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Alligator Mound is an animal effigy mound in central Ohio, USA. Since Ephraim Squier and Edwin Davis first recorded and mapped it in 1848, many have speculated regarding its age and meaning, but with remarkably little systematic archaeological investigation. Many scholars have assumed the Hopewell culture (c. 100 BC-AD 400) built the mound, based principally on its proximity to the Newark Earthworks. The Hopewell culture, however, is not known to have built other effigy mounds. Limited excavations in 1999 revealed details of mound stratigraphy and recovered charcoal embedded in mound fill near the base of the mound. This charcoal yielded radiocarbon dates that average between AD 1170 and 1270, suggesting that the Late Prehistoric Fort Ancient culture (c. AD 1000-1550) made the mound. This result coincides with dates obtained for Serpent Mound in southern Ohio and suggests that the construction of effigy mounds in eastern North America was restricted to the Late Woodland and Late Prehistoric traditions. Ethnographic and ethnohistoric analogies suggest that the so-called 'Alligator' might actually represent the Underwater Panther and have served as a shrine for invoking the aid of supernatural powers.
People dwell in a world of their own subjective making. For many hunters, engagement with the ‘natural’ world is a negotiated affair because animals, like people, possess spirits. A critical part of the negotiation process is mediation of the human–prey relationship by hunting magic. Torres Strait Islanders of NE Australia are skilled hunters of dugongs, a marine mammal whose capture entails a broad range of ritual practices. Following ethnographic expectations, excavation of bone mounds reveals ritual treatment of dugong bones, especially skulls, to increase hunting success. Extensive use of dugong bones in ritual sites has important implications for the extent to which ‘secular’ midden deposits are representative of Islander subsistence practices. Since dugong bone mounds provide archaeological insights into Islander spiritual relationships with dugongs, chronological changes in use of these sites inform us about historical developments in Islander ontology and their ritual orchestration of seascapes and spiritual connections to the sea.
Concerned with the ‘meaning’, variability and material transformation of the sacred oboo cairns of Inner Asia, this study focuses upon four of these stone settings within the environs of Mergen Monastery. Two have been rebuilt since their destruction during the Cultural Revolution, and one markedly registers its recent history. The layout of these complex monuments (involving diverse ancillary elements) reflects the processes of Buddhicization of the landscape. Comparison between their form and Buddhist texts outlining oboo construction allows appraisal of their prescription and actuality. These monuments raise issues relevant beyond their immediate cultural and geographical context, as they express an interplay between history and ‘timelessness’; the latter effectively amounting to a ‘reincarnation’ of material culture (i.e. denial of change). Finally, the deployment of oboos relates to broader concepts of landscape orientation; their relationship with Mongolian directional systems is explored.
In October of 2002, Patricia A. Helvenston and Paul G. Bahn published a paper entitled ‘Desperately Seeking Trance Plants: Testing the “Three Stages of Trance” Model’. That paper presented a critique of the ‘Three Stages of Trance’ model as proposed by J.D. Lewis-Williams and T.A. Dowson in 1988 to account for mental imagery as perceived by people in ‘certain altered states of consciousness’ that they believed inspired Palaeolithic cave art. Helvenston & Bahn chose to publish their paper privately, but supplied the following summary of their argument. It is accompanied here by comments from a neuropsychologist (John L. Bradshaw) and a rock-art specialist (Christopher Chippindale).
SPECIAL SECTION: Embodying Identity in Archaeology
This article provides a brief overview of recent archaeological literature about bodily constructions of identity. We introduce themes of embodiment, landscape, appearance, representation, and symbolism and discuss how presentations of the body are used to construct identities in social contexts. By focusing on the ways in which individuals create and experience themselves through their bodies, archaeologists are better able to comprehend them as culturally-specific, multiply-constituted social beings. The presentation of self can then be used to interpret the social and physical aspects (gender, race, religion, sexuality, age, etc.) that are key to the construction of identities in everyday life.
This article examines the boundaries of clothing and the body in constructions of political identity in French colonial Louisiana. The study situates constructions of political identity among regulatory demands over the bodies of colonial subjects and the practices of taste and social distinction. It is argued that dress allowed colonial subjects to move into political spaces usually occupied by European colonizers. Archaeological, ethnohistoric, and visual data are used to investigate how French colonizers attempted to construct a body politic by regulating dress and the bodies of colonial subjects, while colonial ‘others’ attempted to constitute themselves as political bodies through self-fashioning.
Judith Butler's proposal that embodiment is a process of repeated citation of precedents leads us to consider the experiential effects of Mesoamerican practices of ornamenting space with images of the human body. At Late Classic Maya Copáan, life-size human sculptures were attached to residences, intimate settings in which body knowledge was produced and body practices institutionalized. Moving through the space of these house compounds, persons would have been insistently presented with measures of their bodily decorum. These insights are used to consider the possible effects on people of movement around Formative period Olmec human sculptures, which are not routinely recovered in such well-defined contexts as those of the much later Maya sites.
Through an analysis of hand-modelled human figurines created in the Ulua River Valley of northern Honduras between 900 and 200 bc, this article explores the recursive links between crafting representations of bodies and crafting physical bodies. ‘Playa de los Muertos’-style figurines are characterized by extremely detailed treatment of hair and ornaments. They have been treated as unique portraits, each individualized, and have resisted broader archaeological interpretation. Drawing on recent excavation data, this article explores the treatment of bodies and representations of bodies within a single set of interconnected villages as material media of embodiment.
David Lewis-Williams is well-known in rock-art circles as the author of a series of articles drawing on ethnographic material and shamanism (notably connected with the San rock art of southern Africa) to gain new insights into the Palaeolithic cave art of western Europe. Some 15 years ago, with Thomas Dowson, he proposed that Palaeolithic art owed its inspiration at least in part to trance experiences (altered states of consciousness) associated with shamanistic practices. Since that article appeared, the shamanistic hypothesis has both been widely adopted and developed in the study of different rock-art traditions, and has become the subject of lively and sometimes heated controversy. In the present volume, Lewis-Williams takes the argument further, and combines the shamanistic hypothesis with an interpretation of the development of human consciousness. He thus enters another contentious area of archaeological debate, seeking to understand west European cave art in the context of (and as a marker of) the new intellectual capacities of anatomically modern humans. Radiocarbon dates for the earliest west European cave art now place it contemporary with the demise of the Neanderthals around 30,000 years ago, and cave art, along with carved or decorated portable items, appears to announce the arrival and denote the success of modern humans in this region. Lewis-Williams argues that such cave art would have been beyond the capabilities of Neanderthals, and that this kind of artistic ability is unique to anatomically modern humans. Furthermore, he concludes that the development of the new ability cannot have been the product of hundreds of thousands of years of gradual hominid evolution, but must have arisen much more abruptly, within the novel neurological structure of anatomically modern humans. The Mind in the Cave is thus the product of two hypotheses, both of them contentious — the shamanistic interpretation of west European Upper Palaeolithic cave art, and the cognitive separation of modern humans and Neanderthals. But is it as simple as that? Was cave art the hallmark of a new cognitive ability and social consciousness that were beyond the reach of previous hominids? And is shamanism an outgrowth of the hard-wired structure of the modern human brain? We begin this Review Feature with a brief summary by David Lewis-Williams of the book's principal arguments. There follows a series of comments addressing both the meaning of the west European cave art, and its wider relevance for the understanding of the Neanderthal/modern human transition.