AUN 38

Julia Mattes: Early Cult buildings. Studies on the Archaeology of Sacred Places in Southern Scandinavia

This thesis discusses the identification of ritual places in general and, more specifically, the Neolithic and Bronze Age cult houses in southern Scandinavia. Since the archaeology of cult and religion is a widely neglected field of research, it lacks method and theory and is thus often dealt with in a very subjective or, in the best case, hermeneutic way. The aim of this thesis is to prove that this topic, considered by many scholars as ?somewhat strange? can be examined in a scientific way and that a systematic study of ritual sites does, in fact, give useful results. A theoretical discourse on the relationship between archaeology and religion is carried out. Further questions are asked concerning the archaeology of sacred places:

-what is a sacred place?
-how can sacred places be identified archaeologically?

A theoretical approach for identifying sacred places is examined to see whether it is applicable to the subject of prehistoric archaeology.

A large number of ritual sites mainly from northern Europe and Scandinavia are presented. Among these about twenty different specific artefact groups and features such as anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figurines; amber artefacts; various stone artefacts; traces of fire and destruction; hearths; pits; et cetera will be discussed to determine whether they can be seen as indicators of ritual places. In order to gain a global perspective, a historiographic analysis is made of the interpretation of the term 'cult house' in northern Europe. The subject is subsequently shown from ethno-archaeological, anthropological and ethnographical perspectives, respectively. The concrete use of ritual places and cult-houses is demonstrated by clear modern examples from Oceania, West Africa and Southeast Asia in particular. They illustrate the complexity of cognitive backgrounds connected with rituals and provide a wider perspective and possibility for the interpretation of archaeological structures for the future.

The archaeological material from northern Germany, Denmark and Sweden is presented as a contrast to the ethnographical examples. The relationship between house and ritual is illustrated by house cults, dead houses and cult houses. Sixty-eight features, the so-called cult houses from Denmark and Sweden, were selected for individual discussion and analysis. Are they really ritual? If so, what traces do they show of rituals? This part of the thesis corresponds closely with the catalogue, which contains an extensive collection of data of the individual sites.

The results are abstracted and formed into an indicator model in order to create a theoretical tool as an aid for future identification of sacred places.

This research project was carried out in a cooperation between Institut für Archäologische Wissenschaften, Fach Ur- und Frühgeschichte der Ruhr-Universität Bochum and the Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, Uppsala University, Sweden.

Julia Mattes, Frühe Kultbauten. Studien zur Archäologie sakraler Plätze in Südskandinavien. AUN 38, Västerås 2008. 512 pages, 51 figures, 4 maps, 6 tables, 91 plates whereof 9 colour plates, text in German, 23 pages of English summary.
ISSN: 0284-1347, ISBN: 978-91-506-2014-6