Skip to main content Accessibility help

The Construction of Prehistoric Ideation: Exploring the Universality-Idiosyncrasy Continuum

  • Alexander von Gernet (a1)


An understanding of prehistoric belief systems is made possible by the existence of constraints on variability in human ideation. These have generated regularities in the ethnographic record which may be located on a continuum ranging from assumed universality to virtual idiosyncrasy. While some regularities are engendered by ecological factors or psychophysiological invariants in the human species, others are clearly the result of specific culture-historical continuities. When the latter are shown to transcend significant spatiotemporal boundaries, they become useful in diminishing the uncertainty that often accompanies efforts to infer prehistoric cognition, ideation, or symbolic meanings



Hide All
Aberle, D.F., 1987. Distinguished lecture: what kind of science is anthropology? American Anthropologist 89, 551–66.
Ascher, R., 1961. Analogy in ajchaeological interpretation. Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 17, 317–25.
Berlin, B. & P., Kay, 1969. Basic Color Terms: Their Universality and Evolution. Berkeley & Los Angeles (C A): University of California Press.
Bierhorst, J., 1985. The Mythology of North America. New York(NY): William Morrow.
Binford, L.R., 1972. An Archaeological Perspective. New York(NY): Seminar Press.
Binford, L.R., 1985. ‘Brand X’ versus the recommended product. American Antiquity 50, 580–90.
Bogoras, W., 1902. The folklore of northeastern Asia as compared with that of northwestern America. American Anthropologist 4, 577683.
Boster, J. & R., D'Andrade, 1989. Natural and human sources of cross-cultural agreement in ornithological classification. American Anthropologist 91, 132–42.
Bourguignon, E., 1973. Religion, Altered States of Consciousness, and Social Change. Columbus (OH): Ohio State University Press.
Bradley, J.W., 1987. Evolution of the Onondaga Iroquois: Accommodating Change, 1500–1655. Syracuse (NY): Syracuse University Press.
Brown, D.E., 1991. Human Universals. New York (NY): McGraw-Hill.
Chafe, W.L., 1964. Linguistic evidence for the relative age of Iroquois religious practices. Southwestern journal of Anthropology 20, 278–85.
Chang, K.C., 1967. Major aspects of the interrelationship of archaeology and ethnology. Current Anthropology 8, 227–43.
Charlton, T.H., 1981. Archaeology, ethnohistory, and ethnology: interpretive interfaces, in Advances in Archaeological Method and Theory, vol. 4, ed. M.B., Schiffer. New York (NY): Academic Press, 129–76.
Clarke, D.L., 1978. Analytical Archaeology. 2nd ed.New York (NY): Columbia University Press.
Cooper, J.M., 1946. The culture of the northeastern Indian hunters: a reconstructive interpretation, in Man in Northeastern North America, ed. F., Johnson. (Papers of the Robert S. Peabody Foundation for Archaeology 3.) Andover (MA): Phillips Academy, 272305.
Count, E. W., 1952. The earth-diver and the rival twins: a clue to time correlation in North-Eurasiatic and North American mythology, in Indian Tribes of Aboriginal America, ed. S., Tax. Chicago (IL): University of Chicago Press, 5562.
Deetz, J., 1988. History and archaeological theory: Walter Taylor revisited.American Antiquity 53, 1322.
Demarest, A.A., 1989. Ideology and evolutionism in American archaeology: looking beyond the economic base, in Archaeological Thought in America, ed. C.C., Lamberg-Karlovsky. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 89102.
Driver, H.E. & W.C., Massey, 1957. Comparative studies of North American Indians. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society (n.s.) 47, 165456.
Eliade, M., 1964. Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy. Princeton (NJ): Princeton University Press.
Fenton, W.N., 1948. The present status of anthropology in northeastern North America: a review article. American Anthropologist 50, 494515.
Fenton, W.N., 1951. Iroquois studies at the mid-century. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 95, 296310.
Fenton, W.N., 1987. The False Faces of the Iroquois. Norman (OK): University of Oklahoma Press.
Fitzhugh, W.W. & A., Crowell (eds.), 1988. Crossroads of Continents: Cultures of Siberia and Alaska. Washington (DC): Smithsonian Institution Press.
Flannery, K.V., 1982. The Golden Marshalltown: a parable for the archeology of the 1980s. American Anthropologist 84, 265–78.
Flannery, R., 1939. An Analysis of Coastal Algonquian Culture. (The Catholic University of America Anthropological Series 7.) Washington (DC): Catholic University of America Press.
Fritz, J.M., 1978. Paleopsychology today: ideational systems and human adaptation in prehistory, in Social Archeology: Beyond Subsistence and Dating, eds. C.L., Redman, M.J., Berman, E.V., Curtin, W.T., Langhorne, Jr., N.M., Versaggi & J.C., Wanser. New York (NY): Academic Press, 3759.
Furst, P., 1977. The roots and continuities of shamanism, in Stones, Bones and Skin: Ritual and Shamanic Art, ed. Society for Art Publications. Toronto: Society for Art Publications, 128.
Geertz, C 1973. The Interpretation of Cultures. New York(NY): Basic Books.
Gibbon, G., 1984. Anthropological Archaeology. New York(NY): Columbia University Press.
Gould, R.A., 1978. Beyond analogy in ethnoarchaeology, in Explorations in Ethnoarchaeology, ed. R.A., Gould. Albuquerque (NM): University of New Mexico Press, 249–93.
Gould, R.A., 1980. Living Archaeology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Gould, R.A., 1985. The empiricist strikes back: reply to Binford. American Antiquity 50, 638–44.
Hall, R.L., 1977. An anthropocentric perspective for eastern United States prehistory. American Antiquity 42, 499518.
Hallowell, A.I., 1926. Bear ceremonialism in the northern hemisphere. American Anthropologist 28, 1175.
Hamell, G.R., 1983. Trading in metaphors: the magic of beads, in Proceedings of the 1982 Glass Trade Bead Conference, ed. C.F., Hayes III. Rochester Museum and Science Center Research Records 16. Rochester (NY): Rochester Museum and Science Center, 528.
Hamell, G.R., 1987. Strawberries, floating islands, and rabbit captains: mythical realities and European contact in the Northeast during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Journal of Canadian Studies 21, 7294.
Harrold, F.B. & R.A., Eve, 1987. Patterns of creationist belief among college students, in Cult Archaeology and Creationism: Understanding Pseudosckntific Beliefs About the Past, eds. H.F., Francis & R.A., Eve. Iowa City (IO): University of Iowa Press, 6890.
Hatt, G., 1949. Asiatic influences in American folklore. Danske Videnskabernes Selskab, Historisk-FilologiskeMeddelelser 31(6), 1122.
Hawkes, C.F., 1954. Archeological theory and method: some suggestions from the Old World. American Anthropologist 56, 155–68.
Helskog, K., 1987. Selective depictions: a study of 3500 years of rock carvings from arctic Norway and their relationship to the Sami Drums, in Archaeology as Long-Term History, ed. I., Hodder. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1730.
Hill, J.N., 1989. Archeology in the 1990s? Anthropology Newsletter 30(9), 20, 28.
Hill, J.N., 1990. Prehistoric cognition and the science of archaeology. Paper presented at the 1990 conference on ‘A Scientific Cognitive Archaeology’, Cambridge, England.
Hodder, I., 1982a. Symbols in Action: Ethnoarchaeological Studies of Material Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hodder, I., 1982b. The Present Past: An Introduction to Anthropology For Archaeologists. New York (NY): Pica Press.
Hodder, I. (ed.), 1982c. Symbolic and Structural Archaeology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hodder, I., 1987. The contribution of the long term, in Archaeology as Long-Term History, ed. I., Hodder. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 18.
Hodder, I., 1989. This is not an article about material culture as text. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 8, 250–69.
Hultkrantz, A., 1953. Conceptions of the Soul Among North American Indians: A Study in Religious Ethnology. (Ethnographical Museum of Sweden Monograph Series, Publication 1.) Stockholm: Ethnographical Museum of Sweden.
Hultkrantz, A., 1957. The North American Indian Orpheus Tradition. (Statens Etnografiska Museum Monograph 2.) Stockholm: Statens Etnografiska Museum.
Hultkrantz, A., 1978. Ecological and phenomenological aspects of shamanism, in Shamanism in Siberia, eds. V., Diószegi & M., Hoppál. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 2758.
Hultkrantz, A., 1981. North American Indian religions in a circumpolar perspective, in North American Indian Studies: European Contributions, ed. P., Hovens. Göttingen: Edition Herodot, 1128.
Jorgensen, J.G., 1983. Comparative traditional economics and ecological adaptations. Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 10, in Southwest, ed. O., Ortiz. Washington (DC): Smithsonian Institution Press, 684710.
Kearney, M., 1984. World View. Novato (CA): Chandler & Sharp.
Kluckhohn, C., 1953. Universal categories of culture, in Anthropology Today, ed. A.L., Kroeber. Chicago (IL): University of Chicago Press, 507–23.
Kroeber, A.L., 1939. Cultural and natural areas of native North America. University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology 38, 1242.
Kroeber, A.L., 1952. History and science in anthropology, in The Nature of Culture by A.L. Kroeber. (First published in 1935). Chicago (IL): University of Chicago Press, 6365.
La Barre, W., 1970a. The Ghost Dance: Origins of Religion. Garden City (NY): Doubleday.
La Barre, W., 1970b. Old and New World narcotics: a statistical question and an ethnological reply. Economic Botany 24, 7380.
La Barre, W., 1972. Hallucinogens and the shamanic origins of religion, in Flesh of the Gods, ed. P.T., Furst. New York (NY): Praeger, 261–78.
La Barre, W., 1975. Anthropological perspectives on hallucination and hallucinogens, in Hallucinations: Behavior, Experience, and Theory, eds. R.K., Siegel & L.J., West. New York (NY): John Wiley & Sons, 952.
La Barre, W., 1979. Shamanic origins of religion and medicine. Journal of Psychedelic Drugs 11, 711.
La Barre, W., 1984. Muelos: A Stone Age Superstition About Sexuality. New York (NY): Columbia University Press.
Leone, M.P., 1982. Some opinions about recovering mind. American Antiquity 47, 742–60.
Leone, M.P., 1986. Symbolic, structural, and critical archaeology, in American Archaeology Past and Future, eds. D.J., Meltzer, D.D., Fowler & J.A., Sabloff. Washington (DC): Smithsonian Institution Press, 415–38.
Lessa, W.A. & Vogt, E.Z., 1958. Reader in Comparative Religion: An Anthropological Approach. Evanston (IL): Row & Peterson.
Lévi-Strauss, C., 1963. Structural Anthropology. New York (NY): Basic Books.
Lewis-Williams, J.D., 1984. Ideological continuities in prehistoric southern Africa: the evidence of rock art, in Past and Present in Hunter Gatherer Studies, ed. C., Schrire. New York (NY): Academic Press, 225–52.
Lewis-Williams, J.D. & Dowson, T.A., 1988. The signs of all times: entoptic phenomena in Upper Palaeolithic art. Current Anthropology 29, 201–15.
Lowie, R.H., 1919. The Tobacco Society of the Crow Indians. Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History 21, 101200
Lowie, R.H., 1934. Religious ideas and practices of the Eurasiatic and North American areas, in Essays Presented to C.G. Seligman, eds. E.E., Evans-Pritchard, R., FirthB., Malinowski & I., Schapera. London: Kegan Paul, Trench & Trubner.
MacNeish, R.S., 1978. The Science of Archaeology? North Scituate (MA): Duxbury.
McNett, C.W., Jr., 1979. The cross-cultural method in archaeology, in Advances in Archaeological Method and Theory, vol. II, ed. M.B., Schiffer. New York (NY): Academic Press, 3976.
Miller, D., 1985. Ideology and the Harappan Civilization. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 4, 34.
Morris, H.M. (ed.), 1974. Scientific Creationism. San Diego (CA): Creation-Life
Mundkur, B., 1983. The Cult of the Serpent: An Interdisciplinary Survey of its Manifestations and Origins. Albany (NY): State University Press.
Murdock, G.P., 1945. The common denominator of cultures, in The Science of Man in the World Crisis, ed. R., Linton. New York (NY): Columbia University Press, 123–42.
Murdock, G.P., 1949. Social Structure. New York (NY): Macmillan.
Murray, T. & Walker, M.J. 1988. Like what? A practical question of analogical inference and archaeological meaningfulness. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 7, 248–87.
Nachtigal, H., 1976. The culture-historical origin of shamanism, in The Realm of the Extra-Human, ed.A., Bharati. The Hague: Mouton, 315–22.
Noll, R., 1985. Mental imagery cultivation as a cultural phenomenon: the roleof visions in shamanism. Current Anthropology 26, 443–61.
Piggott, S., 1965. Ancient Europe From the Beginnings of Agriculture to Classical Antiquity. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Plog, F.T., 1974. The Study of Prehistoric Change. New York(NY): Academic Press.
Prentice, G., 1986. An analysis of the symbolism expressed by the Birger figurine. American Antiquity 51, 239–66.
Redman, C.L., 1991. Distinguished lecture in archeology: in defense of the seventies - the adolescence of New Archeology. American Anthropologist 93, 295307.
Reichel-Dolmatoff, G., 1971. Amazonian Cosmos: The Sexual and Religious Symbolism of the Tukano Indians. Chicago(IL): University of Chicago Press.
Rowe, J.H., 1966. Diffusionism and archaeology. American Antiquity 31, 334–7.
Sapir, E., 1951. Time perspective in aboriginal American culture: a study in method, in Selected Writings of Edward Sapir in Language, Culture and Personality, ed. D.G., Mandelbaum. (First published in 1916). Berkeley(CA): University of California Press, 389–62.
Schiffer, M.B., 1978. Methodological issues in ethnoarchaeology, in Explorations in Ethnoarchaeology, ed. R.A., Gould. Albuquerque (NM): University of New Mexico Press, 229–47.
Schiffer, M.B., 1988. The structure of archaeological theory. American Antiquity 53, 461–85.
Schmidt, P.R., 1983. An alternative to a strictly materialist perspective: a review of historical archaeology, ethnoarchaeology, and symbolic approaches in African archaeology. American Antiquity 48, 6279.
Spiro, M., 1982. Oedipus in the Trobriands. Chicago (IL): University of Chicago Press.
Steward, J.H., 1942. The direct historical approach to archaeology. American Antiquity 7, 337–43.
Steward, J.H., 1955. Theory of Culture Change. Urbana (IL): University of Illinois Press.
Sullivan, A.P., 1978. Inference and evidence in archaeology: a discussion of the conceptual problems, in Advances in Archaeological Method and Theory, vol. 1, ed. M.B., Schiffer. New York (NY): Academic Press, 183222.
Taylor, W.W., 1964. A Study of Archeology. (First published in 1948). Carbondale (IL): Southern Illinois University Press.
Tooker, E., 1960. Three aspectsof northern Iroquoian culture change. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 30, 6571.
Tooker, E., 1970. Thelroquois Ceremonial of Midwinter. Syracuse (NY): Syracuse University Press.
Trigger, B.G., 1989a. A History of Archaeological Thought1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Trigger, B.G., 1989b. Hyperrelativism, responsibility, and the social sciences. Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology 26, 776–97.
Trigger, B.G., 1991. Distinguished lecture in archeology: constraint and freedom - a new synthesis for archeological explanation. American Anthropologist 93, 551–69.
Tuzin, D., 1984. Miraculous voices: the auditory experience of numinous objects. Current Anthropology 25, 579–96.
van Gennep, A., 1960. The Rites of Passage. Chicago (IL): University of Chicago Press.
Vastokas, J.M., 1977. The shamanic tree of life, in Stones, Bones and Skin: Ritual and Shamanic Art, ed. Society for Art Publications. Toronto: Society for Art Publications, 93117.
von Gernet, A. & Timmins, P., 1987. Pipes and parakeets: constructing meaning in an early Iroquoian context, in Archaeology as Long-Term History, ed. I., Hodder. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 3142.
von Grunebaum, G.E. & Caillois, R., 1966. The Dream and Human Societies. Berkeley & Los Angeles (CA): University of California Press.
Wallace, A.F.C., 1984. The career of William N. Fenton and the development of Iroquoian studies, in Extending the Rafters: Interdisciplinary Approaches tolroquoian Studies, eds. M.K., Foster, J., Campisi & M., Mithun. Albany (NY): State University of New York Press, 112.
Wallis, W.D., 1945. Inference of relative age of culture traits from magnitude of distribution. Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 1, 142–59.
Watson, P.J., LeBlanc, S. A. & Redman, C.L., 1984. Archeological Explanation: The Scientific Method in Archeology. New York (NY): Columbia University Press.
Watson, R.A., 1990. Ozymandias, king of kings: postprocessual radical archaeology as critique. American Antiquity 55, 673–89.
Whitley, D.S., 1992a. Shamanism and rock art in far western North America. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 2(1), 89113.
Whitley, D.S., 1992b. Prehistory and post-positivist science: a prolegomenon to cognitive archaeology, in Archaeological Method and Theory, vol. 4, ed. M.B., Schiffer. Tucson (AZ): University of Arizona Press, 57100.
Wissler, C., 1917. The American Indian: An Introduction to the Anthropology of the New World. New York (NY): D.C. McMurtrie.
Witthoft, J., 1949. Green Corn Ceremonialism in the Eastern Woodlands. (Occasional Contributions from the Museum of Anthropology of the University of Michigan 13). Ann Arbor (MI): University of Michigan Press.
Wolf, E., 1982. Europe and the People Without History. Berkeley (CA): University of California Press.
Wylie, A., 1982. An analogy by any other name is just as analogical: a commentary on the Gould-Watson dialogue. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 1, 382401.
Wylie, A., 1985. The reaction against analogy, in Advances in Archaeological Method and Theory, vol. 8, ed. M.B., Schiffer. New York (NY): Academic Press, 63111.
Young, T.C., Jr., 1988. Since Herodotus, has history been a valid concept? American Antiquity 53, 712.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Cambridge Archaeological Journal
  • ISSN: 0959-7743
  • EISSN: 1474-0540
  • URL: /core/journals/cambridge-archaeological-journal
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed