Symbols, spaces and materiality : a transmission-based approach to Aegean Bronze Age ritual
This thesis explores the transmission of ritual practices in the second millennium BC Aegean. In contrast to previous approaches, which often overlook gaps in the diachronic record, emphasising continuity in cult practice over very long timescales, it is argued here that through charting the spatial and temporal distributions of three broad material types (cult symbols, spaces and objects), it is possible to document the spread of cult practice over time and space, and, crucially, to monitor changes in ritual between periods and between regions. Quantitative analyses of eight Cretan cult symbols, and examinations of each type of Aegean cult space and their associated ritual objects are employed in order to determine the extent to which ritual systems remained stable or underwent transformation over a thousand-year period. These analyses also expose the mechanisms by which ritual practice was transmitted. By relating the periods of stability and flux in ritual practice to the wider social and political changes seen in the Aegean during the Bronze Age, the role of ritual in the formation, maintenance and dissolution of political systems in different regions of the Aegean becomes more apparent. The wider aim of this thesis is to develop a new theoretical and methodological framework for examining the spread of ritual practices in prehistoric contexts, and the Aegean data thus serve as a case study on which to test that framework. The reproduction and transformation of ritual systems through time is an under-theorised area of prehistoric archaeology, and the second millennium BC Aegean provides an unusually attractive testing ground for theories of ritual transmission, due both to the quantity and range of the material available, and to the fine chronological control we now have over a large part of it. Focussing on ritual as a performance-based, materialised social practice, the framework combines models of cultural transmission drawn from archaeology, anthropology and cognitive psychology, and should be applicable not only to the Bronze Age Aegean, but to ritual stability and change in other prehistoric contexts.