Scholia Reviews ns 16 (2007) 44.
Evangelos Kyriakidis, Ritual in the Bronze Age Aegean. The Minoan Peak Sanctuaries. London: Duckworth, 2006. Pp. 201. ISBN 0-7156-3248-5. UK£45.00.
History and Ancient Studies, St. Olaf College, USA.
This is a book about ritual more than Bronze Age material remains or society. Adapted from the author's 2002 Cambridge doctoral dissertation, Ritual in the Bronze Age Aegean seeks to construct a theoretical framework for identifying ritual behaviour, especially religious ritual behaviour in the archaeological record of the Minoan peak sanctuaries of the second millennium BCE. It takes a middle line between previous 'uninterested and over- reconstructed approaches' to Minoan religious activity, choosing to focus on ritual 'as an important and informative class of action' in its own right (p. 2). The main questions addressed are: 'How can ritual value be attributed to a given action?' and 'How can the degree of establishment of a ritual be assessed?' (p. 11). The ultimate goal is to provide a methodology by which the archaeologist might identify both the ritual component of material remains and the degree to which ritual has been embedded within the society that produced those ritualised material remains. Consequently, most of the work is devoted to constructing and evaluating methodologies and interpretative frameworks and is heavy on social theory. As Kyriakidis argues, 'without a theoretically rigorous approach, it is impossible to go beyond the mere hypothesis that the activities studied are ritual' (p. 50). Given its methodological focus this book will be of special interest to the student of social theory and religious behaviours, as the introduction and the eight chapters that follow are concerned primarily with developing and justifying Kyriakidis' model for identifying and interpreting ritual. Nonetheless, social and cultural historians of the Bronze Age will find the later chapters, especially Chapter 10, which offers a social history of the peak sanctuaries and considers their institutional development over time, and Chapter 11, which concludes the work with an overview of the model and the implications of peak sanctuary rituals on Minoan society and power relationships at large, useful.
Chapter 1, 'Introduction: Ritual and Minoan Archaeology' (pp. 1-12), begins the theoretical framework of the study with a critical review of the evolution of Minoan archaeology. Here, Kyriakidis' objective is to highlight weak points (such as the artificial separation between ritual and religion) and demonstrate the need for a clear methodology that can attribute 'religious value to a given ritual activity' (p. 10). In Chapter 2, 'What's in a Name? The "Peak Sanctuaries"' (pp. 13-27), Kyriakidis demonstrates, through a brief analysis of the material remains, that peak sanctuaries are especially fertile ground on which to develop a methodology for understanding ritual. Chapter 3, 'Attributing Ritual Value' (pp. 28-40), then begins to build the framework for such a method by reviewing the theoretical literature. After a discussion of many different models, Kyriakidis concludes that ritual must contain elements of traditionalism, repetition, invariance, rule-governance, formality, 'symbolism', and performance -- what Kyriakidis loosely calls 'frame of mind'. Chapter 4, 'The Archaeology of Ritual' (pp. 41-49), moves forward to test the method on prehistoric archaeology in general, with special attention given to symbolism and its identification and interpretation. Chapter 5, 'Evidence of Ritual Value: The "Peak Sanctuaries"' (pp. 50-59), applies the model to peak sanctuaries in particular and explores the ways in which they are special for ritual purposes in terms of the criteria adduced in Chapter 3. Chapter 6, 'Going Further with Ritual: Praxis and Belief' (pp. 60-67), returns to the theoretical model created earlier and explores the religious underpinnings of ritual, in order to determine 'whether its practice or the underlying beliefs are to be credited with its perpetuation' (p. 60). Chapter 7, 'The Establishment of Ritual' (pp. 68-76), continues these themes by examining the extent to which ritual is embedded, or 'established', in society. Through a discussion of how the individual traits, identified in Chapter 3, influence society in terms of belief and identity, Kyriakidis explores the interconnections between the establishment of ritual and the establishment of society itself. Chapter 8, 'The Establishment of the Minoan Peak Sanctuary Rituals' (pp. 77-98), puts these ideas into practice by assessing both the degree of establishment and the secular or religious orientation of the peak sanctuary rituals. Chapter 9, 'More Established Rituals: Evidence for Institutions' (pp. 99-112), continues by exploring the non-ritual traits, such as storage capacity, workshop capability, and material investment, to tease out the institutions which support ritual. Kyriakidis argues that the great amount of wealth dedicated, managed, and produced at peak sanctuaries shows the degree to which peak sanctuary ritual was 'established' and 'institutionalised' within Minoan society. Chapter 10, 'The Rise and Fall of the Minoan Peak Sanctuaries' (pp. 113-19), synthesises the results of previous chapters and offers a social history of the Minoan peak sanctuaries. Here, Kyriakidis suggests that the peak sanctuaries' commanding position in high places played a pivotal role in their development: begun as refugee sites, the peak sanctuaries quickly became natural meeting places between areas of settlement and as such, nodes of tension and competition. The more competition a site hosted, the more investment in terms of dedication and building it received, until some sites evolved into institutional entities with their own production facilities and political and social power. Kyriakidis argues that the homogeneity of these fully developed sites all over the island suggests that peak sanctuaries played a significant role in shaping and maintaining a common identity for the Minoans of the Old and New Palace periods. Chapter 11, 'Conclusion' (pp. 120-27), reiterates the salient points of the work through a summary of the main arguments. The book ends with an appendix that offers an extensive analysis of the finds and features associated with the relevant peak sanctuaries discussed earlier.
This book is very much a study of method rather than a study of subject and its heavy use of theory might turn away some readers, especially non-specialists. This reviewer would not recommend it for the undergraduate audience. The book's origins in a dissertation are especially evident in the careful definition of terms, extensive survey of relevant literature, reiteration of methodology and summary of argument and progress at the start and close of each chapter. While detailed review and summary makes the contributions of each chapter clear, and provides a ready segue between sections, it also results in much repetition and redundancy in the work as a whole. This might put off some readers. But this is a minor quibble. Kyriakidis has produced a useful interpretive framework for understanding and recognising ritual that should provoke much debate.