Avoiding Ritual


While on my current British kick—not really intentional, but sometimes life gives you limes—I thought I’d mention another piece sent to me by a friend. This one falls under BBC Earth, and it’s about “Why Ancient Brits threw out their most valuable possessions.” You can find the story by Amanda Ruggeri at the link. The basics are pretty simple: some people with a metal detector discovered what turned out to be a Bronze Age “hoard” in Lincolnshire. You have to understand that, in a way that makes me totally jealous, the United Kingdom has tonnes of ancient artefacts still undiscovered. While my wife and I lived there it wasn’t unusual to read about such finds in the newspaper. (Newspapers still existed then.) People had been smelting in the British Isles for a long time. The Phoenicians actually popped round the pub to get their tin—which can be one of the main ingredients for Bronze. What the article somewhat embarrassingly addresses is the nature of the hoard.

Hoards are where a large number of (usually metal) objects are discovered, after having been deliberately buried. These are not uncommon, what with Phoenicians, Romans, Angles, Saxons, Franks, Vikings, and others invading all the time. The issue that embarrasses is the “r word.” Ritual. While we don’t know the reason, the fact that people deliberately deep-sixed their valuables, routinely, suggests a ritual. As the article makes clear, professionals try to avoid the r word. Ironically, such deliberate burials, often with items purposefully broken, is also known from the ancient Levant, often predating the hoards of the prehistoric UK. Intentionally broken items—often of clay, and not infrequently depicting perhaps deities—were buried in biblical times. We don’t know why, but scholars suggest they could’ve been offerings. After all, breaking something potentially useful is an act of faith.

I’m not suggesting a direct connection here. I took a sound scholarly thrashing some years ago for suggesting a tale I heard on the streets of late twentieth-century Scotland had its origins in ancient Sumer (grad students are prone to such thinking). Still, it might not hurt anthropologists to cast a wider eye now and again. People had similar rit— well, let’s just say strange habits, in a land far away. Just cross the Channel and make a left. When it starts getting arid head south. The ancient world may have had more of an “internet” than we think. While that pathway may not always be marked by material remains, we now know ideas travel fast. Even something such as putting a daily post on a blog might become a ri—, strange habit.

2 thoughts on “Avoiding Ritual

  1. Hey Steve.
    The act of “burial” is a similar theme in many places, where civilizations, and objects have been purposely, buried over. Take for instance, Gobekli Tepe. The people were there, then they disappeared, but not before they buried their complexes under tons of earth. Why the burial? What were they hiding, or wanted never to be found?

    Then you have this article and the specific locations of hoards near rivers and or bogs. And the climatic upheaval that was going on? The whole “offering to a deity” for good weather, crops, existence is familiar. I can see many parallels in many places based on my studies, books I have read, and lectures I have attended.

    Every theory out there, is a piece of a story whether it is scholarly or not. The holder of the prominent theory always wins.

    The broken weapon, (I’m no scholar) maybe weapons used in battle, once the weapon had been spent, to cast off that weapon, into the ground or body of water, was like cleansing the community of the energy connected with said weapon and the person who used it and why ?

    The word “ritual” was used, one can not discount the possible religious or superstitions, or beliefs of the Bronze and Iron age peoples. Do we apply logical terminology to what we might think was their reasoning?

    The burial of “things” is not a new concept. But other locations have specific reasons and ritual for the burial of objects and persons, and the reasons were written on the walls to be later found and recorded.

    I don’t think it is logical to apply 21st century terminology or identifiers to an era of time that there is no written explanations of why they did certain things. We can only speculate. I think good scholarship would welcome speculation and discussion about these things. It’s like the Bible, who has definitive truth? No one. I still contend that “burial” is a wider practice, because that has been made plain by recent discoveries in other parts of the world. There is surely some parallel in thought. Conjecture?



  2. Thanks, Jeremy.

    Ritual burial of objects is well known in the biblical world. Archaeologists find objects frequently that have been broken intentionally and buried. We can’t say for sure, but these seem to be offerings because the object is no longer useful, and symbolically given to God. That’s what went through my mind when I read about the buried hordes. We’re afraid to use “ritual” to describe things because religion is out of fashion.


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