archaeology: ritual and religioun key words

  • Created by: roxiie
  • Created on: 07-04-13 11:57

ancestor cult

a ritualistic system of veneration, honor, and propitiation of the spirits of dead ancestors for the purpose of avoiding evil consequences and securing good fortune

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a belief that nature is enlivened or energised by distinct personalised spirit beings separable from bodies which are thought to live in animals, plants and humans but also in natural places and in objects. They are generally less remote than deities and more involved in daily affairs.

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animism- context

Almost certainly applicable to this period but solid evidence is hard to find except that goddesses such Sulis Minerva at Bath relates to an earlier spirit to do with the sacred spring who is likely originally to have been derived from animistic belief. Similarly the River Thames in the Iron Age and Flag Fen.

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art/ iconograpy

iconography means the study of the meaning behind the images used in a given culture. this may involve symbols such as writing systems as well as pictures. images in sacred places were common in the past to communicate essential truths and propaganda to a people that was mostley illiterate.

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art/ iconography- context

Symbolism in prehistory is often hard to interpret in the absence of textual back up. One area of research is European rock art with its corpus of symbolic vocabulary in the form of zigzags and waves on megalithic monuments like Newgrange.

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the incineration/ burning of a dead body.

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excarnation is a mortuary practice that involves either allowing dead bodies to become defleshed through natural processes and/or actively removeing the flesh before burial. The rational for this generally seems to be allowing the soul to escape which was seen only to be possible once the flesh was gone. there may also be an element of impurity inherent in the corpse that was deemed inappropriate to the next life with the ancestors or gods.

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excarnation- context

Several causewayed enclosures such as Wind Mill and Hambledon Hill (described by the excavator, Mercer, as a ‘vast, open , reeking cemetery) have provided evidence for the exposure of corpses on the ground and in the ditches in the form of skulls and other body parts. It has been argued that once defleshed bones were relocated to their communal burial places in long barrows such as West Kennet. The bones now viewed collectively as ‘ancestors’ were visited and used in feasts in the courtyard outside the barrow. There also seems to be significance in the way that the bones were moved around and arranged on the floors of the stone chambers inside the barrow.

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focus of attention

an iconographic, sculptural or architectural feature that draws the attention of the onlooker/ worshipper such that they concentrate on it and are drawn into the holy nature of the place where it resides. An adjunct to prayer and ritual.

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focus of attention- context

 Heel stone at Stonehenge, Spiral designs on kerbstones at Newgrange, Totem poles in Stonehenge carpark, Long Barrow on skyline at West Kennet and Thornborough Henge alignment/structure.

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funerary ritual

Any religious activity that is related to the disposal of the body after death. This may be to do with the physical treatment of the body and its preparation or furnishing it with items for the afterlife or also communal activities involving offerings, song, music and prayers.

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funerary ritual- context

Excarnation, deposition of goods, cremation, Windmill Hill & West Kennet and funeral procession on chariot - Wetwang.

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grave goods

objects (as weapons, ornaments, tools) that are found buried with the dead in prehistoric graves. these were ofen given to the dead to help them in or on there journy to the after life

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Expect a definition along the lines of a ritual practice which buries the body in the ground (NB literal meaning is ‘in the ground’) as part of mortuary practice to remove the taint of putrefying flesh from the living community.

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inhumation- context

Iron Age chariot burials in East Yorkshire, i.e. Wetwang Slack.

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A natural place or building or other structure that acts as a boundary, threshold, portal or gateway to the ‘other world’ through which the living may communicate with the dead and/or the dead may return to old haunts. A sort of limbo between worlds

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liminal- context

Lakes and rivers and bogs such as Llyn Cerrig Bach/The Thames and bog body finds at Clonycavan, Oldcroghan and Lindow. Associated with votive deposition and offering at Flag Fen. the water that somrtimes surrounds silbury hill.

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Magic is the art of producing a desired effect or result through the use of incantation, ceremony, ritual, the casting of spells or various other techniques that presumably assure human control of supernatural agencies or the forces of nature.

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Expect a definition along the lines of a religion which believes in and/or worships a single deity.

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monotheism- context

Worship of one particular natural deity, e.g. the sun/moon/water/mother goddess at specific sites such as Flag Fen with evidence of votive offering.

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A collection of stories, usually parts of an oral tradition in the first instance, which passes on social explanations of the meaning of the cosmos and the role of people within it, a social code for behaviour, explanations of why things are as they are, reasons for the association of natural features with past events and also a sort of folk history of that society.

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myth- context

Links may be made between Stonehenge and the Merlin story if supported by Geoffrey of Monmouth. Also stories associated with stone circles such as ‘Long Meg’ and the ‘Merry Maidens’. Myths about flooding are also acceptable from Mesopotamia or the Noah’s Ark story.

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One who makes a ritual journey to a specific destination generally regarded as a holy place. This journey often involved a spiritual search for enlightenment and revelation of holy truths. Votive offerings are often made and the pilgrim may reside at the destination for a time and undergo rituals that provoke religious experiences. These experiences will be carried back to the original community by the pilgrim.

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pilgrim- context

This concept is difficult in prehistory but recent ideas about Stonehenge suggest that pilgrims were taking 'souvenirs' of bluestone chips and it may be a similar case at northern stone circles where pieces of quartzite were deposited, perhaps as symbols of the moon.

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Belief in many gods, rather than one, which look after separate aspects of daily life and metaphysical issues of concern to a society. Often conceived of as a related ‘pantheon’.

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polytheism- context

Evidence of existence of a range of deities from physical remains of ‘cult statues’ and behaviour such as at Flag Fen or West Kennet or sun and moon at Stonehenge.

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A solemn request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God or an object of worship.

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 The act of taking part or sharing in something an act or instance of participating.

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An ordained minister of the Catholic, Orthodox, or Anglican Church having the authority to perform rites and administer sacraments.

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Making offerings or sacrifices to a spirit or deity. Giving something in advance to please the spirits or gods, usually to guarantee success such as when setting out on a new venture or ward off ill fortune. It may involve an offering or sacrifice perhaps in a liminal place.

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propitiation- context

Widespread burials of humans and animal remains at danebury, the bog bodies of northern Europe are good examples.

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purity and cleansing

Expect a definition along the lines of ritual practice which is seen to guarantee that the devotee. 

appears acceptable to the deity as being cleansed of ‘sin’ and animal forces of decay which might offend a pure being. Metaphorically washing away impurities (eg exposing the body through excarnation or alternatively cleansing through fire or water) which might adhere to a mortal and interfere with the establishment of a good relationship with a god or spirit.

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purity and cleansing- context

Cleansing of the body through excarnation, i.e. Windmill Hill/Hambledon Hill.

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rites of passage

Ceremonies to mark crucial stages in the life cycle of the individual. These might include death, birth, marriage and death.

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rites of inrensification

Rites of intensification mark crisis in the life of a group. Whatever the precise nature of the crisis (war, disease, famine) mass ceremonies are performed to mitigate the danger. Because these rites are carried out at a group level rather than an individual level, the effect is to unite the people in a common effort in such a way that fear or confusion is replaced by optimism and collective action and the natural balance is restored.

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rites of inrensification- context

Good examples come from Flag Fen, Silbury Hill and Iron Age Bog bodies.

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Ritual encompasses the physical acts and behaviours which are carried out by virtue of a particular set of beliefs. Ritual acts might include sacrifice, offering, prayer, worship and funerary processes such as the deposition of grave goods. Such acts are usually done in the name of particular deities or ancestors and are often repeated on a regular basis according to a ritual calendar or at particular points in an individual’s or society’s life cycle.

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ritual- context

In the Prehistoric period this can be seen in bog burials, chariot burials, procession at cursus monuments and in astronomical activities at henges.

The activity, actions that past peoples carried out in line with what they believed. These may recur at specific times and are often repetitive and exhibit redundancy. 

Votive deposition in a lake at Llyn Cerrig Bach,Votive deposition of pots, swords at Flag Fen, Funerary rituals at West Kennet: song, dance and feasting, Astronomical rituals at Stonehenge

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ritual feasting

Ritual feasting is the consumption of food and/or drink, sometimes alcoholic, which precedes, accompanies or follows a ritual act. The food and/or drink eaten by the living participants is often imagined to also be consumed in spirit or essence by the gods or ancestors in whose honour the ritual is taking place.

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ritual feasting- context

Bones, charcoal and domestic debris found in the courtyard of the Long Barrow at West Kennet. Causewayed enclosures like Windmill Hill; or barrow sites such as Irthlingborough.

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An act of slaughtering an animal or person or surrendering a possession as an offering to God or to a divine or supernatural figure.

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sensory experience

The sensual stimuli that accompany ritual activity created by most people deliberately or which are a natural part of a particular location. These clearly involve sight, sound, smell and touch.

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sensory experience- context

Cave art and concomitant experiences. Dark places, altered states of consciousness, trance and hallucination, dancing, torches and lamps, earthy smell – at Lascaux and Rouffignac in the Vézère region of the Perigord, France.

Celestial observations, torches at Stonehenge and at Long Barrows. Hot blood and cold bog water with slippery sphagnum moss.

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An individual who claims to be able to contact the spirit world on behalf of others in society and often has a role as a healer. Contact may be achieved by trance or hallucinogens or repetitive singing and dancing often in a dark environment. The musical element may involve performance of mythical stories and traditional songs. The shaman may have a 'spirit-helper' in the form of an animal which is often represented by a carved figure used in performance. Shamen are sometimes known as witch-doctors who can also perform both positive and negative magic. They are most often associated with simple societies.

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shamenism- context

Inuit burials in the Arctic sometimes contain shaman's masks and rattles in the form of the spirit-helper or 'ongon' which is a grouse or capercaillie in one example.

The cave at Lascaux contains an image of someone turning into an animal – here a grouse too. Such individuals are known as therianthropes and they have been linked to trance experience among the Bushmen in South Africa. Grave goods at the Bronze Age burial of Upton Lovell are unusual and have been seen as belonging to a shaman.

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shrine/ temple

      any structure or place consecrated or devoted to some saint, holy person, or deity, as an altar, chapel, church, or temple. often  enclosing the remains or relics of a saint or other holy person and forming an object of religious veneration and pilgrimage.(any place or object hallowed by its history or associations: a historic shrine)
Temple is a building devoted to the worship, or regarded as the dwelling place, of a god or gods or other objects of religious reverence.

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Symbolism in religion and ritual involves the use of pictures and abstract referents to communicate important ideas about the cosmos and the position of people within it. The symbols may be part of a system representing letters of an alphabet or standing for whole words. Symbols may also be metaphors for ideas that are hard to explain. Symbols are most often discovered in or on ritual structures as part of their architecture and decoration and on ritual objects.

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symbolism- context

In prehistoric contexts a whole raft of symbols have been suggested for thepictures, reliefs and signs found in cave art at Cosquer and Chauvet caves in France or in the many ‘Venus figurines’ found across Europe at Petersfels, Willendorf and Lespugue.

Spirals and cup marks on stones in the landscape and megalithic monuments like Newgrange together with the circular shape of many early monuments have all been interpreted as symbolic in nature

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belief in the kinship of a group of people with a common totem.a natural object or an animate being, as an animal or bird, assumed as the emblem of a clan, family, or group. An object or natural phenomenon with which a family or sib considers itself closely related.

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A particular philosophy of life or conception of the world.

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Activity intended to propitiate, adore or communicate with the gods. May involve particular bodily positions or movement such as hand raising or kneeling together with accompanying music, song and prayer. Often directed at a special focus of attention and led by a ritual specialist. Can be an individual or communal activity.

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Seen in places of worship such as shrines and natural places, through repeated activity such as deposition at Flag Fen, ritual feasts repeated at West Kennet or communal monument building – Durrington Walls

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