Ritual in Prehistory; Definition and Identification. Religious Insights in Early Prehistoric Cyprus.
Koutrafouri, Vasiliki G
Prehistoric archaeology has had major difficulties in identifying ritual practices. The history of archaeological approaches ranges from a total repudiation of the capability of the discipline to recognise and analyse ritual activities in the past, to absolute acceptance of all identified prehistoric patterns as ritual. Even within a postmodern apprehension of the world, where deconstruction of all established perceptions seems to have reached an end point, prehistoric archaeology has never successfully constructed a notion of ritual in prehistory. Acknowledging that ritual definition and identification is a problem of the modern western archaeologist, this thesis identifies the root of the problem in methods of thinking deeply rooted in western civilization, in our cultural schemata, and in approaches to archaeology that only superficially observe the problem rather than confront and resolve it. In seeking a resolution, this work proposes a structural dismantling of the problem and its recomposition from its basics. The thesis proposes a middle-range theory based on structuralism and pragmatics and a method of meticulous contextual and relational analysis for the identification and interpretation of ritual practices in prehistory. As a starting point, death is identified as the quintessential category for the exploration of a mytho-logic system and its subsequent definition. The treatment of the dead is recognised as the ideal starting point for an examination of the archaeological record in quest for ritual. Ritual structural elements identified in the context of burial are used subsequently for the identification of non-death ritual practices. The identification of religious practices in Early Prehistoric Cyprus reveals a vibrant ritualpracticing culture contrary to previous commonly accepted observations. Structured depositions in ritually empowered containers; ritual transport; hoarding; symbolic abandonment; ritual sealing; ritual burning; ritual use of burials for the creation of liminality; construction of highly symbolic structures and subsequent attribution of agency to them, all constitute religious practices attested by this thesis for the Cypriot PPNB and Aceramic Neolithic. This identification of ritual in Early Prehistoric Cyprus enables the exploration of this culture’s mytho-logic. The thesis demonstrates how early Cypriots viewed their world and their position in it. Finally, this research offers new perspectives in recognising past socio-cultural realities through the examination of ritual practices.