Wednesday, April 29, 2015

My PhD Completion Seminar

I did my PhD Completion Seminar yesterday, 28th of April, as one of the University of Melbourne's Ancient World Seminar Series. The presentation was called The Cultic Life of Trees in Late Bronze Age Crete. Abstract:

Glyptic art is the largest corpus of Aegean Bronze Age representational art and consists of carved seal stones, engraved metal signet rings and the clay impressions (sealings) that the seals are used to produce. A particular group of images engraved on the metal signet rings are thought to depict human and divine figures participating in cult activity. In the absence of translated texts from Minoan Crete, glyptic iconography is the most informative category of evidence relied upon in the interpretation of Minoan religion. This paper uses glyptic images that depict human figures interacting with trees to examine claims first put forth by Sir Arthur Evans (excavator of Knossos on Crete) in 1901 that Minoan religion was characterised by a primitive, aniconic cult of trees, stones and pillars, strongly influenced by the Levant and Egypt. As well as responding to Evans the paper examines the images in light of animism, royal ideology and performance and proposes a new reading in which the Minoan landscape was co-opted in the service of elite ideology and functioned as a politicised active agent in the enactment of power.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Dropping Ecstasy? Minoan Cult and the Tropes of Shamanism

Myself and a colleague, Sam Crooks, have a new article out in Time and Mind: The Journal of Archaeology, Consciousness and Culture on Minoan cult and its possible shamanistic characteristics. This is the Abstract: Cult scenes illustrated in miniature on administrative stone seals and metal signet rings from Late Bronze Age Minoan Crete are commonly interpreted as “Epiphany Scenes” and have been called “shamanic.” “Universal shamanism” is a catch-all anthropological term coined to describe certain inferred ritual behaviours across widely dispersed cultures and through time. This study re-examines evidence for Minoan cultic practices in light of key tropes of “universal shamanism,” including consumption of psychoactive drugs, adoption of special body postures, trance, spirit possession, communication with supernatural beings, metamorphosis and the journey to other-worlds. It is argued that while existing characterisations of Minoan cult as “shamanic” are based on partial, reductionist and primitivist assumptions informed by neo-evolutionary comparative ethnologies, shamanism provides a dynamic framework for expanding understandings of Minoan cult.  It is of course understood that while this study is a careful, informed analysis of the evidence, it is but one interpretation among others.