A cross-cultural analysis of community ritual: Archaeological implications of the relationship between ceremony and space

Verity H Whalen, Purdue University


The goal of this study is to evaluate archaeological interpretations of ritual based on the spaces in which the rituals occurred. In order to better understand the validity of the archaeological interpretation of ritual, I evaluated 38 community rituals from a cross-cultural ethnographic sample of 15 cultures. Thus, archaeological assumptions of ritual material remains were tested against ethnographic descriptions of actual rituals. For each culture, I synthesized ethnographic descriptions of rituals and undertook an architectural analysis of the spaces used for community ritual.^ The analysis resulted in a more complete picture of community rituals and the spaces in which they occurred. Specifically, I found considerable variability in the relationship between rituals and architecture cross-culturally, however some patterns emerged that archaeologists may use to interpret ancient ritual. In particular, the results indicated that archaeologists studying ritual in non-state societies should be wary of making interpretations using characteristics based on monumental architecture in states. Based on these results, archaeologists can generally expect specialized ritual spaces to be less frequent in relation to the residential community, and architecturally restricted spaces to be the locale of exclusive rituals.^




Kevin J. Vaughn, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Anthropology, Archaeology

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