29 September, 2015

Faith, Archaeology and the Gods

Recent events in the Middle East, or rather several millennia of tragedy in the area, has highlighted the issues of Gods, and the problems they cause, so should archaeologists have any dealings with the supernatural? 
Faith changes people’s lives, although it is often other folk’s beliefs, rather than our own that have the most significant impact; my life changed forever at Newcastle University where my work based on mathematics proved no match for a revelatory “Iron Age Building Cosmology”; as we shall see, when creating myth a power-base is more important than an evidence base. While rationality, at least as expressed in science and maths is universal, Gods, despite their claims are usually fairly locally based, archaeology is aware of this because we know where they lived. While Gods clearly can inhabit a variety of elements and dimensions, it probably saves confusion when interacting with human society if they have a principle residence from where they can transact their business.
As a structural archaeologist, I am comfortable discussing the architectural needs and formalities of a residence suitable for those Gods who like that sort of thing, but problems arise with their communications, which have often proved to be a somewhat unreliable source of information. In the past, Gods tended to speak to individuals when they are on their own; we know this because from the Early Bronze Age onwards accounts of these conversations were written down, so we can glimpse of how they wanted society to be organised, and what they regarded as their legitimate business interests. 
If you start from the position that history is a subset of archaeology that deals with specialist forms of physical evidence inscribed with text, it makes no sense to draw a line around certain artefacts and treat them differently, but I am happy to leave them to those with specialist skills; archaeology always needs people to sit in the site hut and study the finds. This boundary between the prehistoric and historic represents a quantum leap in understanding, because they can tell us what they thought, or what they want us to believe they were thinking, or perhaps what they wanted others to think. 
Archaeology has got a lot to be grateful to the Gods for, since they have been constant companions for the cultures we study, inspiring many of the our most magnificent finds, and just as significantly, many of the people who went looking for them and funded the excavations. Ironically, the intensity of interest engendered by the Supernatural has driven research by generations of archaeologists to the point that we can now understand our own past, without the help of the Gods. 

One potential intersection between Gods and archaeology is issues created by finding dead bodies, above and beyond the hassle they create in terms of technical, legal and logistic issues, in certain cultural contexts can be complex and political. We have had an interesting dispute over the remains from Stonehenge, with Neopagans trying to lay claim to advocacy for the mortal remains of the pre-Christian world. in much the same way that many have been posthumously baptised into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; the new cottage industry of ancestral research has much to be grateful to the Angel Maroni. 
Archaeology ascribes much significance to burial practices as indicative of the development of ideas about an afterlife, and we can be fairly sure that Palaeolithic humans were burying their dead, but the jury is out on Neanderthal belief. Luckily, it is an area I have never had to deal with, probably because when the opportunity arose, I used the industry term “stiff” in front of a mixed interview panel, although this might be a myth.  Depending on age, there are 270 to 206 bones in the Human body, all of which have to be accounted for and recorded. Some anthropologists love this treatment of the dead stuff, I am more than happy to put it in a box send it to someone else and move on, while they may have been in the ground a long time, I would contend that peoples brief lives in and around buildings is the interesting bit.
However, museums have always been well stocked with kit originally intended for an afterlife where status was important. Luckily, most of the graves I have excavated were those of very early Christians, which were empty apart from a chemical signature, which is not uncommon; in archaeology there is no box to tick for resurrected.
It’s alright, I’m an archaeologist.
It has long been my practice when approached by evangelicals and similar to say “It’s alright I’m an archaeologist”, - using the resultant confusion to escape. It is not something they are prepared for, and it also works well as a response to most openers used by sales people. 
While it usually does the trick, the persistent will soon discover my original degree is Archaeology with Philosophy, Psychology, Geology and Ancient History, none of which encourages a magical view of the past. Just for the record, it is my understanding that archaeology does not support or verify the existence of any particular Gods, which surprisingly, is contrary to what many scholars believe. As popular entertainment will verify archaeologists are not the sort to be easily intimidated by ancient Gods, sifting through the wreckage of their temples does take the gloss off their wrath. Even if one of us achieves all archaeologists dream and find the Arc of the Covenant, complete with radiant tablets of stone, it would not prove Moses wrote them; although it might precipitate the end of the world, but that's what being an archaeologists is all about; health and safety.
Nor am I going to be impressed by a tautology like “Prehistoric cosmology” any more than I would give credence to a creationist; critical thinking is a transferable skill. “Prehistoric” means pre- historic or before written records, so we cannot legitimately have a discourse based on the “perceptions” of the participants in the preliterate past. You cannot read the minds of the dead, even “in theory” or on the basis of; “if we could - this is what they would say”. “Ideas” for which we have no relevant data or evidence, and cannot conceivably be tested, are not really theories but articles of faith. 
To accept ideas like Iron Age Building Cosmology you would have to believe in some special revelatory processes, similar to those used by Gods to communicate their ideas. The problem with this type of guess work about Prehistoric perception is that it takes ideas and projects them onto the past, rather than working by deduction from the evidence. Fundamentally, it is the difference between astrology and astronomy or religion and science. To understand why this distinction was once considered important we have to go back to the enlightenment, over three centuries ago.
Cogito ergo sum
In the 16th century the Reformation had broken the monopoly of access to the Gods and their devotional texts held by Rome for over a thousand years.  They could no longer rely on civic authority to burn mathematicians and other academics for Heresy, thus in following century the intellectual movement known as the Enlightenment was able to argue a that the world could be best understood using reason, rather than through Gods, marking the beginnings of modern science.
Many an undergraduate philosophy course starts with something like Rene Descartes’s Meditations on First Philosophy, published in 1643, although not normally in its original Latin; he is an individual whose view of the world [or “cosmology”] we can be reasonably confident discussing. Descartes was an Enlightenment figure, who was important in the development of the mathematics of archaeological planning. He is probably best known as the originator of the phrase Cogito ergo sum - I think therefore I am; this comes from his Meditations which contains two important ideas fundamental to understanding archaeology, as well other things like science; doubt and belief.
In Meditations Descartes is concerned with the nature of reality, particularly in the relationship between subjective and objective, a relationship we have through our senses. He starts from a position of doubt, because we can imagine things that are not real, perhaps we cannot we trust these processes, since our senses might be deceiving us. This leaves Descartes in a logical puzzle which he can only really escape by invoking a God, who is Good and therefore would not deceive him about his presence, and thus he can be certain of his existence. It is from this famous “circular” argument he goes on the construct the rest of the treatise, illustrating both the importance of doubt in questioning your own prior assumptions, as well as what can happen if subjective and objective become confused. Doubt is one of the most important concepts in any investigation and a theme I have often discussed before in relation to archaeology, a lot of poor practice arises because assumptions are not questioned. We routinely prejudge our investigation in terms of previous results, but archaeological excavation is not a repeatable experiment; it is not chemistry. Expectations based on other excavations, which are often expressed in a project design, can result in only finding what you were looking for and ignoring unhelpful features or evidence.
Recently, I demonstrated that the Roman “Turf Wall” could not have been made of turf by using the only scientific aspect of the evidence presented in the recent peer reviewed English Heritage excavation report, which reached the opposite conclusion by simply ignoring the data that did not fit the presumption of a structure made from turves.
This inability to question our own presumptions and those of others is partially a result of using a methodology that defines relationships and significance on the basis of superficial similarities. In this way, and by ignoring the majority of excavated evidence, British Iron Age archaeology has faithfully reproduced the results of its type site at Little Woodbury for nearly eighty years.
By looking for what other people found and understood, we mitigate against difference in favour of uniformity. Archaeology can thus be reduced to a tick box culture of simplistic concepts by which we can strip and record without recourse to excavation, or the need for a “none of the above” box.
Traditionally, in terms of Western Europe, most people’s wider perception of the past came from the Bible, and this is what drove much early archaeology, but we should also give mention to emotive power of Homer, and we can cite an enormous trench driven through the mound at Hisarlık by Heinrich Schliemann in his search for Troy. Much of what he dug through was the classical period town that grew up, at least in part to monetise this connection with the heroes of ancient history.
While being unable to verify the participation of any particular Gods or even humans, Archaeology provides a perfectly satisfactory Bronze Age context for the Homeric epic, set in this strategically important location. However, History does illustrate how myths propagate, with Virgil's Aeneid, linking the foundation of Rome, and probably the Julio-Claudian dynasty, to the Trojan War through the character of the Trojan Prince Aeneas, who was also was an ancestor of Brutus the first King of the Britons, whose arrival in Britain is attested by a stone on Fore Street in Totnes, Devon.
It is not until the invention of writing and the creation of devotional literature in the Bronze Age that we start to see what people might believe. For convenience, I will use the term “devotional literature” in its widest since, covering all religious writings, which in reality has a variety of forms with varying factual content and perceived cultural legitimacy. A lot of this material recounts conversations between human characters and super natural beings in as variety of forms and contexts, the veracity of which is difficult to verify archaeologically.
In addition, a non-material concept like an Angel or afterlife present problems for translators; a lot of ancient writings are accounts and lists, which are easier to read if not very interesting. However, they do remind us that religion was part of system that mobilised whole populations around their Gods. 

We marvel at Egyptian temples, but not necessarily at the system that could concentrate such vast amounts of wealth at the disposal of their Gods. Civilisation, as we have tended to define it, was a product of small group of people persuading everyone else to work for their benefit, and religion was the tool they used.
There is a marked, but perfectly reasonable tendency for societies to make Gods in their own image, which is the principle interest in their devotional literature, although until comparatively recently, written texts are the province of small elite, most people believed what they were told, which is not necessarily the same thing. While Gods seem to have been free to move about, it becomes impractical to organise their worship if they can be contacted just anywhere, they need a house or some agreed fixed point of contact. Hosting a God is a significant franchise; brand loyalty is imprinted in childhood, and often rigorously enforced. Depending on the track record of your Gods, sacrifice can be seen as a preventative measure, to ward off some impending doom, or gratitude for the services rendered and continued success bringing doom to others. Sacrifice in the approved manner could deter gods from, going rogue, which is why it is such an imperative; if you stopped the world might end badly.
While the world is clearly full of dangers and the fear of death is perfectly reasonable, our empirical mechanistic view of the world works perfectly well most of the time. Daily life is usually safe and predictable, that is what makes it possible, so the profane is important if only to highlight the sacred. As I have discussed in relation to Vitruvius, rationality was important for practical matters, so we should not project an idea of religious naivety and superstition on the past.
Ego-Video Liber Deorum
We tend to associate ideas with the peoples in whose writings we first encounter them, thus the ancient Greeks or the Babylonians get credit for ideas, simply because that’s where the paper or clay tablet trail runs out. We can note that we have examples of early pantheons or families of god with seven members, corresponding the 7 heavenly bodies, which in turn related to the days of the week etc..
However, Archaeology is one of those subject where a single find or site can radically change ideas about ancient culture; So what interests me in the 2.8 m tall, [perhaps originally 5.3 m], Mesolithic wooden statue from bog near Shigir in Siberia, is that in addition to the main head it has six other smaller faces carved on the front and back. I would argue that we are at least entitled to note these seven faces, and discuss them with reference to cosmologies we understand from later periods, although beyond this, it would be unwise to speculate about what they believed about them. Generally, we can observe Gods have a fairly parochial view, so Neolithic deities address Neolithic issues. In these ancient stories we can see the issues of the transition to a Neolithic lifestyle, pastoralism, cereal farming, urbanisation, and even an underlying sense of change from a lost earlier age. 
In a previous article I noted that the Babylonian myth of Atra-Hasis, known for its Flood parallels, describes a creation where man is created to be the slaves of the gods and work in their fields, doing the work previously done by junior Gods, one of whom sacrificed his life so humans might have existence. The creation in the bible comes from people recently enslaved by the Babylonians, and makes no reference to slavery, but places the blame for a life of agricultural servitude firmly and squarely on women. 
The Holy Land 
All the points I have made about belief and doubt take on greater significance when we discuss certain fairly specific classes of archaeological material, which has prompted its own specialist schools of archaeology, and the term Biblical Archaeology. As a result in the Bible Lands, especially the Holy Land, archaeologists have probably moved more dirt per square mile than anywhere else on earth.
The translation of the bible broke the Catholic Church's monopoly on devotional literature, opening it up to analysis, and by 1807 the Documentary hypothesis had identified the four principle sets of writings that had been used to form the Pentateuch or five Books of Moses, although it would be a long time before archaeology would start to explain the context.
This was Iron Age Devotional literature describing events in the Bronze Age; it was not produced in a vacuum, to be relevant it draw on the past and reflect a present where refugees were returning to the area following the collapse of the Babylonian Empire in 586. It integrated the writings from the now defunct northern state of Israel with those from Judah to ensure the authorities in Jerusalem complete control of religious and civic matters in the new state.
The objective was to establish a single God that could only be properly worshipped in Jerusalem, which in practical terms meant sacrificing animals, which was one of the primary ways religion was monetised. 
To this end, a glorious and heroic past was created for Jerusalem; the real and imagined disasters of history were recast as a failure to follow this [new] tradition. Whatever the spiritual qualities of this God, in common with many Gods, he could only really be found at home in his temple at Jerusalem. 
Gods like blood, and lots of it.  In the good old days Gods wanted things killed in return for their favour, blood and more blood was the currency universally accepted, while this frowned on as old fashioned, killing it is still regarded as a legitimate form of worship for contemporary followers of Gods.  It is important to understand that people being killed by priests would be human sacrifice, so traditionally the civil authorities had to do the killing on behalf of Gods
Despite initial imagined success, biblical archaeology has failed to support the Pentateuch’s version of the Bronze Age created by the priests in Jerusalem, because in reality this area was generally dominated by the empires to either side, and is by ancient standards, well documented. For archaeology, Moses, even, some might argue Solomon and David, are no more real than Brutus the first king of Britain, which is not to say these characters did not have historical cores, but their role in history could not have been as described, which amounts the same thing.
By this period of the Iron Age archaeology and history converge in this part of the world as over time the Persian Empire was taken over by the Greeks, and then by the Romans ruling through client kings like Herod the Great (73-4 BC), who were already part of the international elite from the Greek world. 
Empires are complex places, where in the competitive world of Gods, there are manifest winners and losers, but client kingdoms needed their client religion to function. Polytheism was a more flexible approach, it had common routes allowing for mix and matching, it even would allow that for a view that all Gods were the reflection of one underlying reality, [Henotheism]. 
So having supernatural beings in charge of an Empire was an important part of the story, not just for the winners but also for the losers.
Render unto Caesar
On 15 March 44 BC Gaius Julius Caesar was assassinated at the age of 55, less than two years later he was formally deified as Divus Iulius by Roman Senate on 1 January 42 BC. Caesar Octavian, henceforth became Divi filius ("Son of a god"), later in 13BC, as the Emperor Augustus, he united religious and political power by becoming Pontifex Maximus or chief priest of Rome. 
The Roman Pantheon was on the up, and the new Julio-Claudian brand was backed by serious earthly muscle, if you were de facto the most powerful individual on earth, who is going to quibble about calling yourself a God? 
Sadly, for the Religion centred on the Temple in Jerusalem, one idea that defined itself was the prohibition of graven images, and one of the ways the Imperial Cult manifested itself was through statues dedicated to the emperor put up in their places of worship by citizens grateful for his protection. In reality, Empires don’t need complicated reasons for subjugating people who rebel, and the first of series of conflicts known as the Jewish Wars broke out in 66 AD, in which religious teachings undoubtedly played some part. Ideas about heroic leaders who arise at the time of crisis, so much a part of foundation myths, that it led to a series Messianic leaders claiming to able to set their people free.  The Romans dealt with the problem in the finest tradition of scorched earth, and completely destroyed the country particularly Jerusalem were they removed all trace of the Temple, killing or selling off its population during the period 66-73AD.
There are going to be Gods that don’t deliver the goods, and particularly for those don’t see merger as a way forward, for the Jews the whole concept of sacrifice at the temple, and what that represented was gone. There is a limited range of available responses; the first is to revert to type and blame the followers for not being worthy, while promising revenge through some sort of apocalypse or the return of saviour figure in the future. The last of these messianic leaders Simon bar Kokhba was killed during a revolt of 132-135 AD, which was named after him, bringing to an end 60 years of rebellion, factional and ethnic fighting in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The grim reality of a competitive, if somewhat rigged market in Gods, first under the Greeks and then the Romans, ideas about nature of God, saviours, and temples get overtaken by events. When the end of the world failed to materialise,  just more Romans, which for many cultures amounted to the same thing, there was an explosion in new devotional literature and gods. 
This continued until the early forth century when Roman emperors opted for standardisation, backing a new imperial monopoly based around a Christian cannon of Latin devotional literature.
That would be an ecumenical matter
Thus, even as early 4th century Romans went looking for, and found most of the sacred sites mentioned in their texts; it could be argued that this was the beginnings of archaeology, in that, we are still awaiting the final report 1600 years later. The Holy Land was up and running as a commercial enterprise. 
These excavations produced finds including bits of the cross, nails, and other ironmongery, evidence that has been long since discredited, although the remains of a shroud has fought a remarkable rear-guard action.
What later archaeologists went looking for and found were texts, although the two most important discoveries, the Dead Sea scrolls, and the Nag Hammadii documents were found by accident. In some ways Biblical archaeology went in search for an historical Christ, but the further back it dug the deeper the mystery became, to the point where some are even prepared to question the underlying assumption about what it is they were looking for. Interestingly, what has been uncovered is what the early church fathers had effectively buried, a wide diversity of devotional literature like texts from Nag Hammadii in Egypt which appear to represent a Gnostic view of God, one of the dozens of groups whose ideas and books did not make it, except as a footnote in later books about heresy. 
Way beyond the Tradition that you might be taught at school or discuss in church, at the cutting edge of archaeological scholarship there is actually a debate about the Historicity of Jesus, because unlike the Divine Julius, it is possible to argue we don’t really have any independent sources for his life in the first third of the C1st. The consensus view among specialists is that he was a real person around whom a body of later literature grew up probably from an aural tradition. But there is a logical governor on the consensus, this person has to have been special enough to start a movement, but not so special as to attract attention of the contemporary historians and commentators of the Period. 
There are three key points to grasp in this debate; our earliest “Christian” writings are 7 epistles of Paul dated to the 50’s; the first “Gospel” Mark is written in the 70’s, and that of the evidence from sources outside this body of devotional literature is to a greater or lesser extent forged. It should also be pointed out, that while arguments hinge on the translation single words in a few individual verses, these are not physical artefacts but theoretical literary constructs, we have only fragments texts from the early Second century.
In addition to the problem of minor errors and editing in hand-copied literature, we have the issue of wholesale forgery; while archaeology cannot verify subjective accounts of conversations with Gods, as with any other artefact, it can work out roughly when and how they were created using changes in style or form. In polite society we use the term pseudepigraphic, to describe artefacts like the 6 epistles now “attributed” Paul, but written later, probably to help integrate Paul’s supernatural Christ with Mark's story of a preacher in Galilee. Before Paul, the Papyrus trail goes cold; in the Dead Sea Scrolls, which include first Century writing from Judea where the roots of Christianity have been sought, there is no trace, at least nothing the Christians would wish to claim as their own, but instead it is from the Greek speaking Jewish diaspora that our ideas of Jesus emerge.
A minimalist view would be that all the Gospel narratives are copied from and develop the narrative in the Gospel of Mark, without the need for lost sources such as Q, noting that Paul makes no reference to this later biography.

A Devil's Advocate
It can be argued that the only primary source is a short literary account of the ministry and death of a Jesus of Nazareth written in Greek by unknown author with poor knowledge of the geography and religious culture of the area. It is an account of a peaceful messiah, tolerant of the Romans, but who is opposed to the practices of the Jerusalem temple, and, warning of a coming catastrophe, is cruelly put to death at the behest of the Jewish religious authorities, only for the body to disappear from its tomb. It is well written, full of Allegory, illusions and typology, but it originated not from Hebrew tradition, but from the Greek speaking diaspora, with the author of Mark’s Gospel probably based in Rome. 
Currently, at the most brutally rational side of the argument is Richard Carrier, who argues that by the normal standards of History, no case for the Historical Jesus of can be made, concluding he was he was mythical, a God that was given an earthly biography, a process known as euhemerism. 
 Thus, unlike the Divine Julius, who had a life and became a god, he argues that Christ was a supernatural being who was later given an earthly biography by the author of Mark. This idea is not new and was developed in the C19th by a variety of scholars unhappy with supernatural explanations, and looking for a rational account of history. This mythicist argument would also note that in the wider context, many gods in this period were based around mystery cults, with personal saviour gods or children of Gods, that undergo a passion to achieve victory over death which they share with their followers.   In an empire, where by definition most people and their Gods start out as losers, many could relate to a message of a suffering of an righteousness man and the futility of resistance.  Unlike some its predecessors, it was portable, simple for anyone to join and did not involve genital mutilation or dietary restrictions.
The idea Jesus of Nazareth is a non-historical figure might seem shocking,but can be sustained because outside a later literary tradition created by the anonymous author of Mark, there is no incontrovertible evidence.   We can plot the synoptic literary trajectory that propelled the Human with supernatural powers into a supernatural being; Archaeology has to bail out fairly early on.  While nautical archaeologists might disagree, walking on water is not something that need concern us, but the idea that “.. the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose . . ”, would have serious implications for the archaeological record, and we can’t take that lying down.  
Outside of a “traditional” gospel framework there are no real dots to join, so that you can add as much mystery, conspiracy, divinity or mythicism to support a wide variety of identities of a Christ, including real historical candidates from the many better documented Gods and Messiahs in this period.  As an archaeologist, I was quite interested in the Talpiot Tomb; here at least was a real historical family tomb with named individuals.  However, for biblical scholars, and for a whole raft of reasons, this was the wrong type of evidence,  not least is that the last thing people were actually looking for was a body.   Outside of independent textural evidence, a box of bones with a name on it is about as good it gets in archaeology.
I believe that History is a cocked-up attempt at conspiracy, and those that can, will tend to drive events in the direction of their pecuniary interest.  It is written by the winners who can write, and with state backing, by the end of the fourth century imperial power set about destroying the houses of rival Gods, killing their priests, and burning their devotional literature.   While the scribes in Jerusalem had created a Glorious past, Christian Historians created the reverse, a history of martyrdom and suffering, making the conversion of the empire even more miraculous.
If we look at the Catholic Church, we see that for over a millennium after the collapse of the Western Empire Rome remained a centre of power with its own independent Latin speaking transnational culture; it was generally more stable than the secular establishments which it legitimated.  The powers assumed by Augustus centralising the regulation of Gods were still based in Rome, and even today official are writing biography of pontiffs detailing the supernatural events associated with them.  However, the idea of devotional literature being created in an imperial court setting, runs contrary to the notion that it was written by bearded men in caves or monastic cells.
Caveat Emptor 
Whatever the inherent powers or qualities of Gods, they have remarkably poor record as sources of information about the past, although some are well read, their prescience has to be questioned, since they did to see archaeology coming.   Even as late as September 1823, the Angel Maroni had ideas about the history of Native Americans, which subsequent archaeology has shown to be erroneous.   Since, I graduated, 35 years ago, there have only been 6 years when Gods had not claimed the world was going to end, which is a success rate of 17 %, which is a pretty low score on a Yes/No question.
However, archaeology would not be where it is today without the Gods, and should appreciate the funding and interest they generate.   Perhaps it does us no harm when archaeological discoveries contradicting opinions expressed by Gods are described as controversial.  Despite a poor track record, the wisdom imparted by Angels is by its nature construed as authoritative, which has resulted series of spirited and often ingenious attempts to resolve problems by fitting the archaeology around a devotional narrative.  
No amount of digging can prove that a supernatural being promised territory to a particular group of people in the Bronze Age, but archaeology can help explain why a group of priests in the Iron Age might want to write such a story down.  A variety of competing political and religious interests backed early archaeology, but as with many things, the Nazi party's racially motivated archaeology represents a nadir; sadly, it would be easy to draw some uncomfortable parallels with contemporary misuse of archaeology for political purposes.
Much poor archaeology results from looking for something specific, or having too narrowly defined objectives and not understanding the concept of doubt.  Apart from creating a huge geographical bias in our understanding, Biblical Archaeology, despite the inherent partiality in the initial premise, has acquitted itself reasonably well.   Despite their best efforts Franciscan archaeologists have failed to find a first century Nazareth, which has in no way affected the commercial interests of the area, there are never any shortage of people prepared to give their life savings to visit sacred rocks, rivers, temples and tombs; many regional economies are dependent on the supernatural.   The Gods of Egypt, with significant foresight had stone houses built, which thanks in part to archaeology, still function remarkably well, drawing considerable income into the region.
The idea of a God suffering a passion, explicit in the Atra Hasis tradition, where Geshtu-E died so that we might live; guilt over a suffering or dead god is a familiar part of the toolkit. Gods have always known how to make people, particularly children feel bad about themselves.  Guilt gives them a stick with which they can beat themselves for a lifetime; children frighten easily and putting the fear of Gods into them usually ensures a lifetime of obedient brand loyalty.  We should not be surprised that information imparted by an angel that life is better after you are dead can be drilled into children and even adults to the point where they are willing to kill not just other people, but even themselves.  Tragically, History, even today, is still being driven by these paranormal communications; enlightenment is not a one way process, and if you invite them, the Gods will happily take you back to the dark ages; they have traditionally appreciated Blood, although preferably all over the walls of someone else's temple.
On a more mundane level, as an archaeologist there is lot I could say about passion and suffering; I know absolutely that mechanical structures can be described by maths, this is not a belief, I think of it as an understanding; but I found myself at an institution where revelatory Prehistoric cosmologies trump 300 years of post-enlightenment thinking.  While they can relieve people of their money and a career, at least they can’t burn you.   While at a bottom feeding Russel Group University like Newcastle you can’t necessarily expect intelligence, some rudimentary standard of education, and perhaps some understanding of academic method would have been nice, at least at Professorial level.   Both the early Church fathers and modern academics are members of institutions with the power to make the past in their own image, both are apparently infallible and you can’t sue either for false prospectus or conspiracy to defraud; Caveat Emptor.

Sources and further reading.
For those like me who can no longer afford books, and don't have an institution to buy them on demand, here is some sources of free information.  
Alternative less partial takes on Gods, including their own words, are available in all good book shops and Some Free on line.   A list of Devotional Literature considered sacred:
Newcastle University   Caveat Emptor
[Illustration ] "Or de Varna - Nécropole" by I, Yelkrokoyade. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Or_de_Varna_-_N%C3%A9cropole.jpg#/media/File:Or_de_Varna_-_N%C3%A9cropole.jpg
It’s alright, I’m an archaeologist
Cogito ergo sum
[Illustration ] "Frans Hals - Portret van René Descartes" by After Frans Hals (1582/1583–1666) - André Hatala [e.a.] (1997) De eeuw van Rembrandt, Bruxelles: Crédit communal de Belgique, ISBN 2-908388-32-4.. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Frans_Hals_-_Portret_van_Ren%C3%A9_Descartes.jpg#/media/File:Frans_Hals_-_Portret_van_Ren%C3%A9_Descartes.jpg
[Illustration ]  "Meditationes de prima philosophia 1641" by Bibliothèque Nationale de France - Bibliothèque nationale de France. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Meditationes_de_prima_philosophia_1641.jpg#/media/File:Meditationes_de_prima_philosophia_1641.jpg
Hadrian’s Wall Archaeological Research by English Heritage 1976–2000
edited by Tony Wilmott
[Illustration ]  "BrutusStoneTotnes" by myself - my photopgraph. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BrutusStoneTotnes.JPG#/media/File:BrutusStoneTotnes.JPG
Ego-Video Liber Deorum
[Illustration ] "Il tempio di Hatshepsut" by Andrea Piroddi - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Il_tempio_di_Hatshepsut.JPG#/media/File:Il_tempio_di_Hatshepsut.JPG
 [Illustration ] "Bm-epic-g". Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bm-epic-g.jpg#/media/File:Bm-epic-g.jpg
The Holy Land 
[Illustration ] "William Blake - Moses Receiving the Law - Google Art Project" by William Blake - 3wHJdwPKniIvjQ at Google Cultural Institute, zoom level maximum. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:William_Blake_-_Moses_Receiving_the_Law_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg#/media/File:William_Blake_-_Moses_Receiving_the_Law_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg
The sources are known as J, the Jahwist source (from the German transliteration of the Hebrew YHWH), E, the Elohist source, P, the priestly source, and D, the Deuteronomist source] .
Render unto Caesar
By hu:User:Lassi (hu:Kép:Augustus-in-Kalabsha.jpg) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
[Illustration ]  "CaesarAugustusPontiusMaximusCloseup" by Original uploader was RyanFreisling at en.wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:CaesarAugustusPontiusMaximusCloseup.jpg#/media/File:CaesarAugustusPontiusMaximusCloseup.jpg
By derivative work: Steerpike (talk) Arc_de_Triumph_copy.jpg: user: בית השלום (Arc_de_Triumph_copy.jpg) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
That would be an ecumenical matter
By Papyrologist Bernard Grenfell (1920), as preserved at the John Rylands Library. Photo: courtesy of JRUL. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
N.B. The Lost Gospel of Thomas, sayings of Jesus without biography;
Eg. Panarion (Greek: Πανάριον, "Medicine Chest"), (Latin: "Against Heresies"), by Epiphanius of Salamis (d. 403).
A Devil's Advocate
[Illustration ]  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ARipple_effect_on_water.jpg  By Sergiu Bacioiu from Romania (Water Drop – Explored) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
[Illustration ]  Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. http://www.cngcoins.com [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
 [Illustration ]  "The Talpiot Tomb". Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_Talpiot_Tomb.jpg#/media/File:The_Talpiot_Tomb.jpg
 [Illustration ] "Tiffany Window of St Augustine - Lightner Museum". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tiffany_Window_of_St_Augustine_-_Lightner_Museum.jpg#/media/File:Tiffany_Window_of_St_Augustine_-_Lightner_Museum.jpg
382 Christians requested Emperor Theodosius I issued a decree of death for Manichaean monks like Augustine of Hippo who converted in 387 [aka St Augustin;354–430]. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manichaeism
The Josephus entry is an obvious forgery; it is bit like finding a passage praising Hitler for making the trains run on time in The Diary of Anne Frank. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Diary_of_a_Young_Girl
~ Matthew 27:52-53
 “And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.”
Caveat Emptor 
 [Illustration ]   "Moses LOC" by Carol Highsmith, photographer - Library of Congress Exhibits; (full size image). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Moses_LOC.jpg#/media/File:Moses_LOC.jpg
According to Wikipedia, since 1980 Christians and others have not predicted the end of the world in 1983, 1984, 1986, 2004, 2005, 2008. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_dates_predicted_for_apocalyptic_events
Professor Neill Marshall

19 July, 2015

Deconstructing a Stonehenge "House"

A game of blind house detective
When a reader contacted me to ask my opinion on a reconstruction that was referred to as “the Stonehenge House”, I saw an interesting opportunity for a blind test.  In truth, I had not looked at this, so I requested and received a copy of the archaeological plan from Durrington Walls on which the reconstruction was based. I fully expected to produce a different conclusion since, as an archaeologist, I try to work by deduction, rather than by comparison or projection; it's the difference between astronomy and astrology.
I sent my reply back in just over a day, in the form of the drawing reproduced below.  It was just a quick hack; it has taken a lot longer to write it up for this post, probably because in term as of scale it is more like a Stonehenge Shed, and I have more significant structures I should be working on, but being an Aries, I can’t resist a challenge.   
Regular readers will be aware that I do have serious prejudices about the nature of built environments in this period, which included  large class Ei buildings like “Durrington Walls” [1].  My interest is mainly in this main structure, which  I know was a building, even though only half survives, because I have done the maths; post-processual academics know it is “ritual” because they haven’t.

13 July, 2015

Parish Notices: An exciting new blog, a Blogging Survey with a * Prize * + the future in the Stars

An exciting new blog to visit
For some time I have been discussing some interesting research with Michael Carter of Ryerson University; He has been working on a project to utilise modern graphics engines to build virtual Native longhouses. This site gives a run-down on development of the research;
In particular the current state of the project:
This research touches on a many issues central to the use of modern computer graphics in the realisation of the past.  For my part, I am obliged by the limitation of deductive processes and reverse engineering to sidestep the issue; the intent of my practice is to understand the engineering principles behind a structure, with the classes of evidence available I cannot realistically understand its skin.  This is disappointing, because that is the vision that people think they want.   However, once you start imagining the past, there is a danger that pictures become more important than the evidence, because now they can be a lot more “real” than the archaeology.  For me the expression, recognition and understanding of doubt are significant issues.

Survey with a prize for the lucky winner
I would be grateful if my readers and fellow bloggers would contribute to a survey about archaeology blogs and social media.  It is for Fleur Schinning’s master’s thesis at Leiden University in the Netherlands.  She is hoping that this research will help identify the digital methods that best make archaeology more accessible for a wider public.
She has have set up a questionnaire to ask the visitors a few questions regarding their motives for visiting the blog and so on.
The questionnaire can be completed here:
** All participants also have a chance to win a small prize; 6 issues of Archaeology Magazine! **

Thanks for your help.

24 May, 2015

Understanding Hadrian's Wall - why it all went wrong

What's the big idea?
It is roughly 270 years since a government in Westminster had Hadrian’s Wall systematically demolished and crushed to make the road that now brings the tourists to see the bits they missed.  It helped create a vast fragmentary jigsaw puzzle that which has proved difficult to piece together.
In 2008, I recognised that my colleagues and others had discovered, under the streets of Tyneside, the remains of a temporary timber rampart predating the stone Wall.  This observation explained the strategic methodology of Wall construction, shed light on the motivation, while providing a starting point for the process in both time and space; it was a key piece of the jigsaw; a how, why and where for the start of the Wall.

30 April, 2015

Building the Past - in Ohio

I have been blogging about the archaeology of structures for nearly 7 years, during which Google tells me I have a little over half a million page views; some of this self-selecting audience get in touch and we take things further.
One such was Bill Kennedy; we share an interest in modelling  archaeological structures from their foundations, only he builds full scale Prehistoric Native American structures at Sun Watch nr. Dayton, while I like mine to fit on my drawing board or hard disc.
So, at Bill’s instigation, we have written a chapter together in Building the Past: Prehistoric Wooden Post Architecture in the Ohio Valley–Great Lakes, recently published by University of Florida.
"This volume presents a much-needed synthesis of prehistoric wooden architecture in the greater Ohio region. The authors pursue new avenues of research in explaining architectural variation from rarely encountered Archaic domestic structures to large public buildings of Fort Ancient societies."--Cameron Lacquement, editor of Architectural Variability in the Southeast

"A significant contribution to the cultural history of the Ohio Valley and the archaeological literature on perishable architecture. The primary data and detailed descriptions of wooden post constructions make it a valuable resource."--Sissel Schroeder, University of Wisconsin-Madison

13 March, 2015

Imaginary woods

Often, when we think about the past, we do so in our imaginations, using the pictures and impressions we have picked from our shared visual culture, we mix the real things we find into a fantasy world.  Envisioning the environment in terms of its familiar topography and plants does not present much of a problem, domestic animals are bits hazier, but most of the things that made up the fabric of life just don’t survive here in our damp climate.  However, even trees in the picture may not be clear, the focus of archaeology is on tools, seldom extending to a consideration of the materials and products that gave them utility and value.  How to discuss, visualise and define things that no longer exists except in the imagination is one central issues of presenting archaeology.

10 February, 2015

Where is the woodshed?

Much of the material culture of past was fabricated from timber, and, just as significantly, fuelled by wood, a material that is usually invisible to archaeology.  Thus, provision for fuel storage, like sanitation and water supply, is one of the basics that have to be considered in the analysis of built environments.
Traditionally, firewood is measured by stacked volume; a “cord” being a stack of 8x4x4 feet, or 128 cubic feet, including the spaces between logs.[1]  The calorific value of a cord will depend mostly on the actual mass of solid wood and its density, so it is difficult to be precise or make comparisons, but we could nominally say a cord was equivalent to 3,341 kwh [2].
A medium sized house in the UK uses on average 13,500kWh of gas for heat and cooking [& 3,200kWh of electricity] [3], so to replace this with wood require about 4 cords [16’ x 8’ x 4’]; so a year’s supply would fill the garage, or perhaps the spare bedroom.