Some, maybe the most, archaeologists are sensible people. Many are impractical in the common academic way – they are the people for whom velcro fastenings had to be invented.
Some, unfortunately, are so politically correct that they fill their academic life by a search for evidence of suffering of women throughout the ages at the hands of men and on the other end by a search for evidence of women’s more significant contribution to the evolution of human race. If I digress here – had incipient mankind relied on nuts and berries, gathered by women, it would never managed to fly to the moon. Even PC scientists reluctantly admit that our brains only started developing significantly when we, men, started hunting and eating meat. Left to vegetarians we would still swing from the trees and would not know how to make a fire.
Recently more progressive, grants seeking archaeologists search for evidence of horrors of slavery, of course only where the whites could be blamed. Arabs and Chinese atrocities are of no interest; no grants available there.
Many archaeologists are decent people. Yet, as practically all academics and indeed most people, they are extremely reluctant to admit ignorance. In archaeology, where evidence is often incomplete, commingled and the ages are in chaos, it ought not to be too hard to say ‘we don’t know’ or more bravely, ‘I don’t know”. But they prefer to rely on that catch-all, i.e. religion and rituals. All those primitives, superstitious pagans, or ignorant religious fanatics apparently had rituals they never dreamed of, but the archaeologists think they know better. Admittedly, as far as is known, not many Neanderthals got PhD, so there.
I wrote about the magazine The Archaeology before – Fog of Chaos Archaeology in a deep trench 16-03-2012; and I still, from time to time, borrow it. It is not a scientific publication and one hopes that the papers the articles are based on are more solid.
The reliance on “ritual” every time the scientist can not comprehend something she/he found is annoying. For example, in the March/April 2013 issue (p.12) is an item Europe’s First Carpenters about four wells discovered in Germany. “The wells, all underground constructions of hewn oak, are evidence that Neolithic inhabitants of central Europe were accomplished carpenters, capable of felling and working trees three feet thick into planks, then carefully fitting them together. … analysis revealed that the ancient well-builders constructed tusk mortise and tenon joints, a technique that uses a fitted wedge to lock the pieces in place, in the base frame, with the rest constructed in “log cabin” style. “We know the Romans could do it, but that they were in use 5,000 years earlier really came as a surprise,” says Rengert Elburg, an archaeologist at the Saxon Archaeological Heritage Office in Dresden.”
“Tree rings suggest the Altscherbitz well was in use for less than a decade before it was deliberately filled with 26 intact pots, thousands of pot fragments, and organic materials including early grains such as emmer and eincorn, strawberries, hazelnuts, and black henbane, a powerful hallucinogen. According to Elburg, the discovery of the pots was particularly surprising. “We don’t normally find intact pots from the Neolithic,” says Elburg “If you find 26 complete ones, you know it was a ritual deposition. Perhaps it was a well for ritual water or special drinking.”
So Elburg knows. Even without henbane I can think of a few other, non-ritual explanations. Hiding supplies from raiders? Hiding stolen loot? Preparing for heavy winter? The amateur mind boggles with possibilities, but the archaeologist knows it was a ritual deposition.
A season in the sun on a dig, a ‘ritual’ field trip or two and the security blanket of a familiar computer are no substitute for experience of life as lived by normal people. The science of archaeology would advance more if its academic cabal had at least some experience in some other field of human endeavour. Less hubris, some logic and common sense would be too much to ask for.