Prehistoric people were not like us. Despite attempts by archaeologists to separate settlements from ceremonial sites, burial places from work places, and ritual activity from domestic life we have always known things were different in the past.
Using examples from across Europe, the way that ritual is overtly embedded in everyday life is unfolded. Take the raised stone granaries of Gallicia (hórreos) that open the discussion. Built on four granite pillars these intriguing structures are stores for maize cobs but so resemble houses and churches that passers-by mistake them for shrines. A cross at one end and a stylised phallus at the other speak of death and regeneration, scarcity and abundance, sowing and harvesting, and remind the faithful that similar cycles extend to human life.
From Gallicia the spotlight skips to the great Neolithic enclosures of Wessex, the viereckschanzen of central Europe, houses, megalithic tombs, rock art, and much more.
Throughout, Bradley reminds us that we must look beyond ground plans and maps to think about societies and beliefs, to forget ritual as a kind of theatre, and to read the world around us for meanings behind the obvious. It’s an interesting challenge, especially at Christmas time as one’s eyes drift from the pages of the book to the celebrations beyond!
This article is an extract from the full article published in World Archaeology Issue 20. Click here to subscribe