Archaeologies of the Senses

Yannis Hamilakis

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

 Archaeologies of the Senses

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This article demonstrates that the archaeologies of the senses do not simply offer some colourful detail of past life; they do not fill the gaps in a picture already drawn by other archaeological approaches — a picture of social organization, states, organized religions, technology, trade, subsistence, and ritual symbolism. The archaeologies of the senses in fact can succeed where abstract, top-down, functionalist, symbolist, textualist, and cognitivist approaches have failed. For example, we cannot fully understand the great iconoclastic dispute in eighth- to ninth-century ad Byzantium, if we fail to see it as a sensory debate, over whether sight or hearing hold primacy in communicating with the divine — a debate which concluded with the reinstatement of icons, as multisensory performative objects, rather than mere visual representations. We cannot comprehend what made a small and humble room in a remote location the special focus of a ‘Mycenaean’ cult if we fail to see it as a portal to other, transcendental worlds, reached through strong and special sensory experiences. We cannot easily explain why archaeologists like Andronikos become iconic, shamanistic figures and why the antiquities they ‘touch’, reanimate, and ‘resurrect’, acquire such immense force in national imagination, as has happened in contemporary Greece, if we fail to comprehend the potency of their sensory archaeology. The archaeologies of the senses do not constitute an added, optional ingredient to our mix of theories and methodologies; rather, they demand nothing less than a paradigmatic shift.

Keywords: sensory archaeology; Byzantium; Mycenaean; Andronikos

Article.  7925 words. 

Subjects: Archaeology ; Historical Archaeology

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