Recognizing Signs of Paranormal Activity in the Archaeological Record
One of the most controversial challenges facing field archaeologists today is the identification of ritual activity in the prehistoric fossil record. In recent years, however, a number of cross-disciplined specialists with concentrations in psychology, religious studies, and ancient history have emerged from the field of anthropology, educated in recognizing the signs of ritual activity, and thus, the realm of the paranormal.
- "Cognitive Archaeology"
- Recognizing the supernatural relationship
- Hopewellian "sphere"
- A ritual/paranormal event
- The supernatural realm
As no archaeological site to date has contained artifacts labeled, For Ritual Use Only, it’s always a daunting challenge in itself to delineate utilitarian artifacts from ceremonial--a challenge beyond the purview of most archaeologists of the past. In recent years, however, a number of cross-disciplined specialists (like myself)--with concentrations in psychology, religious studies, and ancient history--have emerged from the field of anthropology, educated in recognizing the signs of ritual activity, and thus the realm of the paranormal. Among the most controversial of my profession, archaeologists like myself practice what is referred to as "Cognitive Archaeology."
Recognizing the supernatural relationship
From January to August of 2009, I was part of a team excavating a 1,500--1,800-year-old Weeden Island/Safety Harbor shoreline midden (debris deposit) at Parque Narvaez on Boca Ciega Bay in St Petersburg, Florida, part of a site containing a large platform mound and two burial mounds first investigated by famed Florida archaeologist William Sears in the 1950s. Our primary objective was the retrieval of shell tools, animal bones, ornamentation, and other artifacts indicative of Weeden day-to-day life. Although a limited history of these industrious people has been slowly pieced together over the past 85 years, there is much we still don’t know about their social structure, division of labor, diet and food procurement, trade system, and religious practices, so this was an opportunity to add key elements to a prehistoric picture that could illuminate virtually every aspect of this remarkable culture. And while thousands of pots and pottery sherds, arrow and spear points, shell tools, shell and stone beads, bone hair pins, carved figurines, black pearls, and even articulated (in-tact) skeletons have been unearthed from the vicinity, clear evidence of ritual activity has been elusive. And even though one can reasonably assume that any human remains found in this setting would have been ritually interred (and therefore done in accordance with early man‘s understanding of the paranormal realm), recognizing artifacts that reflect this supernatural relationship takes a keen eye for detail and an even keener understanding of human behavior.
To recognize signs of paranormal activity in the archaeo-record, one must first be well-versed on all that is known about a given culture. As regards the Weeden Island people of Florida, we know that they were among the most southern indigenous groups to be part of the Ohio Hopewellian “sphere” of influence which began about 2400 BP in southern Ohio. Best known for their elaborate mound and earthwork complexes built all across the Eastern half of what is present-day United States, the Hopewell are believed to have influenced architectural, artifact, and settlement design for virtually all native groups from the Rockies to the East Coast, as well as instituted the first continent-wide religious practices ever known. And while we can’t know exactly what their rituals entailed, evidence of ritual behavior appears repeatedly in thousands of mounds and ritual setting across the continent--from Maine to Florida--suggesting a thoroughly integrated--almost intimate--relationship with paranormal activity.
A ritual/paranormal event
In July of ’09 while digging down about 90 centimeters into a midden at the Parque Narvaez site, uncovering the occasional pottery fragment and mammalian vertebrae, we hit a deposit of pen shells. This particular variety of Gulf Coast shell (common to Tampa Bay) is very thin and fragile, almost translucent, with a pearl-like, opaline finish. Although it isn’t rare to find this type of clam shell in a Florida midden--the Weeden people ate millions of them--this specific deposit lay absolutely flat in the ground, as if placed in a layer rather than haphazardly tossed--as would be expected. As I brushed away the sand, a thin and even lens (a continuous layer) was revealed that shimmered in the sun like a glistening sheet of mother-of-pearl--a phenomenon virtually impossible to have occurred naturally. I was quickly reminded of Hopewellian archaeologist Warren Moorehead’s description of the striking layers of mica (a type of highly reflective, silicate mineral that comes in sheets and superficially resembles pin shell) he’d uncovered during his excavation of the Hopewell Mound Group in southern Ohio, and wondered if in the absence of mica, Weeden people had used pen shells. (Moorehead had assumed the layer he’d discovered was ritual in nature, and subsequently discovered this mica lens in many burial settings.) Carefully removing each shell, a human hand bone and a single large spear point were discovered lying in close proximity--the first of either we’d excavated from this midden. Though we cannot know the significance of these artifacts, it seems likely that the ritual capping was indicative of a ritual event; a prescribed behavior based on the Weeden people’s understanding of the paranormal. I’d uncovered what I believe to be a ritual/paranormal event reflective of countless others that took place over the course of 2,000 years across the vast expanses of the Hopewellian sphere by countless indigenous peoples.
The supernatural realm
While the field of archaeology categorically dismisses “paranormal activity” as improvable, there can be no denying that to understand a given culture, one must not only acknowledge their perception of the supernatural realm, one must view their material culture with an eye toward paranormal interaction. For centuries, archaeologists haphazardly classified all artifacts as utilitarian, never stopping to consider the significance of those used for ritual. As a result, cultures like the Anasazi of the US Southwest, and the Hopewell to a lesser degree, continue to elude our understanding because we persist in undervaluing their relationship with the paranormal; a relationship that has pervaded virtually all known cultures both past and present day. I believe that as the field of anthropology evolves, they’ll be a greater need for archaeologists who can recognize signs of paranormal activity in the archaeological record to make the cultural picture complete.
lightstalkers(dot)org (Modern ritual)
traditioninaction(dot)org (Ancient ritual)