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Reading Notes by Theun

An Archaeology of Natural Places

a book by Richard Bradley.

Borrowed Scenery:

This book is centered on the idea that archeologists usually focus on human artifacts, activity and remains. Bradley states that more work could be done on exploring the impact and significance of the unaltered surroundings the people lived in; in what lanscape were these human activities undertaken? The book looks at prehistoric Europe, specifically Scandinavia, UK, and the Mediterranean. In some of the topics he explores I can see connections to Borrowed_Scenery, especially when he describes the mythological landscape of the Saami {Laps}.

The mythological landscape:

The Saami had sacred sites like large rocks and rock-formations that bare a certain resemblance to humans, animals or birds. These places would be left completely unaltered. As Manker (1957:306) puts it: '{the Laps} let the gods choose their own shape.' The main features in the landscape for the Saami, in descending order of frequency would be: hills, mountains, lakes, peninsulas, caves, islands, waterfalls and springs. In the same way stones that served as idols were used in their original state. Animal sacrifices are not limited to wild animals, about 25% are domesticated animals. Fish and bird sacrifices are even quite rare. Sacrificial sites where the domain of the ancestors and all were given names. Different locations were associated with different divinities. Women's ancestral spirits were associated with lakes. The Saami ritual calendar was based on the behavior of the bear. Winter was when the bear hibernates, summer started when it wakes.

More broadly for Europe from Scandinavia to Spain:

Locations of offerings:

Sacrifice, rockart and quarries were undertaken on specifically chosen locations. Often these are remote or almost unreachable places. In fact material resources close at hand were often ignored; materials from distant or hard to reach places were favored. Sacrificial hoards were in different locations for men and women, tools and weapons (land and water respectively) and for certain groups, especially shepherds, smiths and 'ritual specialists' (including shamans). The smiths offerings are often half-melted raw materials poured into rock fissures. Sacrificial sites in bogs became more extravagant and often featured built-for-purpose wooden platforms. Many sacred sites would be obvious landmarks and especially in Scandinavia could even be seen from boats. So traveling through the landscape was also traveling through a symbolic space.


The offering of sunken vessels and weapons are linked to an influx of exotic goods into an already established local system. Mulk (1996) compares the Scandinavian finds to the north-west American phenomenon of the potlach, and suggest that they were undertaken to stabilize social order during an influx of private wealth. A leveling mechanism used to maintain an egalitarian society. Most of these systems would have originated in times before farming was adopted, but became more established with it. With farming people moved away further inland from coasts and rivers so differences between practices are also somewhat spread in the landscape.

Locations of images:

Rockart could also differ for certain groups; naturalistic images are found in public settings, abstract art is found in remote places. The latter are interpreted as more sacred so the abstract images only speak to the initiated. Locations for paintings and carvings are often quite specific, but vary widely. This includes, slopes so offerings could be put on the petroglyps, in water flowing from higher ground, in rocks that had high levels of quartz, depictions of gods on massive outcrops, remote places for the initiated few i.e. the traveler/hunter/shepherd or even natural theaters that could accommodate large audiences.

Monuments as reenacment spaces:

In some cases monuments would be organized so participants in ceremonies would need to move around these spaces in a prescribed order; as a physical means to experience the way the world was made or reenact creation myths. Spaces were created to form something like a model of the universe, through which a path was taken and specific offerings or 'votive deposits' were made. At Roughting Linn (UK) a large rock serves as a 'picture walk' you walk around.

To me it's interesting to see the culture of peoples and societies in the aftermath of the last period of serious climate change. Some elements may inform us in ways to incorporate change into our own lives and the ways we express ourselves, and could be interesting in a public narrative like an ARG.

archaeology_of_natural_places.txt · Last modified: 2012/04/09 11:09 by theunkarelse