Tag Archives: Archaeology

W. Friese et al. (eds.), Ascending and Descending the Acropolis: Movement in Athenian Religion; and T. Møbjerg et al. (eds.), The Hammerum Burial Site: Customs and Clothing in the Roman Iron Age (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2019)

Over the past thirty-five years, Aarhus University Press has been publishing and distributing high-quality books in collaboration with some of Denmark’s most prestigious cultural institutes and foundations. The quality at issue extends beyond the scholarly content of the books, thus encompassing the very craftsmanship of the physical volumes, the paper, the inks, the resolution of the images, the generous format and spacing of the printed texts, etc. Past issues of Nordicum-Mediterraneum contain several examples of the publisher’s achievements. Such formal aspects may seem redundant or secondary when reviewing a scientific publication, but they are very important when, as it is the case vis-à-vis the two volumes presented hereby, depicting archaeological and artistic evidence is of the essence.

Specifically, the 23rd volume of the Danish Institute at Athens’ monograph, entitled Ascending and Descending the Acropolis, comprises 10 essays, one introduction and one epilogue containing computer-generated figures as well as a host of pictures of wooden and stone plaques, temple friezes, wholes or fragments of ancient pottery, topographic plans and maps, physical sites, statues and statuettes, drawings, votive and other reliefs, and cult heads, all of which are as important as the words printed on the 277 pages of the book. Without them, or without well-rendered versions of them, the information conveyed by the volume would be conspicuously poorer and its potential for instruction significantly lower. While there may be essays that can do without visual supplements (e.g. the scholarly studies of Pausanias’ 2nd-century-AD pilgrimage to the Acropolis, 102-18, and the account of the 5th-century-BC “three sacred laws” on Athens’ Eleusinian mysteries, 160), the reader would find it much more difficult to interpret and appreciate the studies of organised and spontaneous mobility in the ancient religious practices of Attica, even when the source may be none less that Euripides’ Bacchae (147-51).

The same must be said of the book The Hammerum Burial Site, which comprises 19 contributions of various length and character about one of the most significant archaeological retrievals in fin-de-siècle Denmark, i.e. the 1993 “Hammerum Girl” (9). Published in conjunction with the Jutland Archaeological Society, this book contains images of many different sorts: maps, plans, photographs, drawings, reconstructions, tables, textile patterns and close-ups, microscope shots, 3-D visualisations, scans and schematics. The resulting overall scope of the book’s contents is impressive, for it manages to embrace all the difference facets of a thorough archaeological investigation in contemporary Denmark: the scientific, bureaucratic and physical history of the actual excavation; the stitch-by-stitch reconstruction of the clothing and hairstyles of the buried bodies in connection with evidence from contemporary artwork; the scans, Carbon-dating and chemical analyses of wooden specimens, soil samples, textile fibres and dyes, scalp and body hairs, DNA traces, twigs and pollen; the step-by-step replication of the deceased’s dress via yarns, looms, spinning and waving techniques analogous to the Nordic-Roman ones of the 2nd century AD; the presentation to the public of the “Hammerum Girl”, including competitions on the best reproduction of her clothes and coiffure, Hammerum-Girl-inspired artistic events, ad-hoc digital applications and supervised walks to visit the original site.

The volume on the Hammerum burial site concentrates on one highly specific excavation and develops therefrom a rich account of the many careful aspects of the sophisticated archaeological practices whereby a person who died and was interred 18 centuries ago can be grasped, re-imagined and approached today. The volume on mobile religious processions and rituals in ancient Athens has a much broader ground to explore and chart. Resulting from a 2014 workshop held at the Danish Institute in Athens under the title “Ascending and Descending the Acropolis: Sacred Travel in Attica and Its Borderlands”, this latter volume can appeal to specialists outside the sole area of Greek archaeology, e.g. scholars in classics, ancient religions, as well as historians and even philosophers interested in the classical age.

Since I am a philosopher by training, I should underline how the latter volume’s pivoting around the “mobile turn” (13) of the early 2000s in the humanities and social sciences has quintessentially philosophical roots, which reflect the 20th-century abandonment of static metaphysical conceptions and preconceptions in both analytical (cf. Neurath) and Continental traditions (cf. Heidegger), and the emergence of dynamic paradigms of thought (cf. Wittgenstein, Deleuze) that have later found reverberations in sociology (e.g. Bauman, Beck, Giddens) as well as other social and human sciences, including archaeology itself (cf. Kristensen’s introduction, 11-9, and Graf’s epilogue, 255-65). More specific philosophical concerns and references surface also in two contributions to the latter volume, i.e. the Ilissian and Kallirhoan shrines described in Plato’s dialogue Phaedrus (Maria Salta’s “Under the Care of Daemons”; 63-101) and the truly “classical paideia” of the educated elites in Pausanias’ times (Maria Pretzler’s “Pausanias and the Intellectual Travellers of the Roman Imperial Period”, 103-18).  

Caspar Jørgensen & Morten Pedersen (eds.), Industrial Heritage in Denmark: Landscapes, Environments and Historical Archaeology (Aarhus: Kultur Styrelsen & Aarhus University Press, 2015)

As stated in the preface of the current work, “Even though, with good reason, Denmark is often perceived as an agricultural country, industry is also a very important sector in the Danish economy, employing as it does a large number of people and having an appreciable influence on the Danish society in general”. This work is a manifestation of this statement, focusing on the history of Danish industry for (mainly) the last 150 years and how this legacy is today reflected in landscapes, urban planning and concrete structures.

Continue reading Caspar Jørgensen & Morten Pedersen (eds.), Industrial Heritage in Denmark: Landscapes, Environments and Historical Archaeology (Aarhus: Kultur Styrelsen & Aarhus University Press, 2015)

Matte Svart Kristiansen & Kate Giles (eds.), Dwellings, Identities and Homes. European Housing Culture from the Viking Age to the Renaissance (Hojbjerg: Jutland Archeological Society, 2014)

In December 2010, Aarhus University organized an international and interdisciplinary conference on changing forms of living in Europe, primarily between 800 – 1600 AD. The conference forms the basis of a fascinating book.

Continue reading Matte Svart Kristiansen & Kate Giles (eds.), Dwellings, Identities and Homes. European Housing Culture from the Viking Age to the Renaissance (Hojbjerg: Jutland Archeological Society, 2014)

Pia Guldager Bilde & Mark L. Lawall (eds.), Pottery, Peoples and Places. Study and Interpretation of Late Hellenistic Pottery (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2014)


The volume hereby reviewed springs from a conference held at the Sandbjerg Manor in Denmark in late November 2008, dealing with the study of ceramics in the second-century BC Mediterranean and Pontic regions, hosted by the Danish National Research Foundation’s Centre for Black Sea Study. It comprises seventeen essays, plus a preface, an introduction, an extensive bibliography and a detailed analytical index. The essays, authored by a number of scholars from several different countries, are organised in three fairly broad but to most appropriate sections.

  Continue reading Pia Guldager Bilde & Mark L. Lawall (eds.), Pottery, Peoples and Places. Study and Interpretation of Late Hellenistic Pottery (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2014)

C. Raudvere & J.P. Schjödt (eds.), More Than Mythology – Narratives, Ritual Practices and Regional Distribution in Pre-Christian Scandinavian Religions (Lund: Nordic Academic Press, 2012)


More Than Mythology – Narratives, Ritual Practices and Regional Distribution in Pre-Christian Scandinavian Religions, asks this relevant question regarding the old Nordic belief systems and religions in a publication comprising together a vast array of scholars of Pre-Christian Scandinavian cultures and a handful of views on the Sámi-Finnish tradition. The 286-page book opens new horizons in the understanding of the past and the present of the Northern part of Europe.


Central to the diverse papers are the overarching themes of narrative studies, the role of rituals and the discussion of regional difference and distribution, and perhaps secondly also religion as a communal practice. Price opens the book with an in-depth and conclusive view on “Mythic Acts”, stressing the need of assessing burials, rituals and other practices as series of “performances” sometimes spanning over decades in the same geographical place, such as the gravesites in the Oslo Fjord. He refers to such a process as the “theatre of death” where these “performances” have taken place. Furthermore, in his splendid essay, he makes the case for the need to combine archaeological data with ethnographical, anthropological and other textual sources. He makes a strong case for diversification of views regarding the pre-Christian Nordic context, given the reported 500,000 different grave- and other dug sites, stressing the need to avoid any “unified view”. Price also proceeds to provide the reader with an eyewitness’ account of a “Viking” funeral along the Volga River in Russia, through the text of Arab geographer and historian Ibn Fadlan – such a description remains a pivotal text on the topic, despite the possibilities of misinterpretation and culture-specific lenses that Fadlan’s testimony gives rise to. Again, the notion of performatory function of the rituals comes to the fore.


Jackson investigates the merits and limits of comparative philology. He positions the crucial difference of nomadic and settled communities of the “pre”-Indo-European peoples of the Steppes as a topic worth paying attention to in the linguistic context. One can almost see the vast expanse of the pre-historic Indo-European society from India to the West Fjords in Iceland, spanning continents, nations, cultures, over time and space. Jackson investigates the rituals of the past using key linguistic possibilities, employing such concepts as the “blót” qua shared cultural heritage. Dumezils’ notion of an “Indo-European” ideology is mentioned, but Jackson stresses that the “present now” of any belief system makes the unique characteristics of such systems.


DuBois makes an excursion into the diets and deities of the Scandinavians and the Sámi. This is a good overview of the differences between the settler-farmers of Scandinavia and the hunter-gatherers belonging to various Sámi Nations. He positions different animals as a source of cultural-religious similarity and difference between the two cultures – as a result the Nordic communities hold in reverence mostly domesticated animals, as opposed to the Sámi, who have preserved other worldviews centred on “wild” animals, even though the reindeer, as a semi-domesticated herd animal falls between these categories. Within the Scandinavian life-world, the role of sheep and goat is very interesting. Differences come to the surface with regard to fish and their cultural interpretations in the communities. Interestingly, some animals, such as horses, have a meaning for both peoples, but they are of a very different kind – to the Sámi the horse possesses a demonic association. DuBois discusses the notion of a “mythic lag” on community change – how some attachments from “prior” systems [hunter-gatherer] manifest “still” or persistently in the “more advanced” life stage of a people.


As he is the only author who, to a certain extent, discusses Sámi worldviews and compares them to the Scandinavians, his text requires some reflection. The article has merits. At the same time, it has serious flaws too, for the viewpoint is fixed upon the Finno-Ugric side. According to DuBois, “both Scandinavians and the Sámi differentiated themselves from each other through the religious imagery related directly to the species they chose to consume”. It is true that the Sámi stress their connection with fish and reindeer as opposed to domesticated animals, but there is a set of reasons for this. DuBois avoids stressing the Scandinavian and, since the 1800s, the Finnish colonisation of the Sámi across the region; meaning the hunter-gatherer-herder systems as opposed to invading and expanding farming settlers. It is reasonably safe to assume that already the early historical meetings [while trade was certainly also a part of them] between the farmers and the Sámi in various parts of the region led to land use conflicts, as the subsistence rounds of the hunters required large, stable old-growth territories, as opposed to the needs of the farmers to clear forests for farms. As several Sámi scholars and leaders, such as Elina Helander, Jelena Porsanger, Pauliina Feodoroff and others have done, the emphasis in the cultural discourses on reindeer and fish, and other “wild” foods and animals, are also mechanisms of resistance against invasion.


DuBois utilizes some photographs from Eastern Sápmi (or Finnmark) in Norway in his article. They should be seen in a critical light. Especially the famous “Grease Stone” of Mortensnes (p.81) receives special attention. Having worked in the villages and areas around the stone since 1996, I have another opinion. My Sámi friends indicate strongly that the stone is, in fact, a Scandinavian imposition on their landscapes – while other stones and other sites of Mortensnes are indeed of the Sámi world. DuBois utilizes little-known and well-established sources from the Sámi side, but the big change and sites of resistance are not expressed clearly enough.


Raudvere establishes religion as a mechanism to interpret local reality. Cosmic histories and transcendental realities of past community life are a text for the scholars but a lived reality for the people themselves. She utilizes Völuspá to explore ritual and meaning. Readers could have benefitted from a more thorough discussion on the various versions of Völuspá.


 Nordberg presents a significant methodological paper on the study of Old Norse religion. Importantly, he stresses the need of geographical diversity and difference.A Map could have helped this article. Secondly, Nordberg importantly distinguishes between farms and coastal fishing villages, and stresses the shifts within religions in times of change. Some old colonial ghosts loom within the text with the references to “advanced religions” [of farming societies] – such terms having been deconstructed a long time ago to their proper place by postcolonial research.


Stark and Anttonen offer us the only views of the Finnish-Karelian tradition. They dwell little on the difference between the Scandinavian and the Sámi tradition; however Stark reminds us that “some elements of the Finnish folk practice…clearly have Finno-Ugric roots…[deriving from] Eurasian shamanism.” According to her, these constitute a “loosely structured ethno-theory for illness aetiology.” This is in line with the claims by Clive Tolley, who has not found evidence of shamanism in the Old Norse religion. Stark employs a strong feministic view on the recorded texts and identifies the year 1860 as a big change for the Nordic traditions and the complex cultural layers of religious imagery. Anttonen, by quoting at length the earliest Nordic folk tradition text by Agricola, investigates the influences and context of Finnish and Karelian deities in early times. He argues that no single coherent pagan system existed here and makes the case for the slow speed of religious change. Both texts are an important and distinct introduction to the Finnish tradition and its difference compared to the Sámi and Scandinavian ones. Stark’s conclusions could benefit a Finnish popular audience too.


Sundqvist investigates the sacral kinship and proposes a “religious ruler ideology” instead as a defining term. It would consist of relationships with the mythic world, its rituals, symbols and cultic organisation. He convincingly argues that there is a need of an all-inclusive rethink – and using empirical materials makes a strong case between the Swedish-Norwegian situation and the strongly independent Icelandic Commonwealth, leading to the conclusion that there was no uniform religious ruler ideology in the Nordic space.


Schjödt brings the far-reaching volume to its close by offering new aims and methodological discussions. Shortly stated, contemporary sources such as archaeology and the medieval sources, such as cultural texts of the time, need to go to together to widen the scope of studies on the Old Norse religion. Sagas and Eddas are to be viewed as a blend of skills of the author, oral traditions and influences of the time-space in which they were composed. Models, discourse analysis and comparative views will open the doors to new understandings. The hunt for the “original text” remains an enigma, even though, according to Schjödt, an Indo-European kernel of stories and myths existed – but, despite this and Dumezil, the “old” religion was not a coherent worldview, rather a “discursive space of diversity”.


Technically, this surprisingly good book could have benefitted from maps. Contemporary views of Norse religion, the role of Sigur Rós in Iceland and other followers would have enlightened the views expressed in the book too. A clear distinction between Karelian hunter-societies in the period 1600-1800 and the Sámi hunters, as opposed to the colonial impact of the farming societies of Scandinavia, would have made clearer the expanding nature of the Old Norse world. And lastly, what happened to the dragons?


And thus we come to a close of “More Than Mythology” – in the opening line I asked, borrowing from Schjödt, what kind of evidence is needed to propose convincing interpretations? The main problem with the critical study of religion is that it is often done by people that do not believe. Therefore the “materials” are seen as “texts” and interpretations abound, but yet the “source” is missing.


I am pondering this in the Karelian village of Selkie, one of the westernmost of our communities, where a hundred years ago Kalevala-style incantations and poems were collected by the scholars of that day. Snow has fallen on trees and our fishing season for open waters is at a close, boats are up and we eagerly await for the arrival of proper lake ice so that we can spread the nets under the ice again. As I reflected about the More Than Mythology, on the lake, the last of the migratory birds flew by on their way to the south – soon we will meet again, I said to them. And the realisation came to me – if we are to understand the views of our ancestors, we need to live in that nature, or remnants of that nature, that sustained them – that is the source. Then the scholar, removed from the yearly cycles of the European North with his analytical or even her feminist apparatus, can return to see that time and space are not a line, indeed many things remain, of the “old” and of the “new”, of the things the wind only whispers of, but which are already emerging.





Kristina Winther Jacobsen & Lone Wriedt Sørensen, Panayia Ematousa I + II: – A Rural Site in South-eastern Cyprus. Approaches to regional studies (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2006)

Volume one consists of a detailed review of the artifacts and finds from the site ranging from pottery to bones.  Volume two focuses on the political, cultural, ethnic and social relations in Cyprus during this period and  contains a series of contributions which partly based upon the excavations addresses a range of little covered issues from the late Hellenistic-roman period including the importance of pottery as a means of providing insights into trade mechanisms and regional relationships.

When first excavated in the 1990s Panayia Ematousa was a unique endeavour due to the rural nature of the site, and the late Hellenistic-Roman date of its main period of occupation.  Since its excavation a number of publications have been released on rural sites in Cyprus but these have dealt with the late Roman period, so this monograph remains an important first step towards shedding light on a neglected phase Cyprus’s archaeological and historical record.  The monographs addressed issues ranging from the economic and social organization of ancient society to questions on food production, to the use of tombs and approaches to sculpture in Roman Cyprus.

These two volumes represent an important contribution on two fronts, as a scholarly contribution shedding light on a neglected aspect of Cypriot history and of a the means of training and fostering the skills of a new generation of Danish classical archaeologists.  This well presented and designed monograph offers a substantial and useful compendium of information and resources to help guide and inform research and future work on Cyprus’s archaeological and historical record.

Many archaeological excavations are undertaken as emergency activities in response to development and are often therefore of short duration before sites are erased forever from the archaeological record.  Therefore long term excavations such as those at Panayia Ematousa play a crucial role in helping us to more comprehensively understand the forces and societies which have shaped our world today. Long term excavations such as Panayia Ematousa highlight the importance and need for comprehensive excavations beyond short emergency work and help to convince of the necessity to sustainably fund such excavations over long periods of time.

Pia Guldager and Jane Hjar Petersen (eds.), Meetings of cultures in the Black Sea region. Between conflict and coexistence, (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2008)

The cultures at issue are the native Scythian tribes, including Sarmatian ones, and the ancient Greek settlers in the Pontic Region, i.e. the vast steppe-land located in the northern and north-eastern regions of the Black Sea. This area was called Euxeinos Pontos for most part of the Graeco-Roman age, meaning literally ‘hospitable sea’, but it was really a euphemism replacing an earlier name introduced by Pindar, Pontos Axenios, i.e. ‘inhospitable sea’. The studies contained in the volume focus upon Pre-Roman Times, particularly from the 7th century BC, when the first Greek settlements were established, to 63 BC, i.e. the year of Mithridates the Great’s death, which marks as well the beginning of the Roman predominance. The disciplines involved in this survey are historiography, archaeology, numismatic, epigraphy and ceramography.

The book contains five chapters: “Setting the scene”, “Spaces of identity”, “Claiming the land”, “The dynamics of cultural exchange” and “Mind the gap”. The five chapters comprise nineteen articles written by eighteen different authors. Five of the published contributions were not presented at the conference: the article by P. G. Bilde in the first chapter and the articles by A. V. Karjaka, A. V. Gavrilov and T. N. Smekalova in the third chapter.

It is unavoidable for us studying something like the very concept of culture as a pragmatic category, i.e. as a truth that is such beacuse it produces practical results that satisfy us, and not vice versa, i.e. as a truth that is such before the production of any satisfying practical result. Thus, it is important to understand that the things we can say about other cultures – whether Greek or non-Greek, sedentary or nomadic – will necessary be a product of our culture, which establishes the criteria for practical satisfaction in the first place, that is to say, our own complex system of expectations. Hence we should note that, for instance, writing ‘settler’ instead of ‘colonist’ is a choice that is not inherent to those peoples that we write about, but to ourselves. These considerations certainly act on the background of the articles contained in the book, but they are not theoretically themed and discussed.

In the book, the contents develop around the main aspect stated in the title of the chapter in which they appear. The three articles that form the first chapter are written by J. A. Vinogradov, P. G. Bilde and V. Mordvintseva, and they describe the historical context. In particular, Bilde’s paper introduces and analyzes two very significant terms: diaspora and hybridization. The second chapter also includes three articles, the authors of which are P. Attema, A. Baralis, M. Vickers and A. Kakhidze, and it shows the way Greek and non-Greek groups established themselves in neighbouring areas. In Vickers’ and Kakhidze’s opinion this fact can be determined by the careful study of the collocation of burial sites. The five papers in the third chapter, written by J. M. Højte, A. V. Karjaka, A. V. Gavrilov and T. N. Smekalova, explain how to look at the ancient management of land division so as to identify how far the two different cultures had been able to collaborate. The four articles that constitute the fourth chapter, authored by J. H. Petersen, N. A. Gavriljuk, L. Summerer, N. G. Novi?enkova and E. Kakhidze, examine the way differences of status and power overcame and replaced differences of ethnicity. The fifth and last chapter is composed of three papers, written by R. Osborne, D. Braund and G. Hinge, and it explains how Self and Other are substantially the same, since: (a) everyone can see him/herself in the self of the other, and (b) the self needs the other’s recognition to be formed. On this theoretical matter, the authors refer here in particular to Herodotus’ fourth book of his Histories.

The topic of this book – i.e. the way in which the meeting of cultures took place in antiquity – is relevant not only to classical scholars, but also to us, who live in a historical contingency certainly no longer modern, but also no longer postmodern: the dichotomy between Us and Them, or between Other and Self. This dichotomy is today even more problematic than it was only few generations ago, because it is the very concept of dichotomy that is being questioned. In fact, if the truth is today considered to be becoming, i.e. walking with us, correlatively to the practices of knowing that are embodied in our life’s occasion, then every dichotomy is ‘only’ transiently true. In other words, thinking the difference between Them and Us becomes a practice that is theoretical, ethical, but also historical.

Meeting of cultures in the Black Sea region is recommended not only to those who just want to increase their knowledge about specific Greek communities settling in the Pontic region, but also to everyone interested in themes like the frontier, the periphery, the tension between wilderness and civility, and even in retrieving the material traces of the dynamic development of concepts like Self and Other, i.e. theoretical issues that are highly relevant in the age of globalization.