study, there must be something that can be learned from them. Apparently they were in excellent condition and are being studied.

I disagree with the automatic assumption that respect means reburial. Osteoarchaeologists do treat remains with respect, and respect can also mean perpetuating the memory of the ancestors.

Also I think people should refrain from saying, "As Pagans we believe..." because Pagans do not all believe the same things.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

PFA conference success

The Pagans and Archaeology conference at the University of Bristol was a roaring success.
  • The first paper was delivered by Ronald Hutton, and explored the way in which one generation's archaeological orthodoxy was the next generation's fringe archaeology. Ley-lines were once all the rage with the up-and-coming generation of archaeologists.
  • Next, Josh Pollard explored the common origins of Paganism and archaeology in the Enlightenment and their shared interest in the past, and asked how better dialogue could be had.
  • Andy Letcher explored where the concept of Paganism as a fertility religion had come from (a trope that is rapidly losing ground amongst scholars of Pagan Studies, but is still current with some archaeologists).
  • Will Rathouse surveyed the field of relations between archaeologists and Pagans, from collaboration to conflict.
  • Graham Harvey explained the animist view of ancestors (which can include other-than-human people as well as human people).
  • Yvonne Aburrow gave a paper on the different discourses employed by those who want to retain human remains in museums, and those who want to rebury them. There are many discourses involved, but the most striking difference between the two groups was that those who are opposed to reburial are interested in the individual stories of the past and want them to be remembered, whereas those who want reburial are more concerned with a holistic view of the landscape and a timeless past.
  • Tiffany Jenkins explored how a crisis in the Enlightenment project that underpins the role of museums had opened the door to claims for repatriation and reburial.
  • Martin Smith explored the ethical issues around human remains, explained some of the fascinating things that can be discovered by scientific analysis of them, and pointed out the highly ethical treatment of bones by osteoarchaeologists.
  • Jenny Blain and Robert Wallis gave an overview of their Sacred Sites, Contested Rights / Rites project, and explained their response to the Avebury Consultation on human remains.
Afterwards lots of us went to the pub, and then some of us went for a curry.

Heritage protection reform dropped

The Heritage Protection Bill for England failed to be included in the Government's Draft Legislative Programme for 2009/10 announced in June 2009. This indicates that it is very unlikely to be included in the legislative business of the next Parliamentary session. The Council for British Archaeology are understandably disappointed, though English Heritage has indicated that many of the reforms can go ahead without it.

This legislation would have unified the two separate systems that currently exist and made the process of protecting heritage much simpler and more effective.

Apparently it's been pushed off the agenda by financial reforms.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

New toolkit for heritage

Community Heritage Toolkit Now Live on CAF

A new resource for community archaeology and heritage groups has just
been made available via the CBA's award-winning Community Archaeology
Forum (CAF).

The Community Heritage Toolkit was created by Rosie Crook of Working
Heritage and derives from a workshop titled 'Whose Heritage is it
Anyway?' which was co-organised by the CBA and English Heritage in
Castleford in 2005. The Heritage Toolkit contains numerous step-by-step
suggestions of fun, interesting and affordable ways of engaging groups
and communities with their local heritage, including using oral history
and film, exploring old photographs and even excavating molehills!

The Toolkit, which forms part of the suite of Advice and Guidance pages
available through CAF is just the latest addition to the growing
website. As well as providing advice and signposting visitors to
potential sources of funding, CAF is also a place where groups can
publicise their own projects and activities by creating their own pages.

With 49 projects already listed, ranging in geographical location from
the North of Scotland Archaeological Society and the Unst Archaeological
Group to the St Newlyn East Excavations in Cornwall, this section of the
website is also constantly growing, with recent additions including
pages from the South Somerset Archaeological Research Group, and the Ram
Hill archaeology project in South Gloucestershire. Users can add their
own material to the site after a simple registration process that can be
accessed via CAF's homepage. In addition, there is an email discussion
list for those with an interest in community archaeology, which can also
be joined via the homepage.

The layout of CAF will be modified and improved later in the year, as
part of the intended outcomes of research currently being carried out
into how the CBA can support community archaeology across the UK.
Details of this research can be found at the Community Archaeology
Research page and via the Community Archaeology Support Officer's blog.

Existing projects and resources will be migrated to the new website, so
please don't be put off adding information now if you have something you
wish to tell us.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

new ceremonial complex discovered

Given away by strange, crop-circle-like formations seen from the air, a huge prehistoric ceremonial complex discovered in southern England has taken archaeologists by surprise.

A thousand years older than nearby Stonehenge, the site includes the remains of wooden temples and two massive, 6,000-year-old tombs that are among "Britain's first architecture," according to archaeologist Helen Wickstead, leader of the Damerham Archaeology Project. For such a site to have lain hidden for so long is "completely amazing," said Wickstead, of Kingston University in London.

Archaeologist Joshua Pollard, who was not involved in the find, agreed. The discovery is "remarkable," he said, given the decades of intense archaeological attention to the greater Stonehenge region.

"I think everybody assumed such monument complexes were known about or had already been discovered," added Pollard, a co-leader of the Stonehenge Riverside Project, which is funded in part by the National Geographic Society.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Happy birthday Rome

Celebrations of Rome's 2762nd birthday - with lots of fabulous photos (hat-tip to Chas Clifton).

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Archaeology in your area

BAJR have produced a map of where you can find all the local and active fieldwork archaeology societies in Britain (using a Google Maps mashup).

Check it out to find a local society in your area. It's also worth visiting the CBA Community Archaeology Forum, which has pages of information about each group's activity.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

The media strikes again

The Times reports that English Heritage has been subjected to a fly-on-the-wall documentary. As usual, the documentary was squeezed into the mould of a particular narrative structure:
The British television viewer is now addicted to the narrative arc of building programmes: man has dream; man starts work; man is thwarted by human or natural disaster; build goes over budget; build is a year late; man is disillusioned; extra dosh is found; build is miraculously finished!

Actually I expect the British viewer is thoroughly bored of this narrative arc, but we don't get asked.

The article further complains that they spent 7 million pounds on the purchase and re-roofing of a Jacobean mansion. It does have the decency to point out that this is a mere drop in the ocean compared to the billions spent on bailing out the banks. But it's also a mere drop in the ocean compared to the millions wasted on the Olympics by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (of which English Heritage forms a part). The Olympics have never been demonstrated to have any long-term benefits whatsoever, whereas saving our heritage can have lots of benefits — for example, community engagement with the local heritage, as has happened at Tyntesfield and other National Trust properties.

And given the fact that the government is planning to cut pay in the public sector, uttering cries of "the public sector is wasting our money" seem a bit like kicking a man when he's down.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Interview with Emma Restall Orr

PfA: What is your role in HAD?

ERO: In many ways my role is simply one of co-ordinator, receiving requests or queries and passing them on to those whose expertise or location is more appropriate to the situation. On another level, as founder and the volunteer who has been working longest in the organisation, I am the one who deals primarily with core issues - consultations, conferences and so on - rather than local issues.

PfA: What got you interested in the ancient dead?

ERO: My interest in the dead, death and dying has been lifelong. Though for some it provokes feelings of negativity and pessimism, for me the subject is one that inspires. Here there are often expressions of true courage, generosity, love and appreciation, especially where we pause to one side of the rush of living. So working with the dying and grieving is a part of my daily life as the manager of a natural burial ground. As a Pagan my spirituality further inspires my interest, not just in the circles and cycles of time, of emergence and evanescence, but also in the long flows of human history and ancestry.

PfA: Do you feel a kinship for the people of the past?

ERO: Running immediately on from the previous answer, yes, I feel a profound kinship. I am aware that the ancient dead, no less than those who have lived more recently, provoke in me a deep sense of community, and with it a duty of care. If we think of kinship as blood ties, then I would comfortably say that the chances are that I am indeed related to ancient British dead, but blood isn't everything. There is a profound sense of kinship through community, tribe and landscape - through everything with which we have significant relationships. I feel utterly connected to all those people who have lived on these islands, who sat by the rivers as I do, who watched the skies changing, who grew their food in this mud, who walked the stony tracks that I walk.

PfA: What is your view of human remains?

ERO: As an animist, I perceive and experience human remains as enspirited, in other words, as still humming with the stories of the individual, their community and their landscape. It doesn't matter if the remains are 4000 years old or from the twentieth century, they retain a connection to the living, and thus deserve the consideration of a member of the community to whom they are related - and by 'related', I mean those with whom they have some relational link, whether closely through blood or cultural commonalities, or more broadly through a shared landscape and long history.

PfA: What is HAD's position on retaining human remains for study?

ERO: HAD's position is one that primarily calls for consultation, so that all who have a significant interest in the specific remains in question are given the opportunity to express their views and add to the decision-making about the remains. In this way, those for whom scientific value is key are given an equal standing with those for whom other values are paramount - the spiritual, theological, cultural, social anthropological and so on. On this basis, each case is different, provoking different responses and requiring different consideration. Where there is not adequate contextual information about human remains (and a vast number of such bones are in museum and archaeological stores across Britain) the argument for retention is weaker than where context is clearly documented.

Another key issue for me, however, is the question of the value of what is discovered through study. To take an example, the Natural History Museum in London asserted that the Tasmanian aboriginal culture would, in the future, thank the British scientists for the work they intended to do upon the aboriginal remains, even though the aboriginal repatriation group were expressing no interest in current or future scientific finds. To someone whose conviction in the value of Western science is unshakeable the aboriginal attitude may seem narrow-minded; however, to those whose worldview and values do not depend upon scientific perspectives, the NHM's words can be seen as cultural arrogance expressed through the assertion of what is just another belief system. HAD is keen to ensure that this sort of imbalance is not perpetuated, alternative worldviews and emotional and spiritual values being included as valid criteria, on an equitable footing, in decisions about human remains.

PfA: What do you think about the way human remains are displayed in museums?

ERO: Personally, I find display of human remains in museums problematic, as I know do many Pagans, social anthropologists and others. I would always be happier with casts replacing the original remains, with photographs or graphics being employed where useful and respectful. The visceral experience of feeling connected with remains that have been so isolated from their tribal, environmental and natural context is powerful for me, to the point of being physically nauseating. A part of me always longs to remove the remains, returning them to the mud of the earth to allow them to continue their natural process of dissolving into the cycle of death and transformation.

However, my own view is not that which HAD's collective voice expresses. HAD's Guidance for the Display of Human Remains in Museums is an interesting document, put together in the usual HAD way - through a process of consultation and input from Pagans and museums' staff, finding a way of coherently weaving the different voices into one document that was agreed by all contributors. It is worth having a look at.

PfA: Do you think there is a role for Pagans in archaeology? How do you think the heritage sector should engage with Pagans?

ERO: Absolutely. I think that Pagan perspectives - in all their diversity of theology and philosophy - are important in all areas of life, and not simply from the biased standpoint of being a Pagan myself. Because to the majority of Pagans, heritage, history and landscape are considered sacred, either inherently or indirectly, their position in archaeology has to be of immense value, whether as commentators or as archaeologists themselves. This is particularly so if they are shaking up established views and assumptions. That isn't to dismiss traditional thinking, but provocation to think, to consider more deeply or from alternative perspectives, is enormously valuable and especially within a discipline that is founded on exploration and interpretation - and Pagans are often good at taking that role.

My feeling is that organisations in the heritage sector would (and indeed do) benefit from open and easy discussions with those Pagans who are expressing an interest in the human remains and artefacts in their custody or care. Those museums, archaeological units, and even local historical societies and the like, who have included Pagans in discussion have gained from the input of ideas. After all, Pagans are often the perfect target audience for these bodies: people who are passionate about the past and its place in the present. Their insight can bring a depth and breadth to museum displays, archaeological interpretation and community engagement that would otherwise not be there.

It is a real shame that some heritage organisations have closed ranks against the Pagan community as a whole in response to the reburial requests made by a small Druid group in the West Country. That kind of fearful reaction is wholly unhelpful and is to everyone's detriment - museums, Pagans, and other communities. Thankfully, most organisations are more than happy to do what they can to find the time to listen, to talk, to share.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Witch bottle

According to Archaeology magazine:
Two corked seventeenth-century wine bottles, one found on a wreck off the coast of the Netherlands, the other in the foundation of a demolished house in England, have yielded strikingly different contents: a rare example of 350-year-old Portuguese wine, and a putrid concoction of urine and hair designed to harm witches who cast spells.
There are a large number of apotropaic deposits on show in the Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle, including a witch-bottle with urine in it. The Archaeology article claims that this is the first time that it has been definitely proven that witch-bottles contained urine. As most of the Museum of Witchcraft ones were found in walls and so on, that can't be the case, surely? (Unless amateur finds don't count...)

There's also a website devoted entirely to apotropaic objects, including shoes, dead cats, horse skulls, apotropaic marks (which I have written about before), written charms and witch-bottles.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009


There's an interesting article on the BBC website about Butrint.

I've been to Butrint, it's an amazing place.

It's a perfect illustration of the meaning of palimpsest, with ancient Greek, Byzantine and Turkish buildings piled on top of each other.

The BBC article neglects to mention that if you're coming from Corfu, you have to get the boat to Saranda and then a coach down a single-track dirt road to Butrint. And they could do with some planning laws in Saranda and the surrounding countryside, too. The Butrint national park is a lovely bit of landscape, though.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Pagans and Archaeology conference

Conference – Pagans and Archaeology
Saturday 27th June 2009
jointly organised by the University of Bristol and Pagans for Archaeology

Both contemporary Paganism and Archaeology share common origins in the Enlightenment re-engagement with physical traces of the prehistoric past. However, despite these shared roots, the relationship between Archaeologists and Pagans has often been portrayed as one of limited mutual comprehension and conflict, which may be seen to mimic wider societal tensions in the West between religion and science. The current, heated debate over the treatment of prehistoric human remains is just the latest manifestation of such ‘conflict’.

The aim of this conference is to explore the notion that the common ground between Paganism and Archaeology is greater than the differences, and to see how mutually beneficial opportunities for collaboration and co-operation can be taken forward. Both groups do, after all, respect traces of the prehistoric past, and a growing number of Archaeologists are also practising Pagans. Among the topics covered will be the current controversy surrounding calls for the reburial of prehistoric human remains, the place of Pagan beliefs in the management of ancient landscapes and heritage, and the role of alternative archaeologies. The contributors include members of the Pagan community, archaeologists, historians, scholars of religion and cultural sociologists.

To book a place at this conference, please email

The cost is £25 (£20 for students/unwaged)

Confirmed speakers:

Ronald Hutton
Orthodox and Alternative Archaeology: The Early Years
The relationship between the emerging discipline of professional archaeology and what became regarded as 'fringe' ideas of prehistory in the first half of the 20th century. The basic argument will be that this was more complex and dynamic than has often been thought.

Ronald Hutton is Professor of History at the University of Bristol, and a leading authority on history of the British Isles in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, on ancient and medieval paganism and magic, and on the global context of witchcraft beliefs. Also the leading historian of the ritual year in Britain and of contemporary Paganism.

Martin Smith
Balancing interests: making decisions regarding prehistoric human remains.
An exploration of how to balance the interests of multiple groups of people, living and otherwise, in making decisions regarding human remains – including religious groups, the wider public, the individuals whose remains are curated in museums and also of future generations that will come after us.

Martin Smith has a PhD on human skeletal assemblages from Neolithic Britain at the University of Birmingham. Subsequently he worked on a three year postdoctoral research project at Birmingham funded by the Leverhulme Trust. His current position is as Lecturer in Forensic Anthropology at Bournemouth University. His research interests encompass a broad range of issues in relation to prehistoric populations as well as the forensic applications of biological anthropology and the archaeology of conflict.

Graham Harvey
Animist Pagans and the present dead

Western modernity arose from a revolutionary process in European culture that hyper-separates humans from everything else (in theory or pretense at least). Two moments mark this long running fictive attempt: Martin Luther's declaration that only internal faith matters in a person's relationship with deity and Rene Descartes' insistence that human mind (the only kind there is) is discontinuous from matter. WIthin the wider separations, Luther explicitly divorces humans from the dead. The term "ancestors" eventually becomes synonymous (in Europe) with absence and mere materiality. Animism - the practice of treating the world as a community of living beings - is a growing trend in Paganism. Relationships with ancestors are being rekindled. This paper ponders how archaeology can be done with respect to ancestors, people who have died and remain present in the world.

Graham Harvey is a Reader in Religious Studies at the Open University. He is the author of numerous books and papers on contemporary Paganisms, animism, indigenous religions, and other religions. He defines "animism" as "the attempt to live respectfully as members of the diverse community of living persons (only some of whom are human) which we call the world or cosmos".

Andy Letcher
Fertile Imaginings: Challenging Popular Conceptions of ‘the Pagan’
A commonplace assumption about the past – reiterated within archaeological, neo-Pagan and popular discourse – is that pre-Christian religion was obsessed with fertility. Agricultural societies, it is said, legitimated licentious and occasionally heinous rituals to ensure both human reproductive success and a productive harvest. A charged word, ‘fertility’ has come to afford paganism a frisson, an ambivalent appeal.

Here I challenge the fertility discourse, arguing that there is scant evidence to support it. Rather, its origins may be traced, in part, to German Romanticism, from where it was widely broadcast in the Anglophone world by Sir James Frazer. Reconfigured in popular culture through the language of psychoanalysis and ethology, it portrays ‘the pagan’ as an expression of an unconscious drive or instinct, abhorrent to positivists, beguiling to Romantics, but always lurking close beneath the veneer of civilization.

Functioning as an origin myth in a post-Darwinian world, such a hetero-normative and universalizing view nevertheless dehumanizes pre-Christian religionists. It disallows them metaphor, play, ribaldry, sex-for-pleasure and transgression, casting them instead as instinct-led automata. ‘The pagan’ must therefore be seen as a category of otherness into which ‘civilization’ has thrown its discontents, a category which only removes us from actual pre-Christian religions. Rejecting this opposition – rather than simply privileging one of other of its terms – necessarily raises questions about how we engage with the pagan past.

Andy Letcher is a freelance writer, lecturer and folk musician living in Oxford. Author of Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom, and many academic papers on paganism, ecology and entheogens, he also fronts psych-folk band Telling the Bees.

His first book,
Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom, is published by Faber & Faber in the UK and by Ecco in the United States. Receiving glowing reviews in both Britain and America it presents a radical, new and definitive history of the magic mushroom.

Yvonne Aburrow
Our silent ancestors: an exploration of responses to human remains and their context
This paper will examine the discourses from which conflicting attitudes to human remains, archaeology and landscape emerge; on the one hand, a 'timeless' and holistic concept of landscape and a view of archaeologists as rationalist scientists, and on the other, a sense of landscape as a historical construct, and of archaeologists as restoring connections with our ancestors, and a range of positions in between.

Yvonne Aburrow is the founder of Pagans for Archaeology, and has an MA in Contemporary Religions and Spirituality from Bath Spa University.

Tiffany Jenkins
Cultivating Claims: the significant role of the museum sector This paper will analyse the rise of Pagan claims-making on human remains and the interaction with the museum profession, demonstrating that prevailing cultural ideas about human remains, and the role of museums, invites new claims-makers. It elucidates the central importance of the response to claims-makers in the construction of problems. The reactions by the profession to these claims are divided into two camps in my analysis. One is a highly positive endorsement and promotion of their claims. The second reaction is from those who not consider Pagan claims-makers legitimate. However, despite considering Pagan claims-makers as illegitimate, contestation of their claims by professionals is relatively weak. Significantly, I argue, members of the sector are unable to mount an effective rationale for the exclusion of Pagan claims-makers due to confusion about the purpose of the museum institution and the basis for its legitimacy.

Tiffany Jenkins is a cultural sociologist. Her PhD, titled The Crisis of Cultural Authority in Museums: Contesting Human Remains in the Collections of Britain, from the University of Kent at Canterbury, examined the social construction of the problem of human remains in museums, with a case study of the rise of Pagan claims-making and the interaction with such groups with the profession.

Will Rathouse
Stormy Heritage: interactions between the contemporary Pagan community and the Heritage industry/Archaeological community
  • interactions between the contemporary Pagan community and the Heritage industry/Archaeological community
  • issues uniting these groups such as protection of sacred/ancient sites
  • issues which divide e.g. the debate over reburial or display of human remains
  • politics of contemporary Paganism both internally and with the outside world
  • archaeological ethics and politics
  • four case studies: Stonehenge, Avebury and the Alexander Keiller Museum, The Hill of Tara and Stanton Moor
  • future developments, areas for improvement in relations, areas where further research may be advantageous
Will Rathouse is studying for a PhD in archaeology and researching the relationship between Pagans and archaeology.

Josh Pollard
Whither Archaeology?

Joshua Pollard obtained his first degree and PhD at the University of Wales, Cardiff. He subsequently worked for the Cambridge Archaeological Unit as a Project Officer before securing academic posts at the University of Newcastle, Queen's University Belfast and the University of Wales College, Newport. Josh joined the Department in October 2003 as Lecturer in Archaeology. He was Head of Subject for Archaeology & Anthropology between 2006-8.

Although he has published on a range of archaeological topics, much of his research is focused on the British and north-west European Neolithic. The latter has included work on depositional practices, materiality, aspects of monumentality, cultural perceptions of the environment, and approaches to the study of Neolithic settlement and routine.

Jenny Blain and Robert Wallis (authors of Sacred Sites - Contested Rites/Rights)
Stepping stones to common ground: negotiating paganism, archaeology and 'sacred' sites