Archives For Archaeology

As some Pagans attempt to revive ancient or indigenous religions they often rely on the work of historians, primary texts and archaeologists. For this reason, when something new pops up that challenges long held academic ideas on cultural or religious practice, we pay attention. Here are some of the new(er) finds making waves in archaeological circles.

Economic analysis proves another theory of Delphi’s power:

The Oracle of Delphi was located between the powerful Greek city-states of Athens, Corinth, Sparta, and Thebes and was extremely influential starting in the 8th century BCE. Once a month petitioners would gather at the site to ask the Oracle of Apollon, called the Pythia, questions about what they should do in any given situation. The answers were thought to come directly from Apollon to the Pythia but were often riddles that the petitioner must puzzle out for himself. The rich and powerful were no exception and they often gathered in advance and mingled and traded information.

Aegeus receiving the oracle of Delphi painted on a kylix,  440 BCE. [Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin]

Aegeus receiving the oracle of Delphi painted on a kylix, 440 BCE. [Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin]

Prof. Colleen Haight, an associate professor of economics at San Jose State University, uses economic analysis as an analytic lens to help explain what she calls “seemingly irrational behavior such as relying upon the supernatural judgment of an oracle to make life-and-death decisions.”

The economic theory of how religion affects cultures have largely been split between monopolistic state religions and laissez faire religious competition. Religious monoplies mean that the secular ruler is also in control of the relious institutions. This allows them greater control over their population, but can breed distrust in the legiticmacy of both the religion and ruler. Laissez faire religious competition is a benefit to religious groups, which are often numerous in an area, but doesn’t grant any more power to secular rulers.

Prof. Haight posits a third theory that fits Delphi – the neutral nexus.

In this situation, secular leaders maintain control over their own cults within their own territory, but also rely upon an outside, third-party source of religious legitimation for their rule. This is the role that the Oracle of Delphi played. With several ancient Greek city-states essentially locked in a balance of power, the city of Delphi could assert its neutrality amidst the larger political players of the region (i.e, Sparta, Athens, Corinth, and Thebes). More importantly, the rulers of each of these city-states could use the Delphic Oracle as a source of information regarding future military campaigns or other major decisions.  It was in the interest of each of secular rulers both to provide the oracle with valid information and to rely upon its pronouncements as valid. In many ways, this helped to mitigate conflict between the different regional powers. It was only when one ruler (Philip II of Macedon) was able to consolidate territorial power over the bulk of ancient Greece that the Delphic Oracle lost its neutrality and, hence, its authoritative power.

You can listen to the podcast interview with Prof. Haight here.

Tomb of Alexander the Great’s mother found?

Greece is abuzz on the discovery of a tomb of a royal queen that dates back to the period immediately following the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE. The tomb, located beneath the great mound at Amphipolis in Macedonia, is considered such a significant find it was unveiled in August, during a visit by Greek prime minister, Antonis Samaras. Greek Reporter writer Andrew Chugg believe the tomb is that of Alexander’s mother, Olympias.

This tomb, if it is that of Olympias, would be of particular interest to those Pagans who worship Alexander as a deified Hero. In mythos, Olympias was impregnated by Zeus’ thunderbolt and Alexander was the result of that union. Olympias helped Alexander to become King after her husband, Philip II of Macedon, was assassinated. Alexander went on to become on of the greatest military generals of all time, building one of the largest empires of the ancient world through conquest. It stretched from Greece, into Egypt, and into present-day Pakistan. When he died at age 30, his empire was divided up between his generals. After a brief revolt by his mother and his wife, Roxane, against the general who took control of Macedonia, both women were put to death along with Alexander’s son, Alexander IV.

The tomb is thought to be Olympias because of the size, the decorations that closely resemble the tombs of Alexander’s father and his son, the unusual presence of sphinxes, and its location.

Painted decoration in the tomb at Amphipolis (left) and the tomb of Alexander IV (right) - [Greek Reporter]

Painted decoration in the tomb at Amphipolis (left) and the tomb of Alexander IV (right) – [Greek Reporter]

On this evidence I consider Olympias to be the leading contender at the time of writing (6/9/2014) for the occupant of the magnificent tomb at Amphipolis currently being excavated with Roxane also a strong possibility. It should be recalled that the tomb mound has a diameter of 155m, larger even than the Great Tumulus at Aegae and posing the question of whom the Macedonians would conceivably have spent this much money and effort upon commemorating, Olympias is by far the most convincing answer at present. Although it is true that the ancient accounts say that she was unpopular at the time of her death, it is nevertheless clear that she was only really unpopular with Cassander’s faction, whereas Cassander himself was sufficiently worried about her popularity as to arrange her immediate death in order to prevent her addressing the Macedonian Assembly (Diodorus 19.51). Furthermore, her army under Aristonous stayed loyal to her cause long after she herself had surrendered. Ultimately, her cause was seen at the time as identical with the cause of Alexander himself, so it was in a sense Alexander whom they honoured by building his mother a spectacular tomb.

You can read more about the tomb here.

With Viking burials, a sword does not a man make:

A new study of Viking burial remains in England is challenging the previously widely held theory that Viking women stayed home. It’s also firming up a changing view of Vikings from violent thieves to marriage-minded colonists.

The Vikings invaded England in waves starting around 900 AD and founded a medieval kingdom called theDanelaw. Originally, archaeologists thought the Viking settlers consisted almost exclusively of men because of written Christian accounts and because most of the Vikings buried in England from that time were buried with swords and knives.

A new study of 14 Viking burials published in the Early Medieval Europe Journal by Shane McLeod of the Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies at the University of Western Australia puts those assumptions in doubt.

10th century Viking grave in England. [British Department of Culture, Media and Sport.]

10th century Viking grave in England. [British Department of Culture, Media and Sport.]

McLeod reports that 6 of the 14 bodies are women, seven were men, and one was indeterminable. This was determined by examining isotopes found in their bones and looking at the osteological signs of which gender they belonged to, rather than assuming that burial with a sword or knife denoted a male.

For example, at one mass burial, three swords were found and yet all three bodies whose sex could be determined were female. This new study suggests that women made up roughly ½ to 1/3 of Viking settlers in England.

A nice look at the new evidence and what it means for the idea of Viking female warriors can be found in a comment on an article here.

Solomon’s mines worked by Magicians, not slaves:

In another theory that turns out to not be true, the Edomite’s who worked King Solomon’s copper mines in Timna were highly paid “quazi-magicians,” not slaves. Of course, they may not have been working for Solomon, either, but Egypt. Or themselves.

Archaeologists originally thought the workers were slaves because of the harsh desert conditions, how uncomfortable it would be to work the hot furnaces, and a massive stone wall that was thought to prevent escape. The Timna valley is located in present day Southern Israel.

Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef and Dr. Lidar Sapir-Hen, of TAU’s Department of Archaeology and Near Eastern Cultures, say the workers were highly skilled, and highly pampered, artisans. They analyzed the remnants of food from 3,000 years ago, which were perfectly preserved by the arid conditions of the site. The workers who manned the highly sophisticated kilns were fed imported and expensive meats, fruits, and grains. The wall, once thought to keep slaves in, is now thought to be a protective barrier to keep workers safe. They also claim the advanced skills needed to work copper would place these artisans in a social class similar to that of “quasi-magicians” because the complex process, in which 30-40 different variables were managed by the smelter, would seem like magic to ordinary persons of that time. The mines themselves, however, may have used slaves or criminals for labor.

[Wikipedia Commons]

The Timna Valley mines are located in the southern edge of the Kingdom of Edom [Wikipedia Commons]

The kingdom of Edom was located in the Southern Levant south of Judea on the shores of the Dead Sea. Its people were Semetic and followed a Canaanite religion, although not much is known about their specific practices. Canaanite religions were typically polytheistic, with a strong focus on ancestral household deities. According to Jewish tradition, the Edomites were conquered by Israel in the late 11th century BCE, although archaeologists argue that the scale of 10th century BCE mining on Edom lands and signs of sporadic wars with neighbors over many centuries, are evidence of a strong and independent Edomite kingdom well into the 4th century BCE.

Stonehenge has a sibling (and then some):

Archaeologists, using ground-penetrating radar, magnetometry and other techniques, have found 50 massive stones buried just 2 miles away from Stonehenge. The sibling henge, along with 17 other Neolitihic and Bronze age religious monuments, were found during a four year investigation into Stonehenge’s sacred landscape. The finds indicate the monuments formed a processional walkway to the main sacred site and formed a cohesive religious complex.

xxx

[Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project]

The sibling henge, dubbed Superhenge, helped form a c-shaped enclosure and it faced the river Avon. Later it was fully enclosed to make a circle.

The monument was later converted from a c-shaped to a roughly circular enclosure, now known as Durrington Walls – Britain’s largest pre-historic henge, roughly 12 times the size of Stonehenge itself. As a religious complex, it would almost certainly have had a deeply spiritual and ritual connection with the river. But precisely why is a complete mystery, although it is possible that that particular stretch of water was regarded as a deity.

The sibling henge stones are roughly 10 ft long and 5 feet wide and are laying down horizontally, although they could have originally stood vertically in the ground. It’s estimated they were placed on site around 2500BC.

“This radically changes our view of Stonehenge,” said Vince Gaffney, head of the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project at Birmingham University. “In the past we had this idea that Stonehenge was standing in splendid isolation, but it wasn’t … it’s absolutely huge.”

You can see images and links to more information of the new discoveries at the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project.

A two-part special BBC Two documentary (Operation Stonehenge: What Lies Beneath), being shown tonight and next Thursday, is set to reveal the details of many of the investigation’s new discoveries.

As some Pagans attempt to revive ancient or indigenous religions they often rely on the work of historians, primary texts and archaeologists. For this reason, when something new pops up that challenges long held academic ideas on cultural or religious practice, we pay attention. Here are some of the new(er) finds making waves in archaeological circles.

Previously unknown ancient culture found in Peru
Archaeologists working in the Atacama Desert in Peru discovered more than 150 burials belonging to a previously unknown farming culture dating to between the 4th-7th century CE.

Artifacts found in one of the graves. [Photo: Archives of the Tambo Project of the University of Wrocław]

Artifacts found in one of the graves. [Photo: Archives of the Tambo Project of the University of Wrocław]

The graves didn’t have any stone structures or other ways to mark them, and experts think this may be why they were not looted by grave robbers or found by earlier explorers. The desert conditions also preserved the graves, and many artifacts were discovered with the bodies. The items found in the graves show that there were clear social divisions. Some of the items uncovered were headgear made of felted lama wool, decorated weaving tools, jewelry, bows, and arrows with obsidian heads. The differences in quality show that some persons were more powerful than others and could afford to take such treasures into the afterlife with them.

The bodies were wrapped in woven mats, cotton burial shrouds, or nets. What was most curious was the reeds attached to the ears of the bodies which poked up out of the graves. Archaeologists think the reeds may have enabled the living to communicate with the dead.

 

Controversial sale of Sekhama statue completed
A statue of an Egyptian scribe named Sekhama was recently sold to a private buyer by the Northampton Museum. The museum said the sale was necessary to raise funds to reinvest in other cultural projects. Egyptian Antiquities Minister Mamdouh El-Damati opposed the exchange saying private sales of ancient artifacts are against the values of museums world wide as they should act as vessels to spread culture, rather than businesses searching for a profit.

[Promotional video by Christie's Auction House]

The 4500 year old limestone statue stands only 30 inches high, but is considered culturally important due to the detailed scroll on his lap listing his funeral offerings.

Due to the sale, the Northampton Museum may be found in breach of the Museums Association Code of Ethics. If it loses its Museums Association Accreditation, public, charity, or lottery funding may be cut off.

The statue was put up for auction by Christie’s Auction House on July 10 and sold for a reported $20 million.

 

Newly uncovered Roman tombs display different funeral rites
Archaeologists uncovered a new cemetery in the old Roman port of Ostia. The funeral rites included cremations and burials. The variation wasn’t limited to a specific time period and all remains are from a single extended family. The cemetery “shows the free choice that everyone had with their own body, a freedom people no longer had in the Christian era when burial became the norm,” said Paola Germoni, the director of the sprawling dig.

Ostia was a bustling, cosmopolitan city dating back to the 7th century BCE and was Rome’s main port. The city was also quite large – larger than Pompeii.

 

Fabled city Thonis-Heracleion found
Like Troy,Thonis-Heracleion was once believed to be a myth. In fact, archaeologists thought Thonis-Heracleion were two separate cities. But Thonis is its Egyptian name and Heracleion is the Greek name. Found by French underwater archaeologist Franck Goddio in 2000, this ancient city near Alexandria is revealing that it not only existed, but played an important role in ancient Egyptian religion and commerce.

Click this link for spectacular photos

Founded in the 12th century BCE, Thonis-Heracleion was the port of entry to Egypt for all ships coming from the Greek world. It also had a religious importance due to the grand temple of Amun and his son Khonsou (Herakles to the Greeks). Also discovered was the head of a colossal statue of the god Hapi. Hapi is the god of the flooding of the Nile, who granted abundance and fertility. That large of a representation of Hapi has never been found before and casts new light on his importance in Egyptian religion.

Thonis-Heracleion had its peak occupation from the 6th to the 4th century BC and is thought to have been destroyed over 1,200 years ago, possibly due to major earthquakes and floods. It now lies 4 miles off today’s coastline.

Although the excavation has been going for over 13 years, new and well preserved discoveries are being made constantly. Keep your eyes open for more news on Thonis-Heracleion and how those discoveries are changing views on ancient Greco-Egyptian culture and religion.

 

70,000 year old African settlement shows they did it first
The first permanent living structures were thought to have been made by humans as they left Africa for colder areas of Europe or Asia. A 70,000 year old northern Sudan village is challenging that long held assumption.

Archaeologists say Affad, the name they are calling the dig site, not only had wood living structures, but also had a large flint workshop and a space for cutting hunted animal carcasses. They’re also trying to pin down a more exact date for when the village was inhabted. So far they know Affad existed some time during the Middle Palaeolithic period when the area was a wetlands. However, the region was a wetlands during two different time periods; about 75 millennia and about 25 millennia ago.

Remnants of the Palaeolithic settlements in Affad. [Image: M. Osypińska]

Remnants of the Palaeolithic settlements in Affad. [Image: M. Osypińska]

 

Did Nero really have a revolving restaurant?
It appears he did.

The dining room was first discovered in 2009, but it took them years to figure out what it was and what it was designed to do. Archaeologists at first didn’t know what they had under their feet. They were on an artificial terrace constructed by the Flavians, which they built over the top of Nero’s famous palace. However, the retaining wall was too thin to hold up the terrace. They wanted to know why it hadn’t collapsed, so they did what archaeologists do – they started digging.

They found a round 39 foot tall tower with a 13 foot diameter central pillar and eight arches supporting two floors. Along the top of the upper arches were holes filled with slippery clay. This was the clue needed to uncover the purpose for the room. The holes would contain ball bearings and the slip was a lubricant, and this supported a revolving floor. The floor’s constant movement may have been powered by a system of water and gears.

Model of the parts of the revolving dining room [Francoise Villedieu and Edikom]

Model of the parts of the revolving dining room [Credit: Francoise Villedieu and Edikom]

Roman historian Suetonius had written that Nero’s “main dining room was round, and revolved continuously on itself, day and night, like the world.” However most historians thought this was exaggeration typical of early ‘historical’ accounts.

Lead site archaeologist Francois Villedieu says the proof that this was Nero’s revolving dining room isn’t definitive, and the claim caused enough controversy that funding for the excavation was delayed for several years, but he feels the clues are convincing. Now that funding is secured, the work can continue. 

Nero, best known as the emperor who fiddled while Rome burned, is emerging as more complex man. Most of what’s known about him comes from those who opposed his populist economic policies which favored the poor. He was a patron of the arts, and if the revolving dining room pans out, he may have been more involved with furthering science and technology than originally thought.

 

 

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

Coilhouse Issue #6

Coilhouse Issue #6

  • Excellent alternative culture magazine and blog Coilhouse is shutting down, though the creators are promising that this is a mere hiatus and that Coilhouse will return in some form in the future. Quote: “We can’t tell you what exactly is coming next, or when; we just know we have no intention of quitting. Potential directions that Coilhouse may move in somewhere down the line: books, apps, limited edition print/art objects, video, fashion collaborations. Smaller, more manageable one-shot projects that don’t break our backs. But first, we will have to re-strategize our business and production plans. Nothing is set in stone at the moment because, simply put, we need a break. We need to rest.” For now, they’ve made the six print issues of Coilhouse magazine available as free PDF downloads, a token of affection to fans and supporters. I highly recommend checking them out. 
  • Is the famous Celtic warrior-queen Boudicca buried beneath a McDonalds restaurant? It is rumored to be so. Quote: “Dr Mike Heyworth, the director of the Council for British Archaeology (CBA), said that experts are on the hunt for her burial place, at one point rumoured to be near what is now a McDonald’s restaurant in Birmingham, and he wouldn’t be surprised if she was unearthed in the next few years. There are contradictory but persistent tales (with “no element of truth”, according to the Museum of London) that she lies beneath either platform eight, nine or 10 at King’s Cross Station.” The big question is: what happens to her resting place once the bones are found? 
  • No, Easter was not originally the celebration of Ishtar. Let’s all be more critical of Facebook image memes, OK? 
  • At the Huffington Post Grove Harris discusses composting as a Springtime spiritual exercise. Quote: “Composting is in many ways one of the most spiritual of practices. It is the process that will feed the next cycle of life, which will take endings and serve new beginnings. It is powerfully renewing on many levels, and offers deep metaphoric guidance.”
  • Enforced celibacy doesn’t really work all that often, no matter what the religion/ideology is. The country of Bhutan is distributing condoms to Buddhist monasteries to stem the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Quote: “Warning signs of risky behavior among monks first appeared in 2009, when a report on risks and vulnerabilities of adolescents revealed that monks were engaging in “thigh sex” (in which a man uses another man’s clenched thighs for intercourse), according to the state-owned Kuensel daily.” So remember, use protection, make it available, no matter what the official rules are. 
The Joy of Sexus by Vicki León.

The Joy of Sexus by Vicki León.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of them I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Top Story: Indian Country Today reports on a new documentary, “Holy Man: The USA vs. Douglas White,” that looks at the case of a Lakota medicine man who was accused of abusing his two grandchildren. Jennifer Jessum and Simon Joseph, a husband and wife duo who produced and directed the film, knew White through a member of his family, and were shocked to hear about the charges made against him. After White was convicted and sentenced to prison, they investigated the matter and uncovered several “holes” in the prosecution, and eventually, saw one of the grandchildren recant his testimony.

[Roy Helper Jr.] met the film crew at a hotel in Rapid City, and he confessed on film that he had lied about the alleged abuse. He said that he and his brother, Lloyd, were under tremendous pressure from lawyers, judges and “people in suits,” and he said the experience was frightening. He also indicated that they were coaxed to say certain things. In return, they were told they would get money, toys, even a horse. (They received none of those things.) “We were just little, dumb, stupid Indian kids, being tossed around,” Helper says in Holy Man, his voice choked with emotion. “Eventually it’s going to come out. Like today.”

Despite a cascading series of events that proved White’s innocence, the U.S. Attorney’s office engaged in stalling and delaying tactics, and White died in prison in 2009 before he could be exonerated. There is now a petition to have President Obama posthumously exonerate Douglas White, apologize for his wrongful conviction, make reparations to White’s family, and initiate an investigation into the agents who pursued the case against White. The filmmakers are now working on issues of Tribal sovereignty, and the epidemic of teen suicide in Indian country. DVDs of the film are expected to be available this Summer.

In Other News:

  • Actress Lynn Collins, one of the stars of the new Disney film “John Carter,” tells an Irish reporter that she studied “mysticism, paganism, everything” and that ultimately “they’re all the same thing.”
  • Pagan and political scientist Gus diZerega has a new article published in The Independent Review entitled “Spontaneous Order and Liberalism’s Complex Relation to Democracy.” Here’s the abstract: “American and European liberalism began to take different paths in the nineteenth century, particularly with respect to their views on democracy. This divergence stems in part from the fact that liberal principles give rise to different types of spontaneous order, each of which generates unique patterns of social coordination.” You can download the article for free. For diZerega’s Pagan work, check out his column at Patheos, and his blog at Beliefnet.
  • Archaeologists in Norway have apparently uncovered a “unique” and “unparalleled” pre-Christian temple site. It is believed the temple was built around 400AD and that “the last people who used it over 1,000 years ago did their utmost to hide the entire system with an unusually thick layer of soil.” Despite the historic nature of the site, the land is scheduled to be cleared for a housing development. Applications are currently being made to have the site preserved.
  • Rev. G. Jude Geiger, a Unitarian Universalist minister, writes about the concept of religious freedom in our highly polarized political atmosphere. Quote: “By requiring citizens to follow the religious teachings of certain faith traditions, we in essence are asking our country to follow and abide by those particular traditions.”
  • The Supreme Court of the United States has refused to hear an appeal to a 9th Circuit Court decision that upheld a California state universities policy requiring all student groups, including religious groups, to not discriminate in membership on the basis of religion or sexual orientation. More on this, here. You’ll be hearing a LOT about this decision in the coming weeks, and I expect I’ll put in my two cents sooner rather than later.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Earlier this week I was talking about Pagan responses to threats against pre-Christian/pagan sites and artifacts, and now Chas Clifton points to an article from The Media Line (reprinted in several places) on rising hostility in Egypt against Western tourism, and calls to cover up famous objects from the Pharaonic period of ancient Egypt.

Osirid statues near Luxor.

Abd Al-Munim A-Shahhat, a spokesman for the Salafi group Dawa, has said that Egypt’s world-renowned pharaonic archeology – its pyramids, Sphinx and other monuments covered with un-Islamic imagery – should also be hidden from the public eye. “The pharaonic culture is a rotten culture,” A-Shahhat told the London-based Arabic daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat on Wednesday, saying the faces of ancient statues “should be covered with wax, since they are religiously forbidden.” He likened the Egyptian relics to the idols which circled the walls of Mecca in pre-Islamic times.

The article also notes that Islamist groups in Egypt have long been hostile to the tourism industry, but these sentiments were suppressed under Mubarak’s oppressive regime. Now, however, Egyptian xenophobia and paranoia seem to be blossoming, with government officials harassing foreigners.

Micah Trau, an American who has been studying Arabic with a private tutor for the past three months, decided that after being questioned twice, he would just leave. “I couldn’t take it,” he tells The Media Line from his home in Seattle. “I was there to study the language and the culture, but after being told I was a spy on three occasions I just thought it was time to get out of there before anything worse happened.”

Tourism in Egypt is a multi-billion dollar industry, and is hardly a revenue stream rising Egyptian leaders want to blithely throw away. While hardliners in the local Salafi movement may be calling for pagan statues to be encased in wax, the increasingly politically dominant Muslim Brotherhood seems to be trying to strike a balance between catering to tourists and pleasing Islamic factions who want to see such practices curtailed.

But [Muhammad Saad] Al-Katatny [secretary-general of Freedom and Justice] said that the Muslim Brotherhood regards Egypt’s archeology as belonging to all of humanity, and should therefore be safeguarded. “This heritage belongs to everyone, and one can’t simply remove something he doesn’t like,” he told Al-Ahram daily.

International travel agencies have so far rejected the idea of any restrictions on tourism, and low-price tours are being planned to encourage tourists back to Egypt, hoping to reverse a dramatic downturn caused by the revolution and its aftermath. Even if tourism is allowed, and the statues remain uncovered, will there be any tolerance for the more spiritually-minded tours that draw so many seekers, Pagans, and New Age adherents?

“In this predominantly Muslim country, Egyptologist and spiritual tour guide Amro Mounir, 34, said he encounters many Egyptians who criticize his tours for practicing a form of paganism. But Mounir says the tours are about tapping into the energy of the earth and helping people find the truth.”

It is very likely that the permissive tourist industry many are used to could be coming to an end. It shouldn’t be forgotten that in 2006 Egypt’s Grand Mufti, Ali Gomaa, issued an edict (fatwa) which condemned the work of sculptors and declared un-Islamic the display of statues in homes. At the time, some predicted suicide bombings at ancient temples, though this never materialized. Now that the political climate is far more unstable, could these threats now materialize? Can more moderate and progressive elements in Egypt hold out against an Islamist tide long held back by brute force? We’ll soon see if economic pragmatism and pluralistic aspirations will win out against an energized hardline who see this as a chance to mold Egypt in their image.

Whether revived, re-imagined, reconstructed, or revealed, modern Pagan religions all look to our collective pre-Christian past for inspiration, connection, understanding, and a sense of continuity. Because of this phenomenon, many Pagans follow the world of archaeology very closely, both for new information, and to monitor the preservation of objects and artifacts that reach back to a time when pagan religions were the dominant expression of faith. When the Egyptian revolution started, many Pagans, particularly Kemetics and Greco-Egyptian polytheists, expressed great concern at reports of looting and vandalism of the nations many antiquities. However, there are ongoing debates within modern Pagan communities over what the best way to honor our ancient past is. Some, like, British Druid leader King Arthur Pendragon (aka John Timothy Rothwell) want a hands-off approach to monuments and sites they see as part of a collective spiritual heritage, while other groups, like Pagans For Archaeology, argue that extensive scientific exploration enriches the body of knowledge available to modern Pagans.

The Parthenon atop the Acropolis in Athens.

“The more knowledge we gain about people of the past, the more it perpetuates their memory. People of the past wanted to be remembered, that’s why they built monuments in the landscape. Also, ancient texts such as the Hávamál talk about a person’s name living on after they die (another indication that people in the past wanted to be remembered).”

This debate grows more complex as pre-Christian pagan sites suffer ever more from years of vandalism, wear, and increasing environmental degradation. In Greece, statues and decorative pieces at the Acropolis in Athens have been slowly transitioned into a specially-built museum, while Turkey is currently debating on how to best preserve the ancient giant statues of gods and kings on Mount Nemrut in southeastern region of the country.

Statues near the peak of Mount Nemrut.

“A recent proposal by Culture and Tourism Minister Ertuğrul Günay to move the gigantic sculptures atop Mount Nemrut, which are on the UNESCO World Heritage List, to a museum in order to protected them from harsh weather conditions has sparked controversy among Turkish archeologists and scientists over whether the sculptures should be preserved inside a museum or not. Günay put forth the proposal last week, saying the sculptures can be brought down from the mountain by helicopter and become part of the exhibit in a museum in Kahta, Adıyaman province.

“Many proposals, including those from [Middle East Technical University] ODTÜ, were brought to me for the protection of the sculptures on the mountain. However, none of them convinced me. Among the proposals were covering the sculptures with some chemicals. I asked them to bring me that chemical, but they could not. Some have proposed covering them with a tent or glass. Strong winds blowing on the mountain in the winter would damage the tent. The windows would break,” Günay said.

Noting that the best solution would be to move the stone heads to a museum, he added that he has personally observed the damage sustained by the heads over the past 20 years and that they need protection.”

Some local archaeologists and officials disagree with Günay, saying there is little evidence of the damage he describes. While modern Pagans are not a factor in this story, the situation starkly illustrates the debates currently raging over how to treat these sites. Another question is how moving the statues, if it goes forward, would affect the site’s listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and how would these changes affect tourism?

Sadly, scientific examination and debates over the best preservation strategies aren’t the only thing affecting ancient sites of interest to modern Pagans. In some cases sites are being endangered by construction, spurring protests and direct action by local Pagans in places like Greece to protect the newly-uncovered Altar of the Twelve Gods from reburial, or at the Hill of Tara in Ireland, which many feel is being systematically destroyed by highway development. As development, tourism, and environmental factors continue to clash these issues only promise to become more heated and intense. With austerity the buzz-word in a global recession, the preservation of our ancient heritage, and the protection of sacred sites seem to be  low on the priority list. Will these sites simply start disappearing? What is the best way to protect these sites and our religious heritage in a world that seems increasingly indifferent to preservation? What role should modern Pagan communities play regarding sites that we feel are important to our own understanding of the past?

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

King Arthur vs. Archeology: British Druid leader King Arthur Pendragon (no, not that Arthur Pendragon) has failed in his attempt to force reburial of human remains found at Stonehenge, claiming the 5000-year-old cremated remains were of a royal “priest caste,” potential founding fathers of Britain.

Stonehenge

“Mr Justice Wyn Williams refused to give King Arthur permission to launch a judicial review action – ruling at a High Court hearing in London that there was insufficient evidence to show that the Ministry of Justice might have acted unreasonably. The judge heard that the cremated remains of more than 40 bodies – thought to be at least 5,000 years old – were removed from a burial site at Stonehenge in 2008 and ministers gave researchers from Sheffield University permission to keep the bones until 2015.”

While King Arthur was calling for a “day of action” to protest this decision, another group, Pagans For Archaeology, were pleased that scientific exploration of the remains will continue uninterrupted.

“The very reason we know what we do about Stonehenge and the people buried there is due to archaeology, without it you would know naff all about it, the people and the relationship between the two.”

At their website, PFA makes their case for why the retention and study of human remains is important. As for King Arthur, he insists that this “is not a Pagan argument, it is not a Druid argument. It is a matter of common decency.” Stonhenge is matter of great emotional, religious, and psychological import for many Britons. With the London 2012 Olympics fast approaching, you can be sure that the treatment, preservation, and study of this site will continue to be a newsmaking issue.

Maetreum of Cybele Sends Out a Call for Help: The Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater, in an ongoing tax battle with the Town of Catskill, New York, have sent out an urgent plea for funds as what they hope will be the final trial in the matter approaches.

“All along the Town knew they would lose this battle if we could just get it to trial so they have attempted to bury us under legal motions to break us financially and have spent somewhere between 100 to 150 thousand dollars to do so.  I am sad to report that unless we get significant help in this final stages, they might succeed.  Donations so far have helped but we have had to hire a new attorney at about three times the cost as our original attorney.  She is much more experienced and worth the expense but has informed me that the rest of our case will cost us an approximate additional 10 thousand dollars which simply is impossible for us to come up with ourselves at this stage.

Our priestesses have stepped forward to the point of tens of thousands so far but now we are all broke.  Please, this case is important, a milestone for minority religion rights.  If this can be done to us, a legally incorporated religious charitable organization with full IRS 501 c3 recognition, it literally can be done to any minority religious group.  A victory, which is fairly well assured if we can finish the battle, is especially important when political groups are pushing back against non Christians, clean air and water and the basic concept of taking care of each other and our common planet home.”

The law in this case seems pretty clearly on the side of the Maetreum of Cybele, but Catskill is going to wage a scorched earth legal campaign in hopes the Pagans run out of money and energy first, stating that the town was already too deep into the case to give up and that significant dollars could be saved by preventing exemptions for illegitimate religions.” A court date is set for November 15th. We’ll keep you updated on further developments. For those wanting to an make a tax-deductible donation, you can do so directly via paypal to: centralhouse@gallae.com. Or you can contact them through their website.

In Other News:

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.