Archaeology & Paganisms: a clash of cultures?
Nick Hanks & Yvonne Aburrow, English Heritage & Bath Spa University.
Both science and religion involve a form of faith; the former involves faith in reason and the scientific method; the latter involves faith in the unseen or spiritual realm.
However, the purview of science extends only to the material realm, as science chooses to exclude the spiritual realm from consideration.
Archaeology is sometimes claimed to be a science, sometimes an art, and perhaps even a craft. Its practitioners range from rationalist scientific materialists to postmodern theorists. Both ends of the spectrum look down on the other.
Paganisms are sometimes thought of as religions, sometimes as spirituality, art or craft. Pagans range from counter-cultural festival-goers (the ones most visibly encountered by the heritage sector) to academics and professionals (including archaeologists) attracted by the intellectual and spiritual heritage of ancient paganisms, and the post-modern attitude of contemporary Pagans, who acknowledge
the multivalency of truths. There is sometimes conflict between the two ends of the
spectrum in Paganisms.
Both archaeology and contemporary Paganisms have their origins in the modern and
post-modern discourses of the last three hundred years. Both are misrepresented
by the media (as explored in "Archaeology is a Brand", Holtorf 2007). Despite this,
both are proving to be highly popular. Both Archaeology and Paganisms have an
institutional, organised aspect (IFA and Pagan Federation). Both have an experimental aspect which is often misunderstood (the recent excavation of the Ford Transit, and Chaos Magicians who perform Tellytubbies rituals). Both have a maverick anti-establishment fringe from which they seek to disassociate themselves (metal detectorists and Stonehenge protesters), but which those outside the discourse regard as the same group.
Ironically, the two extremes (hardened rationalists among archaeologists and
counter-cultural holists among Pagans) have more in common with each other than
they do with the rest of their respective discourses, in that they are disinclined to
listen to others’ perspectives. Sadly it is these who generally get the media attention.
The more moderate in both discourses are inclined towards compromise and
dialogue – an example of hope and charity.
There has sometimes been conflict between archaeologists and Pagans (in the areas
of human remains and access to sacred sites), but due to their shared origins, there
has more often been considerable mutual influence between Paganisms and
archaeology; for example landscape archaeology drew on the earth mysteries
tradition for ideas of phenomenology; and contemporary Pagans have revised their
foundational myths in response to developments in archaeological and historical
theories. This paper developed from the research and personal experience of the
two authors in both Paganism and Archaeology. Both practice Wicca and Druidry.
Monday, August 13, 2007
Joint paper by me & Nick at CHAT 2007.