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Making Senses of the Past

Toward a Sensory Archaeology

Edited by Jo Day

Publication Year: 2013

Since the nineteenth century, museums have kept their artifacts in glass cases to better preserve them. This practice has led to an archaeology dominated by visual descriptions of relics, even though human interaction with the surrounding world involves the whole body and all of its senses. In the past few years, sensory archaeology has become more prominent, and Making Senses of the Past is one of the first collected volumes of its kind on this subject. The essays in this volume take readers on a multisensory journey around the world and across time, explore alternative ways to perceive past societies, and offer a new way of writing archaeology that incorporates each of the five senses.

Published by: Southern Illinois University Press


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pp. 1-2

Visiting Scholar Conference Volumes

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p. 3-3

Title Page

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p. 4-4


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p. 5-5


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pp. v-vi

List of Figures

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pp. vii-x

List of Tables

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pp. xi-12

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pp. xii-xiv

My initial words of thanks must go to all my colleagues at the Center for Archaeological Investigations and in the Department of Anthropology at Southern Illinois University Carbondale for deciding to take a gamble on a conference topic that, to some, may have seemed a little extraordinary. ...

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1. Introduction: Making Senses of the Past

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pp. 1-31

A euphonic song of ecstasy of body and soul, Charles Baudelaire’s paean to a multisensory world evokes colors, sounds, and a rich array of scents. Perfumes as cool as infant skin, as soft as oboes, or as green as meadows perfectly capture the multisensory aspects of living and being. ...

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2. Dibéwagendamowin / Kārohirohi: Reflections on Sacred Images on the Rocks

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pp. 32-48

Abstract: Observations of reflected sunlight shimmering on ancient rock art have previously been reported with the implication that the visual effect adds to the significance of the images or locality (Arsenault 2004a:305; Hyder 2004:89). This paper provides an account of the landscape features at a number of water’s edge rock faces ...

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3. The Sound of Sulfur and Smell of Lightning: Sensing the Volcano

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pp. 49-68

Abstract: In this chapter I use Michel Serres’s The Five Senses and The Natural Contract as conduits through which to enter a discussion of the role of bodily experience in scientific interpretation and the framing of natural phenomena as a form of “violence.” I consider bodily perception and its relation to the phenomena of radically changing environments, ...

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4. Colored Monuments and Sensory Theater among the Mississippians

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pp. 69-89

Abstract: Recent research has demonstrated that colorful sediments were frequently used to surface Mississippian earthworks. This paper interprets one such colorful monumental space, Shiloh Mounds in southwestern Tennessee. Engagement with the sensuous past of Shiloh changes our understanding of the site, ...

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5. Maya Palaces as Experiences: Ancient Maya Royal Architecture and Its Influence on Sensory Perception

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pp. 90-112

Abstract: This work examines ancient Maya Classic (250–900 C.E.) palaces, with a focus on new evidence recovered from the royal court at Holmul, Guatemala. Ancient Maya palaces were designed and modified as expressions of authority and through nonverbal communication maintained the power and position of the rulers who were anchored inside them. ...

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6. Coming to Our Senses at Chavín de Huantar

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pp. 113-136

Abstract: Study of the sensory interface between bodies, artifacts, and archaeological sites produces new kinds of information that may more closely approximate the lived experience of past actors. This approach may be especially useful in the study of non-Western, precapitalist societies, whose perceptual practices differed from our own. ...

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7. The Sensory Experience of Blood Sacrifice in the Roman Imperial Cult

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pp. 137-159

Abstract: The field of classical scholarship has been too often reliant on sterile approaches to analyzing the sensory aspects of ancient sacrificial rites. Mute mosaics of choirs and silent reliefs of flute players serve as evidence for the sounds of worship, and ancient descriptions of burning incense suggest the odors of divine rites. ...

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8. Embodying the Divine: The Sensational Experience of the Sixth-Century Eucharist

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pp. 160-176

Abstract: Through sensory analysis of a set of sixth century C.E. Syrian Eucharistic silverware, the Riha Hoard, an alternative understanding of Christian material culture for the period is proposed. Current interpretations impose a semiotic framework on this material, an approach founded on Cartesian dualism, ...

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9. A Sense of Touch—the Full-Body Experience—in the Past and Present of Çatalhöyük, Turkey

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pp. 177-195

Abstract: In this paper I come to the more general issues of a sensuous archaeology through the sense of touch—the haptic sense. Using data from the Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük, Turkey, I stress that the sense of touch involves far more than just fingers and skin, far more than the obvious haptic sensations, ...

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10. Musical Space and Quiet Space in Medieval Monastic Canterbury

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pp. 196-221

Abstract: In this chapter, the background noises, or belles noiseuses, of everyday mid-thirteenth century C.E. life at a Benedictine monastery and an Augustinian house of regular canons, both in Canterbury, England, are studied by focusing on the movement of people through the buildings and on artifacts found during excavations. ...

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11. Sustenance, Taste, and the Practice of Community in Ancient Mesopotamia

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pp. 222-242

Abstract: Archaeological food studies have long been relegated to either analyses of power manipulation through feasting or issues of production and domestication. Yet, by doing this, the importance of daily consumption is muted. Archaeological explorations of commensality are often viewed with reticence, as if commensalism were sybaritic and not worthy of research. ...

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12. The Scent of Status: Prestige and Perfume at the Bronze Age Palace at Pylos, Greece

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pp. 243-265

Abstract: The prominent position of the perfume industry at the Mycenaean palace of Pylos has long been known. Both the archaeological remains and textual evidence indicate that perfume was a prestigious commodity at Pylos that was manufactured under palatial control at the palace itself. ...

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13. A Whiff of Mortality: The Smells of Death in Roman and Byzantine Beth She’an-Scythopolis

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pp. 266-285

Abstract: Roman tombs were occupied by the dead but experienced by the living. In this paper, I draw on evidence from the Roman and Byzantine chamber tombs of the Northern Cemetery at Beth She’an-Scythopolis to explore the sensory experience of Roman mortuary space. ...

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14. Imagined Aromas and Artificial Flowers in Minoan Society

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pp. 286-309

Abstract: The floral world is a popular theme across a wide range of material culture from Minoan Crete. However, the ongoing difficulties encountered by scholarship in identifying many of these species and understanding their significance is suggested here to indicate that the visual appeal of these artifacts was not of primary importance. ...

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15. Craft and Sensory Play in Late Bronze Age Boeotia

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pp. 310-334

Abstract: This paper deals with an assemblage of mostly unfinished, failed, and partially recycled artifacts, as well as roughouts, scraps, and raw materials, excavated from the destruction fill of a large palatial building at the center of the citadel of Thebes. ...

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16. Scents and Sensibilities: The Phenomenology of Late Neolithic Iberian Slate Plaque Production

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pp. 335-350

Abstract: The engraved slate plaques of Late Neolithic (3500–2500 B.C.E.) Iberia are some of the most enigmatic expressions of prehistoric European art, capturing the imagination of the public and archaeologists alike during the past century. Thousands of these hand-size, perforated plaques have been found in Neolithic collective burials, ...

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17. The Production Process as Sensory Experience: Making and Seeing Iron in Colonial New England

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pp. 351-370

Abstract: Making objects, whether by wrought or mechanized techniques, is now and was in the past a multisensory affair, but a challenge exists as to how to identify and interpret these sensory acts of production in archaeological materials. Using examples from colonial-period iron production sites in New England, ...

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18. Beyond the Display Case: Creating a Multisensory Museum Experience

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pp. 371-389

Abstract: Museums play a critical role in the development and dissemination of sensory archaeological research. To accomplish this, they must go beyond their visual presentation of material culture to encourage the stimulation of all senses—a shift that would coincidently bring these institutions back to their organizational roots. ...

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19. Imagined Narratives: Sensory Lives in the Chacoan Southwest

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pp. 390-408

Abstract: In this chapter, I use the Chacoan archaeology of the Southwest United States to illustrate the power of imagined narratives to take us out of the two-dimensional world of data and interpretation and into the three-dimensional world of sensory lives. Imagined narratives are essentially creative nonfiction ...

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20. Afterword: Eleven Theses on the Archaeology of the Senses

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pp. 409-420

An archaeology of the senses is an impossible task. By this I mean that it is both unattainable and futile to attempt to produce a new subfield, in the same way that we have an archaeology of food, of death, of texts and documents, of pottery, and so on. ...


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pp. 421-422


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pp. 423-429

Back Cover

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p. 445-445

E-ISBN-13: 9780809333134
E-ISBN-10: 0809333139
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809332878
Print-ISBN-10: 0809332876

Page Count: 444
Illustrations: 115
Publication Year: 2013

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Archaeology -- Methodology -- Congresses.
  • Senses and sensation -- Congresses.
  • Archaeology -- Social aspects -- Congresses.
  • Archaeology -- Psychological aspects -- Congresses.
  • Material culture -- Social aspects -- Congresses.
  • Material culture -- Psychological aspects -- Congresses.
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