Department of Archaeology and Ancient History

Terje Östigård

Throughout my career I have been working cross-culturally, comparatively and inter-disciplinary and I have conducted fieldworks in Bangladesh, Egypt, Ethiopia, Greece, Jordan, India, Nepal, Palestine, Tanzania and Uganda. Before doing research in Africa, I studied cremation and life-giving waters in Nepal and India during my MA (1998) and PhD (2004) -education.

My research activities mainly focus on three areas. First, water studies with the aim of understanding the role of water in history, society and civilisation, with a particular emphasis on comparative religion and food systems in changing environments. In Africa, my main area of study is the Nile Basin region – Egypt, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda. While the emphasis on water and religion – central themes structured around questions of life and death – have been re-occurring, I have also focused on water and food studies, since Africa’s current and future food challenges cannot be understood sufficiently without a historical perspective and comparative analysis of local and regional waterscapes and different water-society relations.

My second area of research focuses on death rituals and cremations, which is also linked to water and life-giving processes. I have studied Hindu and Buddhist funerals in Nepal, India and Bangladesh and prehistoric cremations in the Nordic countries. In Egypt, I studied the religious role of the Nile in the Ancient Egyptian civilisation, with a particular emphasis on the characteristics of the Nile waters during the flood and how these are incorporated into myths, cosmology and mortuary cults. In Scandinavia, I focus on the archaeology of death and study how death has structured societies by examining different aspects of cremation, mainly in the Iron Age. Finally, in a European context, I studied the role of the materiality of fire in the context of Hell and Purgatory as well as the role of water in Christianity.

My third field of study is material culture studies, which include the other areas of research. By focusing on the material, the aim is to highlight the complex nature of the interaction between social strategies and material culture, which also include the natural world and with my specific focus: water. On an overall theoretical level the challenge is to approach the culture-nature dichotomy in ways enabling broad, non-reductionist analysis challenging both nature determinism and nature reductionism and hence understanding the role of water in the development and constitution of society.

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