Rangar H. Cline
Although “magical” amulets are often overlooked in studies of early Christian material culture, they provide unique insight into the lives of early Christians. The high number of amulets that survive from antiquity, their presence in domestic and mortuary archaeological contexts, and frequent discussions of amulets in Late Antique literary sources indicate that they constituted an integral part of the fabric of religious life for early Christians. The appearance of Christian symbols on amulets, beginning in the second century and occurring with increasing frequency in the fourth century and afterward, reveals the increasing perception of Christian symbols as ritually potent among Christians and others in the Roman Empire. The forms, texts, and images on amulets reveal the fears and hopes that occupied the daily lives of early Christians, when amulets designed for ritual efficacy if not orthodoxy were believed to provide a defense against forces that would harm body and soul.
This chapter examines the development of a distinctive early Christian genre: the icon. It does so by taking a relatively unknown, but important, example of a devotional panel in a U.S. collection with a (now) anonymous warrior saint trampling a demon while on horseback. This icon permits a methodological rumination on the means by which we come to think we know the historical meaning of such an object: our art historical premises, our photographic and museological knowledge of objects, and our own assumption about what constitutes a real “subject” in the past and in the present. This chapter attempts a kind of archaeology, an examination of strata in the icon, but really an anarchéologie of the icon, by which archaeology is problematized, undermined, in order to reveal the ways in which our culture has produced its histories.
Kevin Conti and William Walker
This chapter explores the performance of light and shadows in two ancestral Pueblo rock art sites in southeast Utah. These sites possess anthropomorphic rock faces and modified features to create both anthropomorphic and zoomorphic images that we argue derive from mythological traditions of Pueblo peoples. Specifically, light/shadow patterns at these sites produce and interact with Bear and War Twin imagery on prominent dates of the solar calendar. Traditionally such imagery would be approached through rock art studies in terms of motifs and symbolic interpretations. The celestial component would be addressed by archaeoastronomers. Using object agency theory, we seek to contextualize these data as places where people communicated with their Bear and War Twin deities.
M. A. Hall
Creating, inviting, and repurposing sacrality was a fundamental quest of social behaviour in the medieval period. From the major shrines of cathedrals down to the portable sanctity of amulets, the pursuit of sacredness affected the everyday lives of Christian believers, helping to fashion memories and create heirlooms. Drawing on history, art history, anthropology, and folklore under the broad umbrella of material culture, this contribution takes a socially informed and trans-disciplinary approach to archaeology and seeks a holistic interpretation of the medieval past, one that does not neglect the intangible. This contribution seeks to underline the value of recent, new perspectives in this area and to broaden their application. Three overlapping themes are considered: relics, places, and mobility.
Darlene L. Brooks Hedstrom
This chapter discusses the evolution of scholarly interest in Christian antiquities in Egypt after 1900. The archaeology of early Christianity developed much later than the field of Egyptology and initially focused only upon the clearing of monumental churches. Growing interest in Byzantine art and archaeology in the mid-1920s fostered greater support for excavations of expressly Christian settlements, which were primarily monastic communities. The wealth of archaeological evidence preserved in Egypt’s arid climate, such as documentary evidence (ostraca and papyri), textiles, manuscripts, and small finds such as items made of leather, reeds, ivory, and wood, helped foster a greater appreciation for Egypt’s history after the age of the pharaohs.
Alexandra Chavarría Arnau
The archaeology of early Christian churches has made important advancements in recent decades in Italy thanks to a large number of new excavations and scientific meetings, as well as the development of the project CARE (Corpus Architecturae Religiosae Europeae (IV–X saec.)), in which most Italian specialists are involved. This chapter suggests new lines of research, thus contributing to a revised historiography of the archaeology of early Christian churches in Italy between the fourth century and the end of the sixth century. It surveys some of the ecclesiastical complexes that have been reanalyzed in recent decades or recently discovered through archaeological excavations.
Darlene L. Brooks Hedstrom
This chapter discusses new developments in the field of monastic archaeology and the archaeology of early monastic settlements. The presence of monastic communities in documentary and literary evidence has produced a wide array of studies of monasticism, but very few of these have considered the purpose-built environments or the remodeled natural environments for monastic habitation. This chapter therefore considers examples from Egypt, Gaza, Britain, and Ireland to illustrate the history of archaeological study of monastic life and the importance of integrating monastic archaeology into broader categories dealing with landscape, urbanization, and connectivity from the fourth century through the tenth century.
An understanding of medieval pilgrimage can be informed by the application of archaeological approaches to the physical evidence. This chapter outlines the evidence of pilgrimage within the historic landscape, demonstrates the existence of an infrastructure for the support of pilgrims, and applies a functional approach to interpreting the sometimes fugitive remains of shrines. Consideration is also given to the impressive material culture of pilgrimage souvenirs, and the evidence that this provides of pilgrims’ travels at home and abroad. Extraordinary insights can also be gained into the life experiences and personal faith of medieval individuals from the excavation of pilgrim burials.
James F. Strange
This chapter discusses the archaeology of the New Testament as applied to Jesus and the gospels. The aim is to create a reliable social, economic, and material history of the origins and dissemination of the New Testament text. In the nineteenth century, certain New Testament and classical scholars studied the material culture of Roman-period Galilee as the context of the gospel traditions. The discipline moved from comparative analysis of inscriptions and other ancient texts to excavation of Jewish synagogues, Roman temples, houses, and domestic ritual baths. The discipline developed sophisticated methods to excavate artifacts, pottery, glass, coins, and stone vessels and to determine their distribution and stratigraphic position at a given site. This chapter reviews the archaeology of specific sites mentioned in the New Testament and several not mentioned to provide an archaeological reconstruction of the social, economic, political, and religious patterns of human life in Galilee and Judea.
The fourth to seventh centuries were formative in the art and culture of Armenia. This era witnessed the conversion of the land to Christianity, the invention of the Armenian alphabet and the consequent development of a literary tradition, the formulation of a specific understanding of the nature of Christ, and the emergence of a striking and robust visual tradition. The architecture, stone sculpture, and mosaic pavements produced during this era attest to the integration of Armenians within the broader Mediterranean and Iranian worlds, and to the development of distinctive artistic forms and practices. This material thus offers powerful testimony of contemporary beliefs, social structures, and political conditions of Armenians living both within the historical homeland and in communities abroad.
The art of the catacombs was born in Rome between the second and third centuries and is manifested especially in the pictorial decorations of the cubicula and other hypogeal environments. The extremely simplified artistic typology echoes the Second Pompeian style through the use of red and green lines that run across the walls and the faces of the monuments. Initially this grid contained neutral figures selected from the pagan repertoire; later those images were replaced by Christian scenes inspired by biblical and salvific imagery. The art of the catacombs also includes funerary sculpture, particularly sarcophagi, and the so-called minor arts, such as gilded glass, ivory dolls, and mosaic tesserae. The catacombal decorations ended at the beginning of the fifth century, when funerary use ceased in these subterranean cemeteries.
The early Christian archaeology of Asia Minor has recently developed into a discipline devoted to the contextualized study of the material remains of early Christianity. It has characterized Asia Minor as a region where—save some notable exceptions from mortuary contexts in Central Anatolia—the impact of the new faith on local material culture only became tangible in the course of the fourth century. During the fifth and sixth centuries Christianity would eventually conquer urban and rural landscapes through church construction in traditional as well as new foci of public space. At this time it also moved into the private sphere as household objects became decorated with Christian images and symbols.
Ethnohistoric evidence emphasizes the role of women in ritualized Aztec household practices and religion that were concerned not only with household maintenance or fertility but also with broader cosmological processes. This chapter supplements the limited written evidence for Aztec household rituals with a review of archaeological data on ritual features and artifacts, including burials, figurines, feasting ceramics, New Fire ceremony middens, and musical instruments. Archaeological findings add a political dimension to our understanding of Aztec household ritual—demonstrating that ritual also served in political negotiations of status and identity—and suggest a complex, bidirectional relationship between state and household-level ritual practices. Finally, excavations have revealed more variation in funerary rituals than can be appreciated in the primarily elite, Tenochtitlan-authored documentary record.
Leon Garcia Garagarza
This chapter analyzes the basic features of the Aztec ritual landscape as a historical construct that legitimized the social order and provided the models of territorial legitimacy and political hegemony in Postclassic central Mexico. Based on a cosmovision that held the universe as an animated entity, the Aztecs reinterpreted real geographic features through myths and collective and individual rituals. Each town (altepetl) replicated the layout of the cosmos with an axial mountain at the center. This model was coextensive to other institutions. In turn, regular pilgrimages across several mountain peaks were enacted to assert territorial claims, making the ritual landscape an essential feature of the Aztec political economy. The chapter examines some of the most prominent Aztec rituals that served to symbolically map their environment every year, demonstrating that they literally incorporated the sacrality of the landscape in their own bodies to live a wholly meaningful existence.
Louise M. Burkhart
Under Spanish rule, Nahuas underwent evangelization by friars of the Mendicant orders. Most people accepted baptism and learned at least basic Roman Catholic doctrine. To stay in power, nobles had to present themselves as Christians. Indigenous communities built churches and participated in Christian rituals, but indigenous religious officials had considerable control over local affairs. Alphabetic literacy was linked to Christianity: large numbers of religious texts were printed in Nahuatl and many others circulated in manuscript form. Nahuas interpreted Christian teachings in their own ways, often criticized by outsiders. They were particularly receptive to Christian images and developed devotions to many local, miracle-performing images, especially of the Virgin Mary and the crucified Christ. Indigenous healers and diviners capitalized on their reputation for witchcraft to attract clients of all ethnic backgrounds. In time, the coming of the faith came to be seen as a foundational event in community histories or “primordial titles.”
H. Richard Rutherford
The archaeology of ancient Christian baptisteries, purpose-built venues for the initiation of new Christians, opens new avenues to study early Christianity. Through consideration of structure and design, space, liturgy, and the afterlife of baptisteries, this chapter brings the archaeology and liturgical tradition into a dialogue between site and rite about Christian initiation in Late Antiquity. Archaeology highlights the important role played by a water bath and anointing with blessed oil, on the one hand, and the corresponding evolution of liturgical space, on the other, illustrating how ritual evolution went hand in hand with changes in the material culture. The chapter empowers readers visiting any ancient baptistery to view the space as a sacred vestige of early Christianity through new lenses attuned to archaeology and material culture.
Public bathing remained integral to social and daily life throughout Late Antiquity. This chapter explores how Christians used and received baths at this time by addressing the complex intersection of baths, Christianity, and public bathing culture. It provides an overview of baths in the Late Roman city and beyond, noting their continued ubiquity throughout the empire. And it details key changes to bath architecture introduced at this time, paying particular attention to the role of urban change and Christianity in this process. The chapter concludes with an overview of the various ways in which Christianity, baths, and bathing culture intersected directly during this important period of transition and transformation.
In the famous projects of ancient Egyptian architecture, sunlight had always a special role. An expert use of light and shadows helped in creating halls filled with sacredness in many temples; but most of all the Sun was the visible face of Ra, the Sun God. As a consequence, religious and funerary architectural projects were connected with the sun rays on special days of the year through astronomical alignments. The chapter focuses on a few key examples—the Akhet hierophanies at Giza and Amarna, and the winter solstice alignment at Karnak—showing the potentialities of modern archaeoastronomy in understanding key aspects of ancient Egyptian monuments and religion.
This chapter examines X-ray art in western Arnhem Land in northern Australia, considering how relatively contemporary artists used it to enrich the meaning of their work. After discussing early research on the meanings of X-ray and developing interpretations of art of the ancestors, the chapter explores the use of X-ray representation in rock art in western Arnhem Land, then analyzes the use of art in ceremony, focusing on Mardayin and Lorrkon, as well as the production of bark paintings made for sale through commercial outlets. It shows that understanding X-ray imagery helps to create intellectual connections between many areas of experience of the world. The chapter looks at the first creators, Yingarna and Ngalyod the rainbow serpents, and their role in promoting creative uses of X-ray infill and concludes that art helps initiates understand the powers of Djang not only as corporeal entities but also in more metaphysical terms.
This chapter reviews the evidence for the archaeology of early Christianity in Britain and Ireland. Here, the church had its origins in the areas that lay within the Roman Empire in the fourth century but rapidly expanded north and west in the early fifth century following the end of Roman rule. The evidence for church structures is limited and often ambiguous, with securely identifiable sites not appearing to any extent until the seventh century. There is a range of material culture that can be linked to the early church from the fourth to the seventh centuries; in particular, there are strong traditions of epigraphy and increasingly decorative stone carving from most areas. The conversion to Christianity also impacted burial rites, although the relationship between belief and mortuary traditions is not a simple one.