Untangling the Intangible: Reconstructing Ideologies, Beliefs, and Religion in the Past

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 80th Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA (2015)

Identifying the material expression of beliefs, ideology, and religion has in recent years become a topic of increased importance to archaeologists seeking holistic explanations for past human behavior. Studies of ideology, beliefs, and religion have wide-ranging applicability. For example, since beliefs and ideology are integral to economic, political, and religious power, focus on prehistoric and historic belief systems is particularly apropos to studies of social complexity and the emergence of socio-economic inequality. Further, elucidating the immaterial and reconstructing prehistoric cosmologies is central to interpreting landscapes and worldviews of prehistoric hunter-gatherers and pastoralists. Here, participants are asked to present their methodological and theoretical approaches to ideology, beliefs, and religion in archaeology with the aim to build on emergent scholarship on ideology and religion in the past; demonstrating how they are empirically identifying and studying the intangible. Potential topics include, but are not limited to, memory making, material culture as metaphor, landscape creation, materiality, mortuary studies, symbology and iconography, and the link between sacred narratives/texts and the archaeological record. Discussions on how ideology and belief systems in political, economic, and/or religious contexts may cross-cut traditional concepts and disciplinary boundaries are especially welcome.

Other Keywords

Geographic Keywords
EuropeMesoamericaAFRICAEast/Southeast Asia

Resources Inside This Collection (Viewing 1-7 of 7)

  • Documents (7)

  • An archaeological investigation of gender on the late prehistoric steppe (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Jeremy Beach. K. Bryce Lowry.

    In 1954, Hawkes warned that the intangible aspects of social life are the most difficult for archaeologists to comment on due to distance between object and ideology, the material and the mental world. Certainly, there is an epistemological slippage that can occur when moving between categories of social life that rely on objects to legitimize claims or complete tasks, and those aspects of society which can be veiled within larger, and immaterial, structures or norms—religious beliefs,...

  • In the trail of dancing lions: iconography and community on early Crete (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Emily Anderson.

    This paper examines the formulation of an early iconographic tradition on late third-early second millennium BCE Crete as a means of gaining insight on the development of a novel scale and variety of community ideology. During this period stamp seals began to be crafted from imported ivory and engraved with figural motifs involving lions, each belonging to a highly distinctive iconography reproduced across the island. These changes coincide with evidence of other social developments, including...

  • The Practice of Play in the Sport of Life and Death: Exploring Regional Variation in Ballgame Material Culture and Ideology (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Marijke Stoll.

    There is little argument that the Mesoamerican ballgame was a ritualized and politicized communal sport with great geographical breadth and incredible time-depth. It is also commonly accepted that the ballgame, as a cultural institution, was intimately linked to a political, elite-centered ideology based on cosmology, sacrifice, and agriculture, related to sociocultural themes of conflict, competition, and the resolution or negotiation of both. This interpretation of the ballgame as ritual...

  • The Queen of Heaven in Iron Age Greece: Analyzing Religious Ideology and Symbolism on Multiple Scales (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Megan Daniels.

    In this paper, I approach religion and ideology in the archaeological record through an analysis of iconographic symbols, one that centres on the dialectic between longstanding meanings of symbols as they are transmitted across space and time and the local social, political, and intellectual contexts in which they appear. I situate my analysis within recent models from cultural evolutionary psychology, which see religion, along with its attendant rituals and symbolisms, as an adaptive mechanism...

  • Religious and Ritualized Landscapes of Iron Age Central Eurasia (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Kathryn MacFarland.

    Culturally diverse peoples variously glossed as Scythian, Saka, and Xiongnu lived in northern central Eurasia throughout the Iron Age (ca. 1,000-100 BCE). Archaeological sites of this time period range from kurgans (burial tumuli), mortuary complexes called khirigsuur, standing stelae termed "deer stones," settlements, and metallurgical centers. There is a long-term life history within the places in which these structures and monuments were built, general patterns in their spatial distribution....

  • Some "muse"ings on past and recent encounters with lutins, naiads and non-anthropomorphic forces: Reconsidering vocabulary and questions concerning "religion" and "belief" in face of ethno-archaeological experiences in Madagascar. (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Susan Kus. Victor Raharijaoana.

    This contribution involves a re-examination of assertions we have made in the past concerning "religion", "belief" and "ideology: jettisoning some, reasserting others, and offering "refinements" where appropriate. Often limited cultural exposure to a circumscript terrain of contemporary religions in service of the state contributes significantly to the initial framing of our questions (and attendant expectation of answers). One of our lives, embedded in context in rural and urban Madagascar,...

  • What you see is what you believe: Mortuary Ideology and transmutations in Funerary Practice at the advent of the Xiongnu Empire in Mongolia. (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Erik Johannesson.

    This paper examines the intersection of mortuary ritual and beliefs, at the edge between funerary ideology and religion. The formation of the Xiongnu polity in the 3rd century BCE in what today is Mongolia included the introduction of new funerary regimes that conspicuously upended previous mortuary traditions. Xiongnu mortuary practice breaks a millennium-long convention of east-west orientation of funerary monuments and accompanying inhumations, the creation of visibly prominent and highly...