The Archaeology of Darkness [Paperback]

Marion Dowd (Editor); Robert Hensey (Editor)

ISBN: 9781785701917 | Published by: Oxbow Books | Year of Publication: 2016 | Language: English 144p, H242 x W170 (mm)

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The Archaeology of Darkness


Through time people have lived with darkness. Archaeology shows us that over the whole human journey people have sought out dark places, for burials, for votive deposition and sometimes for retreat or religious ritual away from the wider community. Thirteen papers explore Palaeolithic use of deep caves in Europe and the orientation of mortuary monuments in the Neolithic and Bronze Age. It examines how the senses are affected in caves and monuments that were used for ritual activities, from Bronze Age miners in Wales working in dangerous subterranean settings, to initiands in Italian caves, to a modern caver’s experience of spending time in the one of the world’s deepest caves in Russia. We see how darkness was and is viewed at northern latitudes where parts of the year are spent in eternal night, and in Easter Island where darkness provided communal refuge from the pervasive sun. We know that spending extended periods in darkness and silence can affect one physically, emotionally and spiritually. How did interactions between people and darkness affect individuals in the past and how were regarded by their communities? And how did this interaction transform places in the landscape? As the ever-increasing electrification of the planet steadily minimises the amount of darkness in our lives, curiously, darkness is coming more into focus. This first collection of papers on the subject begins a conversation about the role of darkness in human experience through time.

Table of Contents

List of figures
List of plates
List of tables
List of contributors
1. Past dark: a short introduction to the human relationship with darkness over time
Robert Hensey
2. Darkness visible. Shadows, art, and the ritual experience of caves in Upper Palaeolithic Europe
Paul B. Pettitt
3. Between symbol and senses: the role of darkness in ritual in prehistoric Italy
Ruth D. Whitehouse
4. Experiencing darkness and light in caves: later prehistoric examples from Seulo in central Sardinia
Robin Skeates
5. The dark side of the sky: the orientations of earlier prehistoric monuments in Ireland and Britain
Richard Bradley
6. In search of darkness: cave use in Late Bronze Age Ireland
Marion Dowd
7. Digging into the darkness: the experience of copper mining in the Great Orme, North Wales
Sian James
8. Between realms: entering the darkness of the hare paenga in ancient Rapa Nui (Easter Island)
Sue Hamilton and Colin Richards
9. Dark places and supernatural light in early Ireland    
John Carey
10. Enfolded by the long winter’s night       
Charlotte Damm
11. ‘The outer darkness of madness’ – the Edwardian Winter Garden at Purdysburn public asylum for the insane
Gillian Allmond
12. Descent into darkness
Tim O’Connell
13. Coming in and out of the dark
Gabriel Cooney

Reviews & Quotes

"This slim volume is an excellent addition to any library and is of interest to all concerned with archaeology."
Duncan Berryman
Ulster Journal of Archaeology (15/09/2016)

"We could all learn something from this book…"
Hannah O'Regan
Current Archaeology (29/11/2016)

"The volume draws together an impressive compendium of ways with which humans, both prehistoric and more recent, engage with darkness... I’d thoroughly recommend the volume to both aspiring and established archaeologists with an interest in skyscapes, landscapes and art, particularly in how they relate to ritual, belief and experience."
Fabio Silva
The Journal of Skyscape Archaeology (20/02/2017)

"...thought-provoking papers will interest specialists while attracting general readers."
Laura Slack
Time and Mind: The Journal of Archaeology, Consciousness and Culture (18/03/2019)

"Examining the huan use of dark places from the Paleaeolithic to modern times, there are thirteen contributions in the book, all serving to illuminate archaeological thoughts on exploring the theme of darkness itself and places where light does not penetrate. "
Una MacConville
Archaeology Ireland

"Irish prehistorians have produced some stunning research over the past few years... This book confirms the excellence of contemporary Irish archaeological research. "
Andrew Meiron Jones
Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society

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