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date: 24 March 2017

Archaeology of Ancient Religions

Summary and Keywords

Archaeology is essential to the cross-cultural study of religion. Archaeologists’ focus on material evidence enables them to investigate groups not represented or underrepresented in textual traditions, including non-literate societies and non-elite members of literate societies. Accordingly, archaeology provides a broad comparative lens and longue durée perspective, as well as a means to study the practices of individuals across the social spectrum. Additionally, a disciplinary emphasis on material culture and human-thing relationships enables archaeologists to investigate the materiality of ancient religious traditions—the entanglement of ancient beliefs and practices within the material world.

Because every stage of the archaeological process involves interpretation and theorization, archaeologists’ theoretical stances and methodological choices shape the data they obtain. For example, any discussion of the “archaeology of religion” will be shaped by the author’s (explicit or implicit) operational definition of “religion” itself (see Part I, “Considering ‘Religion’ and ‘Ritual’”). Modern Western constructions of “religion” involve culturally specific concepts that developed within particular historical contexts, and ancient people’s understandings of their beliefs, rituals, and objects may often have employed quite different analytical categories. Additionally, archaeological approaches to ancient religions have undergone significant transformation over the 20th and early 21st centuries (see Part II, “History of the Field”). In contrast to the “New Archaeology” of the 1960s–1970s, which portrayed religion as epiphenomenal and downplayed its significance as a primary generator of social change, late-20th-century movements brought renewed attention to ancient symbolism, ideology, and religion and encouraged scholars to seek methodologically rigorous ways to study ancient religion and ritual.

The third section of the article (“Current Perspectives and Developments”) examines contemporary research on the archaeology of religion and analyzes the field’s intersections with, and importance to, broader interdisciplinary debates. Today, a proliferation of new scholarship on the archaeology of ancient religions explores the complex interactions between people, objects, and ideas in antiquity. Within the resulting range of new and ongoing developments, this article emphasizes (1) a productive engagement with the broader “material turn” in the humanities and social sciences; (2) a renewed emphasis on religion as a causal force for social change; and (3) an increasing focus on religion’s embeddedness within daily life, entailing the reconsideration of analytical categories such as “domestic cult,” “personal religion,” and “magic.”

The contemporary archaeological study of ancient religions is a deeply multidisciplinary endeavor, frequently requiring archaeologists to engage with theories, methods, and specialists from fields that may include anthropology, religious studies, archaeometry, art history, philology, and more. Archaeologists not only generate empirical data about specific sites or cultures, but also investigate broader intellectual questions concerning the role of religion in society, the importance of material culture to religious experience, and the forms of agency wielded by both humans and objects. The archaeology of religion thus has important contributions to make to numerous subjects and debates throughout the humanities and social sciences.

Keywords: archaeology, religion, ritual, materiality, material culture, agency, cognitive archaeology, domestic cult, personal religion, magic

Considering “Religion” and “Ritual”

Any attempt to discuss the “archaeology of religion” must engage first with the problematic question of what we actually mean by “religion.” Despite its seeming status as a near-universal feature of human societies, religion is notoriously difficult to define.1 The variety of human beliefs and practices quickly generates exceptions to most would-be rules. For example, Émile Durkheim famously defined a “religion” as “a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden—beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them.”2 However, many cultures lack centralized religious institutions analogous to a “Church,” and the equation between “sacred things” and “things set apart and forbidden” is by no means straightforward; not all cultures draw a binary distinction between the “sacred” and the “profane.”3 Another influential definition is that of Melford Spiro, for whom religion is “an institution consisting of culturally patterned interaction with culturally postulated superhuman beings.”4 This definition covers many of the phenomena scholars might wish to describe as “religious,” but the requirement that religion involve “superhuman beings” may still give some pause. Some traditions widely considered “religious” deny or minimize the role of deities (as in certain forms of Buddhism), while some other traditions acknowledge such entities but downplay the importance or possibility of interaction with them (as in, for example, forms of Deism).5 Additionally, definitions of “superhuman” or “supernatural” are themselves open to question, and people from different cultures may espouse very different opinions about what might constitute “natural” versus “supernatural” phenomena.6

On the other hand, definitions capable of incorporating all phenomena that might conceivably be considered “religious” often risk excessive breadth. A classic example here is Clifford Geertz’s characterization of religion as “(1) a system of symbols (2) which acts to establish powerful, pervasive and long-lasting moods and motivations in men (3) by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and (4) clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that (5) the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.”7 This definition does seem to characterize many of the traditions we might want to call “religious,” but as Colin Renfrew points out, it is “so vague that it could serve to define monetary economy as well as it does religion.”8 Furthermore, Geertz’s definition focuses almost entirely on interior cognitive and emotional experience, as opposed to ritual, performance, and materiality—topics to which we will return shortly.

Faced with the difficulty of formulating a single cross-cultural definition of “religion,” many scholars characterize such attempts as ultimately unproductive. Instead of trying to fit religion into a single, neatly bounded sphere of human activity, Timothy Insoll characterizes it as embedded within—or even structuring—all other aspects of a culture. For him, religion is “the superstructure into which all other aspects of life can be placed—it is not necessarily a stand-alone category.”9 While Insoll’s implicit treatment of “religion” and “culture” as mutually constitutive may raise some problems of its own, this approach is at least compatible with an important insight: ultimately, “religion” is an etic concept with a culturally specific development and history of use.10 The modern Western conception of “religion” as a self-contained, exclusive system of practices and beliefs, entailing a corresponding notion of multiple distinct “religions” with mutually exclusive membership, is rooted in a series of historical developments beginning in Greco-Roman antiquity and stretching into modernity.11 Accordingly, modern Western assumptions of separate “religious” versus “secular” spheres do not always find support cross-culturally, and emic understandings of ancient beliefs, rituals, and objects may involve quite different analytical categories.12 While the employment of etic terminology can be useful and even necessary for certain research questions, we should be careful not to confuse etic and emic perspectives or to project modern worldviews uncritically onto ancient societies. Additionally, certain modern frameworks for classifying “religions” into further subcategories—for example, the construction of essentialist distinctions between “world religions” and “traditional religions”—appear to possess limited utility at best, are in practice difficult to maintain, and may be better avoided.13

Another concept central to archaeological investigations of religion—but similarly inviting further scrutiny—is “ritual.” Partly in response to the problems of defining “religion,” many archaeologists have preferred to speak instead of “ritual practice” in antiquity.14 However, the relationship between “religion” and “ritual” is far from one-to-one; ritual practice is not the only component of religious experience, and not all rituals are religious in nature. The relationship between ritual and religion has generated particular discussion in recent scholarship on ancient Mediterranean societies, with much 20th-century and early-21st-century scholarship emphasizing the importance of ritual practice and downplaying the role of belief and interior experience.15 While religion certainly cannot be reduced to belief alone, a number of scholars have recently argued for renewed attention to ancient religions’ cognitive and subjective aspects, including belief, theology, philosophy, and individual experience.16

Just as the category of “religion” includes some phenomena not easily describable as “ritual,” so too does the category of “ritual” include some phenomena not easily describable as “religious.”17 While attempts to define “ritual” are as numerous and varied as attempts to define “religion,” Kyriakidis’s recent approach to the problem may serve as a convenient starting point.18 For Kyriakidis, ritual is “an etic category that refers to set activities with a special (not-normal) intention-in-action, and which are specific to a group of people.”19 While such activities may relate to supernatural powers or sacred objects (as per Spiro’s and Durkheim’s conceptions of “religion”), this need not be the case. Furthermore, the dividing line between ritual and non-ritual behavior can be blurry, with many activities existing somewhere along a spectrum of “ritualization.”20

While closely related, then, religion and ritual are not identical; we might conceptualize them as partly overlapping circles on a Venn diagram. However, many scholars have argued that compared to other religious phenomena, rituals are particularly well-suited to archaeological investigation. Interior experiences may not leave visible material traces, whereas rituals, as patterned, repetitive activities, may (at least occasionally) leave visible archaeological signatures.21 Accordingly, Marcus and Flannery contrast religious beliefs—“mental constructs which cannot themselves be directly recovered archaeologically”—with ritual practices, “which are performed with artefacts that can be directly recovered.”22

The challenge of devising archaeological approaches to beliefs and other internal religious experiences thus directly relates to larger debates over the degree to which archaeologists can, or should, attempt to study the “ancient mind.”23 The types of data available to scholars vary widely depending on culture and region. Scholars who work on ancient literate societies may have access to extensive textual evidence on beliefs, opinions, and other cognitive and emotional experiences (with the caveat that such sources often derive primarily from, and reflect the perspectives of, social elites).24 Additionally, visual art—when available—may provide opportunities for iconographic analysis.25 However, even when such materials are not available, advocates of so-called “cognitive archaeology” argue that it is possible to draw inferences from sites, assemblages, and artifacts about the mental processes that must have gone into their creation.26

Regardless of what types of data archaeologists employ, those data cannot generate meaning without human interpretation. Every stage of the archaeological process involves interpretation and theorization, from the initial identification and recording of strata, features, and artifacts to the formulation of broad-ranging theories about human experience or the nature of human-thing interactions.27 At each stage, then, archaeologists’ theoretical, interpretive, and methodological choices will shape the types and quality of data available for subsequent analysis.

History of the Field

From Antiquarianism to Archaeology

Early archaeology emerged from an antiquarian tradition focused on the acquisition of highly valued objects.28 During the Renaissance, elite collectors displayed ancient Greco-Roman material culture (conceptualized and valued as “art”) in order to evoke the cultural prestige of classical Antiquity. This aesthetic appreciation for certain forms of earlier material culture fostered a tradition of connoisseurship, and by the 18th century, an interest in acquiring ancient art also inspired excavation at sites such as Pompeii and Herculaneum.

The 19th and early 20th centuries saw the development of modern field techniques in global archaeology. Pioneering archaeologists such as Augustus Pitt-Rivers, Flinders Petrie, and Mortimer Wheeler introduced new standards of excavation, recording, and publishing, including the stratigraphic method of excavation; the use of excavation grids; the production of plans and sections; the use of seriation for relative dating; and the recording of findspots for all artifacts, including utilitarian objects and “small finds.”29

Until approximately the 1960s, the so-called “culture-historical” phase of archaeology focused on establishing chronologies and typologies for regional archaeological cultures. In different world regions, however, archaeology developed along different lines. For example, the archaeology of the literate societies of the Mediterranean and Near East developed in close connection with, and was in many ways initially subordinated to, the study of these regions’ textual record.30 In contrast, the archaeology of New World and prehistoric societies was more closely affiliated with anthropology. The results of these different developmental trajectories are still visible within modern academia; in North America, for example, classical or Near Eastern archaeologists frequently study and teach within departments of Classics or Near Eastern Studies, while Americanists and prehistorians frequently study and teach within departments of anthropology.

The “New Archaeology”

By the 1960s and 1970s, a number of archaeologists—especially Anglophone scholars engaged in New World and prehistoric archaeology—advocated for a so-called “New Archaeology.” Popularized especially by Lewis Binford, this “processualist” movement sought to make archaeology more rigorous and scientific and aimed to explain, not merely describe, the past. Positioning archaeology as a branch of anthropology, processualists argued that archaeological research should follow the scientific method and test hypotheses through deductive reasoning.31 For many, the ultimate goal was the discovery of universal “covering laws” for human behavior.32

Religion was less interesting to most processualists, who saw culture as an “extrasomatic means of adaptation for the human organism.”33 Binford acknowledges “ideological sub-systems” within the larger cultural “system.”34 However, the reduction of culture to environmental adaptation led many processualists to view religion as epiphenomenal and to doubt the possibility of interpreting ancient ideologies; Binford infamously commented that archaeologists were not “paleo-psychologist[s].”35 This stance essentially follows Christopher Hawkes’s famous “ladder of inference,” which ranked technology, subsistence, sociopolitical institutions, and religion in order of increasing difficulty of archaeological study and expressed pessimism about the feasibility of reconstructing prehistoric religions.36


In the 1980s and 1990s, a new generation of archaeologists critiqued the processualist movement. These “post-processual” scholars disputed the reduction of culture to “extrasomatic adaptation” and questioned the search for universal laws of human behavior, arguing that most such “laws” proved either invalid or banal.37 More radically, they also questioned the possibility of obtaining objective truth about the past, arguing that scholars could not prevent their own cultural backgrounds, agendas, and biases from shaping their work.38 Many post-processualists positioned archaeology as a social science or humanities field, rather than a “hard” science, and conceptualized material culture as a form of “text” open to interpretation.39 This more humanistic orientation brought renewed attention to topics such as symbolism, ideology, and religion in antiquity.40 However, the anti-positivist tendencies of some post-processualists were criticized for inhibiting empirical research, and the use of textual metaphors for material culture may appear problematic in the light of archaeology’s more recent “material turn.”41 Many researchers today would discourage such logocentric language in favor of more explicit focus on things as things.42

Cognitive Archaeology

More recent archaeological research has largely moved beyond the extreme positions of the processualist/post-processualist debates. Particularly relevant to the study of religion is one important movement, “cognitive” or “cognitive-processual” archaeology, which attempts to establish more rigorous methodologies for studying the “ancient mind.” Although its roots go back to the 1980s, this movement acquired particular force in the 1990s with the publication of Colin Renfrew and Ezra Zubrow’s edited volume The Ancient Mind: Elements of Cognitive Archaeology (1994).43 Cognitive archaeologists address topics traditionally underrepresented in processual archaeology while still typically espousing a realist philosophical stance.44 Within the archaeology of religion, Renfrew’s attempts to systematize the archaeological identification of religious sites have been especially influential.45 For Renfrew, religious ritual has several major aspects: invocation of a transcendent power; worship involving human participation and offering; attention-focusing devices; and association with special, liminal locations. In order to identify religious sites, he posits about twenty archaeological correlates for these general characteristics of ritual.46

There has been a resurgence of scholarly work on the archaeology of religion, including a proliferation of new conference volumes, monographs, and textbooks, since the late 20th century.47 Most of these publications engage directly or indirectly with Renfrew’s work, testifying to its ongoing influence while also raising occasional areas of critique. For example, several scholars take issue with the checklist format of Renfrew’s guidelines for identifying religious sites.48 Additionally, as Renfrew himself notes, his proposed archaeological correlates of ritual are better suited to sanctuaries than they are to domestic cult. His guidelines emphasize sites and practices separated from daily life, not integrated within it.49 In contrast, Timothy Insoll argues—as Renfrew, too, acknowledges—that religion is embedded within and throughout society, rather than forming an easily separable category.50

Current Perspectives and Developments

Today, the archaeological study of ancient religions is a deeply multidisciplinary endeavor that frequently requires archaeologists to engage with theories, methods, and specialists from numerous other fields: anthropology, religious studies, archaeometry, art history, philology, and more. Archaeologists who work on ancient religions are thus not only generating empirical data about specific sites or cultures but also investigating broader intellectual questions concerning the role of religion in society, the interactions of material culture and religious experience, and the forms of agency wielded by both humans and objects.

As a dynamic and growing field, the archaeology of ancient religions has generated numerous ongoing debates and areas of new research. Scholars have recently offered stimulating reconceptualizations of issues ranging from religion’s emplacement within the landscape; the role of the human body as a site of ritual performance and religious experience; the interactions between religious identities and other social identities; to the ethical, social, and political questions raised by archaeological research on sites or objects of ongoing religious significance.51 Within this wealth of new research, several developments hold particular promise for contributing to interdisciplinary debates about the relationships between religion, society, and the material world. Such developments include (1) increasing engagement with the so-called “material turn” in the humanities and social sciences, with corresponding attention to object agency and human-thing entanglements; (2) serious examination of religion as a causal force for social change, not just an epiphenomenal response to other social developments; and (3) investigation of the ways in which religion may be embedded within daily life (e.g., through practices of domestic cult, individual performance, or so-called “magic”), rather than categorically separated from other types of activity.

Materiality and the “Material Turn”

As the “material turn” in the social sciences and humanities has recently emphasized, material culture is not just an inert or passive reflection of human agency; the material world actively shapes human behavior, cognition, and culture.52 Within archaeology and art history, different scholars have conceptualized so-called “object agency” in a variety of ways. Particularly influential in the study of ancient visual culture has been Alfred Gell’s now-classic study of “art as agency.”53 For Gell, objects may have “secondary agency” as extensions of a “primary” agent (e.g., a human, deity, etc.) endowed with intentionality; additionally, objects may be ascribed agency by humans who believe them to possess intentionality and subjectivity. Much contemporary research argues for an even more robust conception of object agency. For example, Ian Hodder’s recent work draws on various approaches from the social sciences and humanities to construct a specifically archaeological theoretical framework for the “entanglement” of humans and things. Hodder contends that things not only have “an agency given to them by humans” but also “a primary agency . . . not associated with intentionality; they act in the world as a result of processes of material interaction, transformation and decay” and through these processes “afford humans certain potentials and constraints.”54

Increasing scholarly interest in materiality and object agency has generated a number of new approaches to the archaeological study of ancient religion.55 At the most basic level, recent synthetic studies of ancient religions demonstrate an increased engagement with material evidence—even in culture areas, such as the ancient classical world, where such synthetic studies had long relied largely on written evidence.56 Even when we have access to primary textual as well as material evidence, we still need to engage meaningfully with material culture on its own terms, rather than treating it as a “lesser” source of evidence or as a mere illustration of textually attested phenomena. However, while taking material culture seriously as a source for religious practices is an important and necessary development, genuinely materiality-centered approaches go still further; as Rowan observes, “the study of material culture is not equivalent to understanding materiality.”57 Materiality-based approaches to ancient religion specifically address the nature and significance of religion’s embeddedness within the material world, focusing on the entangled relationships between material objects and cultural phenomena.58

Given current interdisciplinary interest in the plays of agency within human-thing interactions, the study of ancient religions provides an opportunity to investigate other cultures’ approaches to this problem. Who or what did ancient people conceptualize as meaningful social actors? Religious practices often suggest emic attributions of agency and intentionality not only to humans, but also to material objects ranging from human-made artifacts (for example, statues worshiped in parts of the ancient Mediterranean as manifestations of divinities) to features of the natural landscape (for example, Andean huacas: human-worshiped objects or locations, often natural features such as rocks).59 A related line of questioning involves the ways in which objects’ material properties helped shape ancient religious responses. In many cases, ancient peoples appear to have attributed ritual or religious importance to artifacts not just because of their iconography or symbolism, but because of their materials. For example, recent research on Roman amulets suggests that people viewed certain types of stone as possessing ritual, magical, or medical properties.60 Accordingly, when people used engraved stones as amulets, those objects’ power and effectiveness may have derived not just from the divine images or inscriptions carved into the stones, but perhaps to an even greater degree from the raw materials themselves.

Beyond humans’ cultural constructions of things as social agents, archaeology thus offers opportunities to explore how the material world actively shapes the development of human cultural (including religious) traditions.61 As Webb Keane has pointed out, even in religious traditions that privilege belief and internal experience, those beliefs still take on material form; beliefs “must be exteriorized in some way, for example, in words, gestures, objects, or practices, in order to be transmitted from one mind to another.”62 Once religious experience acquires material forms, those material forms may take on a “life” of their own: “as objects that endure across time, they can, in principle, acquire features unrelated to the intensions of previous users” or “enter into new contexts.”63 As a result, religious practices are in many ways subjected to the material culture with which they are entangled. To further quote Keane’s useful analysis: “Offerings expect altars, altars support images, images enter art markets, art objects develop auras. Rituals provoke anti-ritualist purifiers. Purified religions develop heterodox rites . . . Their [that is, religious practices’] very materiality gives them a historical character.”64 Material objects possess numerous affordances for reuse, repurposing, and reinterpretation, with consequences not only for the objects themselves but also for the traditions in which they are implicated.65 Statues of deities (to cite just one example) create opportunities for worship, but also for iconoclasm—or, for that matter, for the establishment and maintenance of political power. For example, when Aztec victors displayed conquered foreign gods in their capital city Tenochtitlan or forced foreign artisans to depict Aztec gods defeating their own deities, the material culture of religion functioned not only to represent but also to enact imperial sovereignty.66

Indeed, recent research on the “extended mind” and “distributed cognition” suggests the radical position that cognition itself—religious or otherwise—actually depends on objects. According to this school of thought, cognition derives not from brains ruminating in splendid isolation, but from the ongoing interactions of brains, bodies, material things, and sociocultural contexts.67 When, for example, we use notebooks, computers, or calculators to supplement our memories or mental abilities, we effectively incorporate those objects into our cognition; humans are “natural-born cyborgs.”68 This stance has important implications for the material culture of religion, as it suggests that beliefs and other internal cognitive or emotional religious experiences are not truly separable from material culture, but are actually themselves constituted through human-thing interactions. People can supplement cognition not only with computers or calculators, but also with religious objects.69 For example, the manipulation of prayer beads (such as the Catholic Rosary) provides both a memory device and a ritual performance. In many traditions, divine images provide another type of cognitive scaffolding: enabling people to think about, and attempt to comprehend, supernatural beings that are paradoxically believed to transcend human comprehension. For example, in Late Period through Greco-Roman Egypt, depictions of deities with multiple heads, limbs, and divine attributes provided concrete ways to think about an otherwise difficult-to-grasp concept: the notion of a single divine creator whose being simultaneously encompassed a multiplicity of other gods.70 Such images may help shape religious cognition not only in intellectual but also in emotional ways, activating powerful emotional responses. Accordingly, as Matthew Day puts it, “the broad spectrum of rituals, music, relics, scriptures, statues and buildings typically associated with religious traditions may be more than quaint ethnographic window dressing. Rather than . . . decorat[ing] the real cognitive processes going on underneath, these elements could represent central components of the relevant machinery of religious thought.”71

Religion as Generator of Social Change

In addition to this re-situating of religion within the material world, another recent development emphasizes religion’s potential for generating social change. Because archaeology can provide long-term, diachronic perspectives on human activity, it is well-positioned to investigate the changing interactions of religion and society over time. In contrast to processualist viewpoints of the mid-to-late 20th century, which often saw religious developments as “epiphenomenal” responses to changes whose true motors were ecological, economic, or sociopolitical, many contemporary scholars argue that religious developments can themselves initiate or influence changes in other areas of society.72 This stance further represents a challenge to Durkheimian or Marxist conceptions of ritual as legitimizing a pre-existing social order. Instead, contemporary research sees ritual as a dynamic engine of change in its own right, capable of overturning existing power relations and generating new social relationships.

For example, at the Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük, Hodder proposes that religious developments may have contributed to the emergence of social complexity. Among other things, he suggests that practices of gathering at ritual centers may have fostered the development of early settlements, and that the worship of human-like divine powers—whether ancestors or anthropomorphic gods—may have encouraged “new conceptions of human agency that themselves provide the possibility for the domestication of plants and animals.”73 Another recent example comes from Lauren Ristvet’s reconsideration of state formation and governance in ancient Near Eastern polities. Ristvet argues that ritual performance functioned not only to reflect, represent, and legitimize existing power relationships, but also to generate change, furnish a medium for resistance, and enable competing stakeholders “to negotiate, establish, and contest political power.”74 Other scholars have made similar arguments concerning the interrelationships of religion and sociopolitical innovation in numerous other world regions: for example, in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica and the Andes, or in New Guinea.75 These and many other contemporary archaeologists of ancient religions would agree with Lewis-Williams’s recent summary: religion was “not merely icing on the cake” of ancient society but “often a dynamic and causal factor in the complex web of social and economic change.”76

Religion as Embedded in Daily Life and Individual Practice

A third major growth area in contemporary research addresses the integration of religion into daily life and individual practice. This line of research develops partly from the recognition that, as discussed previously, people in many cultures do not conceptualize activities and objects as divided into neatly bounded “religious” and “secular” categories. Rather than reifying conceptions of “religion” as a discrete sphere of life, contemporary scholars increasingly emphasize that “many elements of life may be structured by religion beyond the typically recognized archaeological domains of mortuary contexts and sacred sites.”77 The archaeological investigation of sacred space (and sacred action) beyond temples and tombs thus forms the subject of much recent work.78 Among other things, such research has brought renewed attention to—and interrogation of—domestic cult, personal religion, and the problematic category of “magic.”79

As Renfrew acknowledged in his seminal work on the archaeology of cult, finding material evidence for religious practices can be even more difficult in domestic contexts than in overtly “special” sites such as temples.80 In some societies, houses may contain structures or artifacts whose purposes are primarily “religious,” such as domestic shrines.81 However, in many cases, attempts to identify uniquely “religious” spaces or objects in houses must deal with the potential multifunctionality of domestic material culture. Many objects used in domestic religious rites could also have served practical uses, functioning alternatively (or even simultaneously) in ritual and utilitarian ways. In Greek houses, for example, water basins served both for ritual ablutions and prosaic hand-washing; people employed oil lamps both to illuminate their houses and to perform lamp-lighting ceremonies at domestic shrines; and domestic statuettes of deities might function both as recipients of cult and as prized luxury goods whose display facilitated social competition.82 Attempts to classify such basins, lamps, or statuettes as either “religious” or “secular” are thus misguided; the objects may be either or both, depending on context and user choice, and modern distinctions between “religious” and “secular” would have meant little to the artifacts’ ancient users.

Similarly, human agency may imbue domestic artifacts with many forms of symbolic (including religious) meaning. For example, some modern Maya groups associate looms with the mythical World Tree and equate weaving both with giving birth and keeping the cosmos running.83 In such a cultural context, we might well ask: is a loom, among other things, a religious object as well as a practical tool? If so, does it render its domestic setting into a form of “sacred space”? Finally, without ethnographic documentation, is there any way we might be able to identify such an object’s symbolic significance from the archaeological record alone?

In the absence of textual, iconographic, or ethnohistorical evidence, many practices and beliefs associated with domestic cult will undoubtedly be impossible to recover archaeologically. However, this difficulty—while genuine—does not constitute reason to despair entirely about the feasibility of an archaeology of domestic cult. For example, we may potentially associate a household artifact with religious rituals in situations where (1) the artifact’s archaeological context suggests the practice of religious rituals; (2) textual, iconographic, or ethnographic evidence attests to the use of similar artifacts in religious rituals; (3) similar artifacts most commonly appear in contexts more unambiguously associated with religious ritual, such as temples; or (4) the artifact itself is decorated with iconography depicting activities identifiable as religious ritual (in which case the artifact may provide evidence for those rituals, although it need not itself have necessarily seen use within them). In many cases, ambiguity may persist concerning specific artifacts’ valuation and functions. However, the potential multivalence of domestic material culture presents not only a problem for researchers, but also an opportunity. In examining the numerous ways that artifacts’ “meanings” depend on context and user choice, we can obtain valuable perspectives on the interplay of human and object agency in human-thing interactions.

Accordingly, much exciting recent work addresses the archaeology of domestic cult, as well as the sometimes-related—but not identical—phenomenon of “personal religion” or “personal cult.”84 While different scholars employ the latter concepts in a variety of ways, I follow Julia Kindt in defining “personal religion” as “a broad spectrum of ways in which individuals adopt, rethink and at times even invert culturally-given religious beliefs and practices.”85 While individuals might perform such adoptions, rethinkings, or inversions within private or domestic space, they might equally well do so within temples or other sites of “public” or “official” cult.86 Within classical archaeology in particular, an emerging focus on individual religiosity is increasingly challenging the dominance of older functionalist paradigms that stressed the collective and political character of Greco-Roman religious practices.87 More broadly, scholars of ancient religion in many different world regions are exploring the interactions of individual subjective experience, as well as individual agency, with larger religious structures; see, for example, Mark Aldenderfer’s work on religious practice as a field for competition between rival social actors in New Guinea, or Jennifer Dornan’s argument that “support for the Maya state religious system was built upon Maya individuals’ subjective experiences.”88

Religious rituals that aim at personal, rather than collective, goals have sometimes been characterized as “magic.”89 While the archaeology of magic continues to attract much scholarly interest, the concept of “magic” has proved difficult to define cross-culturally and has faced extensive critical scrutiny.90 All too often, the term “magic” has been used to characterize the religion of cultural or social “others,” denigrating the practices in question as less respectable than those of proper “religion.” Accordingly, scholarly constructions of “magic” in Antiquity have sometimes prompted charges of imprecision, anachronism, or even bias, and many scholars have advocated for abandoning the term entirely.91 Yet even if we cannot formulate a universally applicable etic description of “magic,” some societies do possess emic concepts that are themselves intended to characterize stigmatized, marginalized forms of ritual practice.92 For example, the ancient Greek and Latin terms ancestral to English “magic”—Greek mageia and Latin magia—usually carried negative connotations. Characterizing an activity as mageia or magia was typically an act of polemic rather than objective description, functioning to marginalize or even criminalize the activity in question.93 Similarly, in the Near East, an Akkadian term often translated as “witch”—kaššapu (male) or kaššaptu (female)—frequently functioned to mark its targets as practitioners of harmful, illegal rituals involving destructive and socially dangerous forces.94 Not all cultures would recognize emic concepts analogous to what we might today call “black magic”; for example, in Pharaonic Egypt, the term heka (sometimes translated as “magic”) lacked such stigma or negative associations.95 However, the existence of such concepts in some cultures provides a fascinating opportunity to examine the interrelationships of sanctioned and non-sanctioned forms of religious ritual. In the classical world, the textual record abundantly attests to the deployment of terms like mageia to police the boundaries of “acceptable” ritual practice—yet some alternative ancient discourses appropriated those same terms for positive self-identification.96 Additionally, both material and textual evidence indicates the widespread practice of many supposedly “unacceptable” “magical” activities (including, among other things, the use of curse tablets, “voodoo dolls,” and foreign incantations).97 While such activities’ settings were varied, they often included domestic contexts, suggesting complex relationships between personal ritual, domestic space, and “official” practices and social mores.98

The recent expansion of research on domestic, personal, or “magical” rituals thus provides rich opportunities for the reconsideration of “official,” “popular,” and “personal” forms of cult. How did ideologies of religious practice compare to realities, and how did elite constructions of appropriate ritual performance compare to popular beliefs and practices?99 In what ways could authorities promote community-wide norms or police individual religious practices, and in what ways could individuals exercise personal choice and agency in religious performance? Through the investigation of such questions, the archaeology of religion has much to contribute to broader debates about the relationships between individuals, communities, and structures of power.

Moving Forward on the Past

As the discipline of archaeology continues to change and develop, new research questions and approaches will undoubtedly continue to enrich the study of ancient religions. However, the archaeological investigation of the ways in which ancient people understood their world—and the activities they performed to ensure the proper functioning of that world, as they understood it—will continue to provide rich comparative material for the way we conceptualize our own societies, worldviews, and practices. This ongoing exploration has much to offer to wide-ranging interdisciplinary debates concerning the interactions and interrelationships of humans, cognition, embodied practice, and the material world.

Further Reading

Barrowclough, D. A., and C. Malone. Cult in Context: Reconsidering Ritual in Archaeology. Oxford: Oxbow, 2007.Find this resource:

Bell, Catherine. Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.Find this resource:

Bell, Catherine. Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.Find this resource:

Droogan, Julian. Religion, Material Culture and Archaeology. London: Bloomsbury, 2013.Find this resource:

Hays-Gilpin, K., and D. Whitley, eds. Belief in the Past: Theoretical Approaches to the Archaeology of Religion. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, 2008.Find this resource:

Insoll, Timothy. Archaeology, Ritual, Religion. London: Routledge, 2004.Find this resource:

Insoll, Timothy, ed. The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of Ritual and Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.Find this resource:

Keane, Webb. “The Evidence of the Senses and the Materiality of Religion.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 14 (2008): 110–127.Find this resource:

Kyriakidis, Evangelos, ed. The Archaeology of Ritual. Los Angeles: Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, UCLA, 2007.Find this resource:

Post, Paul. “Ritual Studies.” In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion. Edited by John Barton.Find this resource:

Raja, Rubina, and Jörg Rüpke. A Companion to the Archaeology of Religion in the Ancient World. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2015.Find this resource:

Renfrew, Colin. The Archaeology of Cult: The Sanctuary at Phylakopi. Athens: British School of Archaeology at Athens, 1985.Find this resource:

Renfrew, Colin, and Ezra B. W. Zubrow, eds. The Ancient Mind: Elements of Cognitive Archaeology. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1994.Find this resource:

Rowan, Yorke M., ed. Beyond Belief: The Archaeology of Religion and Ritual. Special issue, Archaeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association 21.1 (2012).Find this resource:


(1.) For a recent overview and critique of problematic scholarly assumptions concerning ancient religion and ritual, see Y. Rowan, “Beyond Belief: The Archaeology of Religion and Ritual,” in Beyond Belief: The Archaeology of Religion and Ritual, ed. Y. Rowan (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2012), 2–3. Some groups, such as the Tanzanian Hadza and Amazonian Pirahã, are sometimes described as nonreligious or minimally religious. However, both Hadza and Pirahã cultures postulate a range of supernatural entities and engage in ritual practices. On the Pirahã, see D. Everett, Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle (London: Profile Books, 2008), esp. p. 84 on dances involving possession by spirits (although Everett draws different conclusions about the significance of ritual in Pirahã culture). On the Hadza, see F. Marlowe, The Hadza: Hunter-Gatherers of Tanzania (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010), 39–68. Top-down, state-led attempts to create explicitly nonreligious societies sometimes also entail the perpetuation of older religious rituals in new forms, as with the preservation of Lenin’s corpse in a manner evoking the treatment of Orthodox saints: see, e.g., K. Verdery, The Political Lives of Dead Bodies: Reburial and Postsocialist Change (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 44–46.

(2.) E. Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, trans. K. E. Fields (New York: Free Press, 1965), 44.

(3.) J. Bremmer, “‘Religion,’ ‘Ritual’ and the Opposition ‘Sacred vs. Profane’: Notes towards a Terminological ‘Genealogy,’” in Ansichten griechischer Rituale, ed. F. Graf (Stuttgart: Teubner, 1998), 9–32; J. Brück, “Ritual and Rationality: Some Problems of Interpretation in European Archaeology,” European Journal of Archaeology 2 (1999): 319, 323; E. Rebillard and C. Sotinel, eds., Les frontières du profane dans l’Antiquité tardive (Rome: École française de Rome, 2010); M. A. Astor-Aguilera, The Maya World of Communicating Objects: Quadripartite Crosses, Trees, and Stones (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2010), 18; and J. Droogan, Religion, Material Culture and Archaeology (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013).

(4.) M. Spiro, “Religion: Problems of Definition and Explanation,” in Anthropological Approaches to the Study of Religion, ed. M. Banton (1966; repr., London: Routledge, 2004), 96.

(5.) On the historical context of changing Western discourses on Buddhism as theistic “religion” versus atheistic or minimally theistic “philosophy,” see D. S. Lopez Jr., “From Stone to Flesh: The Case of the Buddha,” in Things: Religion and the Question of Materiality, eds. D. Houtman and B. Meyer (New York: Fordham University Press, 2012), 77–89. As one example of the wide range of engagements with “superhuman” beings possible within different forms of Buddhism, see Irene Stengs’s study of royal cult in contemporary Thai Theravada Buddhism: “Portraits That Matter: King Chulalongkorn Objects and the Sacred World of Thai-ness,” in Things: Religion and the Question of Materiality, 137–152. On Enlightenment-era Deists’ complex theological positions regarding the degree to which God could or could not intervene in the universe after creation, and the relatively de-ritualized theology of Enlightenment-era Deism, see J. Wigelsworth, Politics, Culture and Society in Early Modern Britain: Deism in Enlightenment England (Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 2009), esp. 6–8.

(6.) W. Keane, “The Evidence of the Senses and the Materiality of Religion,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 14 (2008): 115.

(7.) C. Geertz, “Religion as a Cultural System,” in Anthropological Approaches to the Study of Religion, ed. M. Banton (1966; repr., London: Routledge, 2004), 4.

(8.) C. Renfrew, The Archaeology of Cult: The Sanctuary at Phylakopi (Athens, Greece: The British School of Archaeology at Athens, 1985), 12.

(9.) T. Insoll, Archaeology, Ritual, Religion (London: Routledge, 2004), 12–13; cf. T. Insoll, “Are Archaeologists Afraid of Gods? Some Thoughts on Archaeology and Religion,” in Belief in the Past: The Proceedings of the 2002 Manchester Conference on Archaeology and Religion, ed. T. Insoll (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2004), 3.

(10.) On the history of the term “religion” and its evolution from Latin religio, see E. Feil, “From the Classical Religio to the Modern Religion,” in Religion in History: The Word, the Idea, the Reality, eds. M. Despland and G. Vallée (Waterloo, ON: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 1992), 31–44; J. Z. Smith, “Religion, Religions, Religious,” in Critical Terms for Religious Studies, ed. M. Taylor (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 269–284; J. Rüpke, From Jupiter to Christ: On the History of Religion in the Roman Imperial Period, trans. D. Richardson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 186–193. On Insoll’s approach, see, e.g., the critiques of M. Aldenderfer, “Envisioning a Pragmatic Approach to the Archaeology of Religion,” in Beyond Belief: The Archaeology of Religion and Ritual, ed. Y. Rowan (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2012), 25; and Droogan, Religion, Material Culture and Archaeology, 131.

(11.) J. Rüpke, “Religiöser Pluralismus und das römische Reich,” in Die Religion des Imperium Romanum: Koine und Konfrontationen, eds. H. Cancik and J. Rüpke (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2009), 331–354. Rüpke describes a gradual process of “religionization” or “religionification” from the 3rd century bce to the 4th century ce: J. Rüpke, Religion: Antiquity and Its Legacy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 25–34. Smith relates later developments in modern conceptions of “religion” to European imperialism and its need to classify other cultures’ religious traditions (“Religion, Religions, Religious”).

(12.) R. Bradley, “A Life Less Ordinary: The Ritualization of the Domestic Sphere in Later Prehistoric Europe,” Cambridge Archaeological Journal 13 (2003): 5–23; L. Meskell, Object Worlds in Ancient Egypt: Material Biographies Past and Present (Oxford: Berg, 2004), 39–58; W. Keane, “The Evidence of the Senses and the Materiality of Religion,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 14 (2008): 110–127; E. Rebillard, Christians and Their Many Identities in Late Antiquity: North Africa, 200–400 CE (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012), 62, 91, 95–96; and Rowan, “Beyond Belief,” 2.

(13.) Insoll, Archaeology, Ritual, Religion, 8–9; Insoll, “Are Archaeologists Afraid of Gods?,” 1–2; and Rowan, “Beyond Belief,” 3.

(14.) Aldenderfer, “Envisioning a Pragmatic Approach,” 23–24; Rowan, “Beyond Belief,” 2; and Droogan, Religion, Material Culture and Archaeology, 47–50, 95–96.

(15.) See the survey and critique of such approaches in J. L. Mackey, “Rethinking Roman Religion: Action, Practice, and Belief” (PhD diss., Princeton University, 2009), 1–30.

(16.) Within the study of Greco-Roman religion in particular, see (on belief) C. King, “The Organization of Roman Religious Beliefs,” Classical Antiquity 22 (2003): 275–312; Mackey, “Rethinking Roman Religion”;J. Rives, “Graeco-Roman Religion in the Roman Empire: Old Assumptions and New Approaches,” Currents in Biblical Research 8 (2010): 275; (on theology) H. S. Versnel, Coping with the Gods: Wayward Readings in Greek Theology (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2011); (on philosophy) F. G. Herrmann, “Greek Religion and Philosophy: The God of the Philosopher,” in A Companion to Greek Religion, ed. D. Ogden (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2010), 385–397; P. Van Nuffelen, Rethinking the Gods: Philosophical Readings of Religion in the Post-Hellenistic Period (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2011); (on individual religiosity) J. Rüpke and W. Spickermann, eds., Reflections on Religious Individuality: Greco-Roman and Judaeo-Christian Texts and Practices (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2012); J. Rüpke, ed., The Individual in the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013); and Rüpke, “Individual Choices and Individuality in the Archaeology of Ancient Religion,” in A Companion to the Archaeology of Religion in the Ancient World, eds. R. Raja and J. Rüpke (Malden, MA: John Wiley, 2015), 437–450. For critiques of the equation of “religion” with “belief,” and strong arguments for the materiality of religion, see Keane, “The Evidence of the Senses”; Keane, “On the Materiality of Religion,” Material Religion 4 (2008): 230–231; and B. Meyer and D. Houtman, “Introduction,” in Things: Religion and the Question of Materiality, eds. D. Houtman and B. Meyer (New York: Fordham University Press, 2012), 1–3.

(17.) Attempts to define “ritual”: Brück, “Ritual and Rationality,” 313–344; Bradley, “A Life Less Ordinary”; Bradley, Ritual and Domestic Life in Prehistoric Europe (London: Routledge, 2005), 33–34; E. Kyriakidis, “Archaeologies of Ritual” and “Finding Ritual: Calibrating the Evidence,” in The Archaeology of Ritual, ed. E. Kyriakidis (Los Angeles: Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, 2007), 9–22, 289–308; C. Renfrew, “Ritual and Cult in Malta and Beyond: Traditions and Interpretation,” in Cult in Context: Reconsidering Ritual in Archaeology, eds. D. A. Barrowclough and C. Malone (Oxford: Oxbow, 2007), 9; M. Verhoeven, “The Many Dimensions of Ritual,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of Ritual and Religion, ed. T. Insoll (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 115–132; and J. Elsner, “Material Culture and Ritual: The State of the Question,” in Architecture of the Sacred: Space, Ritual, and Experience from Classical Greece to Byzantium, eds. B. Wescoat and R. Ousterhout (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 1–26.

(18.) See overviews in Verhoeven, “Many Dimensions of Ritual”; and C. E. Barrett, “Terracotta Figurines and the Archaeology of Ritual: Domestic Cult in Greco-Roman Egypt,” in Figurines grecques en contexte: Présence muette dans le sanctuaire, la tombe et la maison, eds. S. Huysecom-Haxhi, et al. (Villeneuve d’Ascq: Presses Universitaires du Septentrion, 2015).

(19.) Kyriakidis, “Archaeologies of Ritual,” 10; and Kyriakidis, “Finding Ritual,” 294.

(20.) C. Bell, Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992); Bell, Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997); Bradley, “A Life Less Ordinary,” 12; and Bradley, Ritual and Domestic Life, 33–34.

(21.) Renfrew, The Archaeology of Cult, 14; Kyriakidis, “Finding Ritual,” 9; and J. Marcus, “Rethinking Ritual,” in The Archaeology of Ritual, ed. E. Kyriakidis (Los Angeles: Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, 2007), 68. For ritual as patterned, formalized, repetitive behavior, see R. A. Rappaport, Ecology, Meaning, and Religion (Richmond, CA: North Atlantic Books, 1979), 173–222. On “structured” or “patterned” deposits, see A. M. Chadwick, “Routine Magic, Mundane Ritual: Towards a Unified Notion of Depositional Practice,” Oxford Journal of Archaeology 31 (2012): 283–315; and E. Swenson, “The Archaeology of Ritual,” Annual Review of Anthropology 44 (2015): 335, 336–339.

(22.) J. Marcus and K. V. Flannery, “Ancient Zapotec Ritual and Religion: An Application of the Direct Historical Approach,” in The Ancient Mind: Elements of Cognitive Archaeology, eds. C. Renfrew and E. Zubrow (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 55–74.

(23.) E.g., C. Renfrew and E. Zubrow, eds., The Ancient Mind: Elements of Cognitive Archaeology (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1994).

(24.) For a collection of recent perspectives on the integration of textual, material, and visual evidence in the study of ancient literate societies, see Y. Heffron, ed., Textual Archaeology of the Ancient Near East: Are We Doing It Wrong? (Cambridge, U.K.: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, forthcoming).

(25.) On the uses and abuses of visual evidence in the study of ancient religions, see M. Gaifman, “Visual Evidence,” in The Oxford Handbook of Ancient Greek Religion, eds. E. Eidinow and J. Kindt (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 51–66.

(26.) See the papers collected in Renfrew and Zubrow, The Ancient Mind, and further discussion under “Cognitive Archaeology.”

(27.) A detailed discussion of archaeological methodology is beyond the scope of this article, but a useful introductory text is C. Renfrew and P. Bahn, Archaeology: Theories, Methods, and Practice, 6th ed. (London: Thames & Hudson, 2012). On archaeological methodologies in the context of research on ancient religion, see C. E. Barrett, “Material Evidence,” in The Oxford Handbook of Ancient Greek Religion, eds. E. Eidinow and J. Kindt (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 117–119.

(28.) The present section (“History of the Field”) builds and expands on the historiography of archaeological approaches to ancient religions in C. E. Barrett, “Material Evidence,” in The Oxford Handbook of Ancient Greek Religion, eds. E. Eidinow and J. Kindt (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 115–117. On the broader history of archaeology, see B. Trigger, A History of Archaeological Thought (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1989).

(29.) Trigger, History of Archaeological Thought, 196–205.

(30.) C. Renfrew, “The Great Tradition versus the Great Divide: Archaeology as Anthropology?,” American Journal of Archaeology 84 (1980): 287–298; I. Morris, “Archaeologies of Greece,” in Classical Greece: Ancient Histories and Modern Archaeologies, ed. I. Morris (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 8–47; and S. Dyson, In Pursuit of Ancient Pasts: A History of Classical Archaeology (New Haven, CT: Yale University, 2006).

(31.) L. Binford, An Archaeological Perspective (New York: Seminar Press, 1972), 89–100. For an earlier declaration of archaeology as anthropology, see G. R. Willey and P. Phillips, Method and Theory in American Archaeology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958), 2.

(32.) L. Binford, “Archaeology as Anthropology,” American Antiquity 28 (1962): 217–225; Binford, An Archaeological Perspective, 84; K. Flannery, “Culture History v. Cultural Process: A Debate in American Archaeology.” Scientific American 217 (1967): 119–122; P. J. Watson, “Inference in Archaeology,” American Antiquity 41 (1976): 58–66; and P. J. Watson, et al., Explanation in Archaeology (New York: Columbia University Press, 1971). On covering laws: C. Hempel, “Explanation and Prediction by Covering Laws,” in Philosophy of Science: The Delaware Seminar, ed. B. Baumrin (New York: Interscience, 1963), vol. 1, 107–133; and Hempel, Aspects of Scientific Explanation and Other Essays in the Philosophy of Science (New York: Free Press, 1965).

(33.) Binford, “Archaeology as Anthropology,” 218, drawing on L. White, The Evolution of Culture: The Development of Civilization to the Fall of Rome (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1959), 8.

(34.) Binford, “Archaeology as Anthropology,” 218; cf. W. A. Longacre, “Some Aspects of Prehistoric Society in East-Central Arizona,” in New Perspectives in Archeology, eds. S. Binford and L. Binford (Chicago: Aldine, 1968), 89–102.

(35.) L. Binford, “Archaeological Systematics and the Study of Culture Process,” American Antiquity 31 (1965): 203–210. See the critique by Insoll, Archaeology, Ritual, Religion, 46–51.

(36.) C. Hawkes, “Archaeological Theory and Method: Some Suggestions from the Old World,” American Anthropologist 56 (1954): 161–162.

(37.) K. Flannery, “Archeology with a Capital ‘S,’” in Research and Theory in Current Archeology, ed. C. Redman (New York: Wiley-Interscience, 1978), 47–53.

(38.) M. Shanks and C. Tilley, Social Theory and Archaeology (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1987); and L. Smith, Archaeological Theory and the Politics of Cultural Heritage (New York: Routledge, 2004), 47–49.

(39.) K. R. Dark, Theoretical Archaeology (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995), 19–24; and see, e.g., Hodder, Theory and Practice. Compare John Barrett’s description of ritual as “a form of objectified (textual) discourse,” and his call to “[extend] the concept of the text . . . to an inscription not only upon material cultural objects but upon the human subject”: J. C. Barrett, “Towards an Archaeology of Ritual,” in Sacred and Profane: Proceedings of a Conference on Archaeology, Ritual and Religion. Oxford, 1989, eds. P. Garwood, et al. (Oxford: Oxford University Committee for Archaeology, 1991), 5.

(40.) R. Preucel and I. Hodder, Contemporary Archaeology in Theory (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1996), 299–412.

(41.) Critique of post-processualism as inhibiting empirical work: see P. Kohl, “Limits to a Post-Processual Archaeology (or, the Dangers of a New Scholasticism),” in Archaeological Theory: Who Sets the Agenda?, eds. N. Yoffee and A. Sherratt (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 16; and C. Renfrew, “Towards a Cognitive Archaeology,” in The Ancient Mind, eds. Renfrew and Zubrow, 3–5, 9–10.

(42.) For a recent critique of logocentrism in the study of ancient visual culture, see M. Squire, Image and Text in Graeco-Roman Antiquity (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

(43.) Renfrew and Zubrow, eds., The Ancient Mind (preceded by Renfrew, The Archaeology of Cult). See more recently K. V. Flannery and J. Marcus, “Cognitive Archaeology,” in Reader in Archaeological Theory: Post-Processual and Cognitive Approaches, ed. D. S. Whitley (New York: Routledge, 1998), 35–48; S. A. de Beaune, F. L. Coolidge, and T. Wynn, Cognitive Archaeology and Human Evolution (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2009); and M. A. Abramiuk, The Foundations of Cognitive Archaeology (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012); on the latter, note the cautions of E. M. Bonney, review of The Foundations of Cognitive Archaeology, by Mark A. Abramiuk, American Journal of Archaeology Online 118 (2014).

(44.) Renfrew, “Towards a Cognitive Archaeology,” 4, 10.

(45.) Renfrew, The Archaeology of Cult; Renfrew, “The Archaeology of Religion.”

(46.) Renfrew, The Archaeology of Cult, 16–20; Renfrew, “The Archaeology of Religion,” 51–52; and Renfrew, “Prehistoric Religions in the Aegean,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of Ritual and Religion, ed. T. Insoll (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 684–685.

(47.) P. Garwood, et al., eds., Sacred and Profane: Proceedings of a Conference on Archaeology, Ritual and Religion. Oxford, 1989 (Oxford: Oxford University Committee for Archaeology, 1991); P. Biehl and F. Bertemes, eds., The Archaeology of Cult and Religion (Budapest: Archaeolingua, 2001); T. Insoll, ed., Case Studies in Archaeology and World Religion (Oxford: Archaeopress, 1999); Insoll, ed., Belief in the Past: The Proceedings of the 2002 Manchester Conference on Archaeology and Religion, (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2004); Insoll, ed., The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of Ritual and Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011); L. Fogelin, “The Archaeology of Religious Ritual,” Annual Review of Anthropology 36 (2007): 55–71; L. Fogelin, ed., Religion, Archaeology, and the Material World (Carbondale: Center for Archaeological Investigations, Southern Illinois University, 2008); E. Kyriakidis, ed., The Archaeology of Ritual (Los Angeles: Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, 2007); D. A. Barrowclough and C. Malone, eds., Cult in Context: Reconsidering Ritual in Archaeology (Oxford: Oxbow, 2007); K. Hays-Gilpin and D. Whitley, Belief in the Past: Theoretical Approaches to the Archaeology of Religion (Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, 2008); A. D’Agata and A. Van de Moortel, eds., Archaeologies of Cult: Essays on Ritual and Cult in Crete in Honor of Geraldine C. Gesell (Athens, Greece: American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 2009); S. Steadman, Archaeology of Religion: Cultures and Their Beliefs in Worldwide Context (Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, 2009); I. Hodder, ed., Religion in the Emergence of Civilization: Çatalhöyük as a Case Study (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2010); Y. Rowan, ed., Beyond Belief: The Archaeology of Religion and Ritual (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2012); K. W. Wesler, An Archaeology of Religion (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2012); and Droogan, Religion, Material Culture and Archaeology.

(48.) Insoll, Archaeology, Ritual, Religion, 60, 96–97; and J. Kindt, “Ancient Greece,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of Ritual and Religion, ed. T. Insoll (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 699.

(49.) Renfrew, The Archaeology of Cult, 22; Insoll, Archaeology, Ritual, Religion, 97; and L. Fogelin, “The Archaeology of Religious Ritual,” 59–61.

(50.) Insoll, Archaeology, Ritual, Religion; Insoll, “Are Archaeologists Afraid of Gods?,” 1–6. Renfrew notes the “problem of the ‘embeddedness’ of cult activity within the other activities of daily life”: see “The Archaeology of Religion,” 47.

(51.) “Sacred space” and religion’s emplacement within the landscape:A. T. Smith and A. Brookes, eds., Holy Ground: Theoretical Issues Relating to the Landscape and Material Culture of Ritual Space (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2001); E. Ghey, “Beyond the Temple: Blurring the Boundaries of ‘Sacred Space,’” in TRAC 2004: Proceedings of the Fourteenth Annual Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference, eds. J. Bruhn, B. Croxford, and D. Grigoropoulos (Oxford: Oxbow, 2004), 109–118; R. Haaland and G. Haaland, “Landscape,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of Ritual and Religion, ed. T. Insoll (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 24–37; Droogan, Religion, Material Culture, and Archaeology, 109–147; C. Moser and C. Feldman, Locating the Sacred: Theoretical Approaches to the Emplacement of Religion (Oxford: Oxbow, 2014); R. Raja and J. Rüpke, “Archaeology of Religion, Material Religion, and the Ancient World,” in A Companion to the Archaeology of Religion in the Ancient World, ed. R. Raja and J. Rüpke (Malden, MA: John Wiley, 2015), 15–20. Ritual, religion, and the body:C. Fowler, “Personhood and the Body,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of Ritual and Religion, ed. T. Insoll (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 133–150; Raja and Rüpke, “Archaeology of Religion,” 10–13 (and see also the articles collected in Part II of the volume that this essay introduces); R. Fuller, “Religion and the Body,” in Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion, March 2015; F. Stavrakopoulou, “Religion at Home: The Materiality of Practice,” in The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Ancient Israel, ed. S. Niditch (Malden, MA: John Wiley, 2016), 355–357. Religious and other identities:D. N. Edwards, “The Archaeology of Religion,” in The Archaeology of Identity, eds. M. Díaz-Andreu, et al. (London: Routledge, 2005), 121–124; and Rebillard, Christians and Their Many Identities. Ethical issues:N. Rao, “Ayodhya and the Ethics of Archaeology,” in Case Studies in Archaeology and World Religion, ed. T. Insoll (Oxford: Archaeopress, 1999), 44–47; A. Bergquist, “Ethics and the Archaeology of World Religions,” in Archaeology and World Religion, ed. T. Insoll (London and New York: Routledge, 2001), 182–192; T. L. Bray, ed., The Future of the Past: Archaeologists, Native Americans and Repatriation (New York: Routledge, 2001); C. Fforde, J. Hubert, and P. Turnbull, eds., The Dead and Their Possessions: Repatriation in Principle, Policy and Practice (New York: Routledge, 2004); D. Sayer, Ethics and Burial Archaeology (London: Duckworth, 2010); and the essays in Part IV of S. Tarlow and L. N. Stutz, eds., The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of Death and Burial (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 665–816.

(52.) Overviews of “materiality” and the “material turn”: D. Hicks, “The Material-Cultural Turn: Event and Effect,” in The Oxford Handbook of Material Culture Studies, eds. D. Hicks and M. C. Beaudry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 25–98; C. Knappett, “Materiality,” in Archaeological Theory Today, ed. I. Hodder (Cambridge, U.K.: Polity Press, 2012), 188–207; and Knappett, “Materiality in Archaeological Theory,” in Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology, ed. C. Smith (Berlin: Springer, 2014), 4700–4708.

(53.) A. Gell, Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998). For Gell’s influence on the study of religious material culture, see Droogan, Religion, Material Culture, and Archaeology, 149–173.

(54.) I. Hodder, Entangled: An Archaeology of the Relationship between Humans and Things (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), quoting p. 216.

(55.) As also observed by Rowan, “Beyond Belief,” 3–4. For a critique of Western constructions of conflict between “the intangible spiritual and the prosaic material,” and an argument for religion as “a materially embedded phenomenon,” see Droogan, Religion, Material Culture and Archaeology (quoting pp. 4–5).

(56.) See, e.g., Kindt, “Ancient Greece”; Kindt, Rethinking Greek Religion (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2012); and Barrett, “Material Evidence.” For a critique of earlier tendencies to marginalize material culture in religious studies, see Droogan, Religion, Material Culture and Archaeology, 22–43.

(57.) Rowan, “Beyond Belief,” 3.

(58.) See, e.g., the essays in Part V of E. DeMarrais, C. Gosden, and C. Renfrew, Rethinking Materiality: The Engagement of Mind with the Material World (Cambridge, U.K.: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, 2004), 197–270; N. Boivin, “Grasping the Elusive and Unknowable: Material Culture in Ritual Practice,” Journal of Material Religion 5 (2009): 266–287; see also other papers in T. Insoll, ed., Materiality, Belief, Ritual—Archaeology and Material Religion (special issue of Material Religion), Material Religion 5 (2009); and Swenson, “The Archaeology of Ritual,” 334–337. Beyond the field of archaeology per se, see B. Meyer and D. Houtman, eds., Things: Religion and the Question of Materiality (New York: Fordham University Press, 2012).

(59.) Mediterranean worship of statues: Meskell, Object Worlds, 89–98; Meskell, “Divine Things,” in Rethinking Materiality: The Engagement of Mind with the Material World, eds. E. DeMarrais, C. Gosden, and C. Renfrew (Cambridge, U.K.: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, 2004), 249–259; V. Platt, Facing the Gods: Epiphany and Representation in Graeco-Roman Art, Literature and Religion (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 2011); and C. E. Barrett, “The Affordances of Terracotta Figurines in Domestic Contexts: Reconsidering the Gap between Material and Ritual,” in The Stuff of the Gods: The Material Aspects of Religion in Ancient Greece, eds. M. Haysom, M. Mili, and J. Wallensten (Athens, Greece: The Swedish Institute at Athens, forthcoming). Andean huacas: B. Sillar, “The Social Agency of Things? Animism and Materiality in the Andes,” Cambridge Archaeological Journal 19 (2009): 367–377.

(60.) C. Faraone, “Text, Image and Medium: The Evolution of Graeco-Roman Magical Gemstones,” in Gems of Heaven: Recent Research on Engraved Gemstones in Late Antiquity c. AD 200–600, eds. C. Entwistle and N. Adams (London: The British Museum, 2011), 50–61.

(61.) On things within society and the “social lives” of things, cf. A. Appadurai, ed., The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1986).

(62.) Keane, “On the Materiality of Religion,” 230.

(63.) Keane, “The Evidence of the Senses,” 124.

(64.) Keane, “The Evidence of the Senses,” 124.

(65.) On “affordances” as things’ potential for facilitating certain actions or outcomes: J. Gibson, The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception (New York: Psychology Press, 1986) 127–143, esp. 133–135.

(66.) On Aztec depictions and displays of conquered gods, see E. Umberger, “Art and Imperial Strategy in Tenochtitlan,” in Aztec Imperial Strategies, by F. Berdan, et al. (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks, 1996), 85–108; and K. De Lucia, “Everyday Practice and Ritual Space: The Organization of Domestic Ritual in Pre-Aztec Xaltocan, Mexico,” Cambridge Archaeological Journal 24 (2014): 379, 398.

(67.) E.g., A. Clark and D. J. Chalmers, “The Extended Mind,” Analysis 58 (1998): 10–23; L. Malafouris, “The Cognitive Basis of Material Engagement: Where Brain, Body and Culture Conflate,” in Rethinking Materiality: The Engagement of Mind with the Material World, eds. E. DeMarrais, C. Gosden, and C. Renfrew (Cambridge, U.K.: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, 2004), 53–62; Malafouris, How Things Shape the Mind: A Theory of Material Engagement (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013); J. Sutton, “Introduction: Memory, Embodied Cognition, and the Extended Mind,” Philosophical Psychology 19 (2006): 281–289 (as well as additional papers in this special issue of Philosophical Psychology); Sutton, “Material Agency, Skills and History: Distributed Cognition and the Archaeology of Memory,” in Material Agency: Towards a Non-Anthropocentric Approach, eds. C. Knappett and L. Malafouris (New York: Springer, 2008), 37–55; J. Sutton and N. Keene, “Cognitive History and Material Culture,” in The Routledge Handbook of Material Culture in Early Modern Europe, eds. D. Gaimster, T. Hamling, and C. Richardson (London and New York: Routledge, in press).

(68.) A. Clark, Natural-Born Cyborgs: Minds, Technologies, and the Future of Human Intelligence (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

(69.) On extended cognition and religion, see M. Day, “Religion, Off-Line Cognition and the Extended Mind,” Journal of Cognition and Culture 4 (2004): 101–121; L. Marsh, ed., The Extended Mind (special issue of Zygon), Zygon 11.4 (2009); J. Krueger, “The Extended Mind and Religious Cognition,” in Mental Religion: The Brain, Cognition, and Culture, ed. N. Clements (New York: MacMillan, forthcoming).

(70.) C. E. Barrett, Egyptianizing Figurines from Delos: A Study in Hellenistic Religion (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2011), 275, 281–282. On the origins of the so-called “Bes Pantheos” image, see J. F. Romano, “The Bes-Image in Pharaonic Egypt” (PhD diss., New York University, 1989), 148–150. On Egyptian “henotheism,” see E. Hornung, Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt: The One and the Many, trans. J. Baines (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1982).

(71.) M. Day, “Religion, Off-Line Cognition and the Extended Mind,” 101.

(72.) As already anticipated by Renfrew, “The Archaeology of Religion,” 50 (“clearly frameworks of religious belief provided strong motivational contexts for many aspects of the behaviour of ancient societies”). More recently, see the critical review by Swenson, “The Archaeology of Ritual.”

(73.) I. Hodder, “Probing Religion at Çatalhöyük: An Interdisciplinary Experiment,” in Religion in the Emergence of Civilization: Çatalhöyük as a Case Study, ed. I. Hodder (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 18–28, quoting p. 21.

(74.) L. Ristvet, Ritual, Performance, and Politics in the Ancient Near East (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2015), quoting p. 2.

(75.) Mesoamerica and the Andes: See most recently the studies collected as Part 1 of D. A. Yerxa, ed., Religion and Innovation: Antagonists or Partners? (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016), 9–56 (articles by J. W. Rick, by A. A. Joyce and S. B. Barber, and by T. R. Pauketat and S. M. Alt). New Guinea: M. Aldenderfer, “Gimme That Old Time Religion: Rethinking the Role of Religion in the Emergence of Social Inequality,” in Pathways to Power: New Perspectives on the Emergence of Social Inequality, eds. T. D. Price and G. Feinman (New York: Springer, 2010), 77–95.

(76.) J. D. Lewis-Williams, “Religion and Archaeology: An Analytical, Materialist Account,” in Belief in the Past: Theoretical Approaches to the Archaeology of Religion, eds. K. Hays-Gilpin and D. S. Whitley (Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, 2008), 39.

(77.) Rowan, “Beyond Belief,” 2; cf. Insoll, Archaeology, Ritual, Religion.

(78.) See Note 51.

(79.) I use “cult” here in the sense of directed, enacted worship, intending no anachronistic connotations of “fringe” or “marginal” practice (pace Insoll, Archaeology, Ritual, Religion, 5); cf. the discussion of “cult” in D. A. Barrowclough, “Putting Cult in Context: Ritual, Religion and Cult in Temple Period Malta,” in Cult in Context: Reconsidering Ritual in Archaeology, eds. D. A. Barrowclough and C. Malone (Oxford: Oxbow, 2007), 45–46. Although the following discussion focuses on domestic cult in particular, many similar issues attend the study of religious practice in other non-sanctuary and non-funerary settings: for example, industrial cult, on which see, e.g., S. I. Rotroff, Industrial Religion: The Saucer Pyres of the Athenian Agora (Athens, Greece: The American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 2013).

(80.) Renfrew, Archaeology of Cult, 21–22; Renfrew, “The Archaeology of Religion,” 47; and K. Bowes, “At Home,” in A Companion to the Archaeology of Religion in the Ancient World, eds. R. Raja and J. Rüpke (Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell, 2015), 210–211.

(81.) E.g., Roman lararia: F. Giacobello, Larari pompeiani: Iconografia e culto dei Lari in ambito domestico (Milan: LED, 2008). On the archaeological identification of domestic shrines, see E. Sikla, “The Elusive Domestic Shrine in Neopalatial Crete: On the Archaeological Correlates of Domestic Religion,” in ΣΤΕΓΑ‎: The Archaeology of Houses and Households in Ancient Crete (Athens, Greece: American School of Classical Studies, 2011), 219–231.

(82.) Water basins: Bowes, “At Home,” 210. Lamps: R. Bielfeldt, “Lichtblicke—Sehstrahlen: Zur Präsenz römischer Figuren- und Bildlampen,” in Ding und Mensch in der Antike, ed. R. Bielfeldt (Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag, Winter 2014), 234; and Bowes, “At Home,” 216. Domestic statuettes: Barrett, “The Affordances of Terracotta Figurines in Domestic Contexts.”

(83.) M. Prechtel and R. S. Carlsen, “Weaving and Cosmos amongst the Tzutujil Maya,” Res 15 (1988): 122–132.

(84.) A sample of recent studies focusing on domestic practices in various world regions: Bradley, “A Life Less Ordinary,” esp. 16–21; Bradley, Ritual and Domestic Life (both studies emphasizing domestic “ritual” and “ritualization” rather than “religion” per se); A. Stevens, “The Material Evidence for Domestic Religion at Amarna and Preliminary Remarks on Its Interpretation,” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 89 (2003): 143–168; Stevens, Private Religion at Amarna: The Material Evidence (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2007); Stevens, “Domestic Religious Practices,” in UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, eds. J. Dieleman and W. Wendrich, 2009; P. Plunket, ed., Domestic Ritual in Ancient Mesoamerica (Los Angeles: The Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, University of California, 2002); N. Gonlin and J. C. Lohse, eds., Commoner Ritual and Ideology in Ancient Mesoamerica (Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2007) (with the household representing one among other locations of “commoner ritual”); J. Bodel and S. M. Olyan, eds., Household and Family Religion in Antiquity (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008) (drawing on textual as well as archaeological evidence); Barrett, Egyptianizing Figurines from Delos; Barrett, “Terracotta Figurines and the Archaeology of Ritual,” 2015; C. Blackmore, “Ritual among the Masses: Deconstructing Identity and Class in an Ancient Maya Neighborhood,” Latin American Antiquity 22 (2011): 159–177 (emphasizing “ritual” rather than “religion”); Sikla, “The Elusive Domestic Shrine”; R. E. Cutright, “Household Ofrendas and Community Feasts: Ritual at a Late Intermediate Period Village in the Jequetepeque Valley, Peru,” Nawpa Pacha: Journal of Andean Archaeology 33 (2013): 1–21 (also focusing on “ritual”); C. H. Chiang and Y. C. Liu, “The Sacred Houses in Neolithic Wansan Society,” in Locating the Sacred: Theoretical Approaches to the Emplacement of Religion, eds. C. Moser and C. Feldman (Oxford: Oxbow, 2014), 128–143; De Lucia, “Everyday Practice and Ritual Space,” 379–403; Bowes, “At Home”; and Stavrakopoulou, “Religion at Home.”

(85.) J. Kindt, “Personal Religion: A Productive Category for the Study of Ancient Greek Religion?,” Journal of Hellenic Studies 135 (2015): 4. Compare the extensive scholarly discourse within Egyptology on “personal piety” and “private religion”: see the recent surveys of L. Gahlin, “Private Religion,” in The Egyptian World, ed. T. Wilkinson (New York: Routledge, 2007), 325–339; and M. Luiselli, “Personal Piety (Modern Theories Related to),” in UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, eds. J. Dieleman and W. Wendrich, 2008.

(86.) Kindt, “Personal Religion,” 1–16. For a useful analysis of the often-problematic concepts of “public” and “private” in relation to religion, see K. Bowes, Private Worship, Public Values, and Religious Change in Late Antiquity (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2008).

(87.) E.g., Rüpke and Spickermann, eds., Reflections on Religious Individuality; Rüpke, ed., The Individual; Rüpke, “Individual Choices and Individuality”; and Kindt, “Personal Religion.” For earlier functionalist paradigms, see especially the “polis model” of Greek religion: C. Sourvinou-Inwood, “What Is Polis Religion?” and “Further Aspects of Polis Religion,” in Oxford Readings in Greek Religion, ed. R. Buxton (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 13–37, 38–55. For critique see Kindt, Rethinking Greek Religion.

(88.) Aldenderfer, “Gimme That Old Time Religion”; Aldenderfer, “Envisioning a Pragmatic Approach,” 27; J. L. Dornan, “Beyond Belief: Religious Experience, Ritual, and Cultural Neuro-Phenomenology in the Interpretation of Past Religious Systems,” Cambridge Archaeological Journal 14 (2004): 32. On the interplay between individual agency and larger structures more generally, the classic work is A. Giddens, The Constitution of Society: Outline of the Theory of Structuration (Cambridge, U.K.: Polity Press, 1984).

(89.) According, at least, to Durkheim’s distinction between magic and religion (Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, 39–44). For a broader range of approaches to the problem of defining “magic,” see B. C. Otto and M. Stausberg, Defining Magic: A Reader (Sheffield, U.K.: Equinox, 2012).

(90.) For a historiographical overview, see Bell, Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions, 46–52. Recent research on the material culture of “magic”: see, e.g., A. T. Wilburn, Materia Magica: The Archaeology of Magic in Roman Egypt, Cyprus, and Spain (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2012); D. Boschung and J. N. Bremmer, eds., The Materiality of Magic (Paderborn, Germany: Wilhelm Fink, 2015); and C. Houlbrook and N. Armitage, eds., The Materiality of Magic: An Artefactual Investigation into Ritual Practices and Popular Beliefs (Oxford: Oxbow, 2015).

(91.) E.g., Insoll, Archaeology, Ritual, Religion, 5; Rowan, “Beyond Belief,” 3; B.–C. Otto, “Towards Historicizing ‘Magic’ in Antiquity,” Numen 60 (2013): 316–317; though see the recent defense of the term by C. Houlbrook and N. Armitage, “Introduction: The Materiality of the Materiality of Magic,” in The Materiality of Magic: An Artefactual Investigation into Ritual Practices and Popular Beliefs, eds. C. Houlbrook and N. Armitage (Oxford: Oxbow, 2015), 1–14. For further discussion, see C. E. Barrett, “Magical Gems as Material Texts: Contextual Analysis of Greco-Roman Amulets,” in Textual Archaeology of the Ancient Near East: Are We Doing It Wrong?, ed. Y. Heffron (Cambridge, U.K.: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, forthcoming).

(92.) Cf. the approach proposed by Bernd-Christian Otto, who argues that we should abandon the search for an “abstract category of ‘magic’” and instead seek to “historicize the term ‘magic’ in Antiquity”: Otto, “Towards Historicizing ‘Magic,’” 308–347 (quoting p. 308).

(93.) F. Graf, Magic in the Ancient World, trans. F. Philip (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), 20–35; N. Janowitz, Magic in the Roman World: Pagans, Jews and Christians (New York: Routledge, 2001); Kindt, Rethinking Greek Religion, 99, 107–109, 115–122; and further sources cited in Otto, “Towards Historicizing ‘Magic,’” 313–314. On the legal status of ancient magic: D. Collins, Magic in the Ancient Greek World (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008), 132–165.

(94.) For discussion and revision of traditional views concerning Mesopotamian witchcraft, and an analysis of the factors contributing to the demonization of the “witch,” see T. Abusch, Mesopotamian Witchcraft: Toward a History and Understanding of Babylonian Witchcraft Beliefs and Literature (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2002).

(95.) R. K. Ritner, The Mechanics of Ancient Egyptian Magical Practice (Chicago: The Oriental Institute, 1993).

(96.) Otto, “Towards Historicizing ‘Magic,’” 308–347; and C. E. Barrett, “Plaster Perspectives on ‘Magical Gems’: Rethinking the Meaning of ‘Magic’ in Cornell’s Dactyliotheca,” 2015, n. 60.

(97.) For overviews of the evidence, see H. D. Betz, The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, Including the Demotic Spells, 2d ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992); M. W. Dickie, Magic and Magicians in the Greco-Roman World (London: Routledge, 2001); Collins, Magic in the Ancient Greek World; Kindt, Rethinking Greek Religion, 90–122; and Wilburn, Materia Magica.

(98.) Barrett, “Terracotta Figurines and the Archaeology of Ritual”; Barrett, “The Affordances of Terracotta Figurines in Domestic Contexts”; and Barrett, “Magical Gems as Material Texts.”

(99.) For example, McCafferty argues that domestic finds from postclassic Cholula indicate “a difference in religious ideology between the dominant culture and household-level practices,” possibly suggesting “a contrast between ‘commoner’ and ‘dominant’ ideologies”: G. G. McCafferty, “Altar Egos: Domestic Ritual and Social Identity in Postclassic Cholula, Mexico,” in Commoner Ritual and Ideology in Ancient Mesoamerica, eds. N. Gonlin and J. C. Lohse (Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2007), 240–241. Blackmore similarly argues for the agency of non-elites in resisting elite ritual hegemony at a Late Classic Maya site (“Ritual among the Masses,” 162), while in Late Intermediate Period Peru, Cutright sees local stakeholders as creatively drawing from and adapting pan-regional state traditions (“Household Ofrendas and Community Feasts,” 16–17). De Lucia emphasizes ancient Mexican elites’ transformation of popular practices for political purposes (“Everyday Practice and Ritual Space”).