Timothy Insoll

in The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of Ritual and Religion

Published in print October 2011 | ISBN: 9780199232444
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Archaeology


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This article considers the questions that might be asked in investigating sacrifice archaeologically: Are there differences in the species and materials sacrificed by cultivators, herders, and hunter-gatherers? In blood sacrifice what species are sacrificed and how might these interrelate with other possible elements of systems of belief such as totemism? What faunal remains, body parts, or parts of objects are represented? Do the deposition patterns differ and are especial parts given prominence? Can the sacrificial ritual and any accompanying beliefs be reconstructed? What is the context of sacrifice and does it allow inferences about seasonality or time of sacrifice? Although a broad definition of sacrifice was provided at the outset encompassing objects, plants, animals, and humans, the discussion has predominantly focused on issues surrounding blood sacrifice. This might seem to undermine the definition itself and lend credence to the view that sacrifice can only operate in relation to living things. However, this is not so. Conversely, it reflects where the predominant archaeological focus has been placed thus far and in so doing serves to illustrate that perhaps a primary future direction lies in thinking about and investigating materiality, context, and deposition patterns of sacrifice more broadly construed.

Keywords: archaeological investigation; cultivators; herders; hunter-gatherers; beliefs; sacrificial ritual

Article.  6437 words. 

Subjects: Archaeology ; Historical Archaeology

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