Defining the Ritual, Analyzing Society. The social significance of material culture in pre-Roman cult places of central Italy (ca. 900 - 400 BC)
10 / 2010 - 09 / 2015
Cults are characterized by repetitive actions and symbolic use of material culture. Close study of votive gifts (donations to the supernatural) from past sanctuaries sheds light on religious, ritual actions and highlights changes in ceremonial behaviour that interlink with social changes in society at large. The candidate's chronological and functional analysis of over 8500 ceramic objects from the nature sanctuary of "Laghetto del Monsignore" at Campoverde in protohistoric Latium vetus, south of Rome, has shown the persistence of traditional ritual actions alongside innovations over a period from the 10th till 5th century BC in Latium's most important nature sanctuary. A recently obtained permit released by the Ministero per I Beni e le Attività Culturali at Rome to study additional collections - already under study by the candidate in collaboration with a Dutch-Italian research group - currently adds valuable new data to the existing database, extending it with bone, metal and additional imported objects. Having been involved in cataloguing and studying this vast ritual find complex before starting her actual PhD thesis, will give the candidate a head start in answering the following three research questions relating to 1) the study and interpretation of persistence and change in the ritual practiced at the nature cult place of Laghetto del Monsignore. 2) the contextualization of the cult place of Laghetto del Monsignore 3) inferences on the relationship between changes in cult practices and socio-political change in contemporary Latial society. Ad 1) What do the votive gifts recovered from the lake, among which a vast quantity of miniaturized pottery, tell us about the cults practiced by the worshippers in this particular nature sanctuary in Latium? How did this practice change over the centuries of its use? This question will be approached through a functional analysis of the total corpus of votive gifts within an anthropological theoretical framework. This aspect includes comparison with a selection of other published nature sanctuaries in Central Italy to evaluate the representativeness of cultic behaviour practiced at this particular sanctuary. Ad 2) In what ways was the sanctuary embedded in the local settlement organization and in what ways did changes in the latter affect the sanctuary's functioning over time? This question can be answered by an analysis of the settlement data collected in the archaeological surveys of the Pontine Region Project of the Groningen Institute of Archaeology that have been carried out in the surroundings of the lake as well as by data from the excavations of the proto-urban site of near-by Satricum and other relevant data sets accessible to the candidate. These data will be elaborated in collaboration with members of the PRP team and analysed in geographical models aimed at the reconstruction of ritual topographies in ancient society. Ad 3) In what ways do observed patterns of persistence and change in ritual behaviour and the changing place of nature sanctuaries in settlement organization interlink with socio-political changes in contemporary Latial society, most notably the emergence of an aristocratic elite, as has been deduced from proto-urban settlement contexts and funerary archaeology? Study of the latter domains indicate that society moved from a patron-based tribal organization into an early state to the effect that religion became institutionalized in temple cults practiced at urban centres as at nearby Satricum. In what way did this affect the rituals practiced at the nature cult places of old, in particular at the "Laghetto del Monsignore". What traits remained the same, and why? Answering these questions is fundamental for understanding and interpreting the relationship between ritual behaviour, material culture and social change in pre-Roman central Italy. The archaeological context in this proposal presents us with an outstanding possibility to do so.