Recent discoveries by my friend Lars got me thinking about New Age archaeology. The Mid-summer hippie/druid vs. police battles for Stonehenge are legendary. A few years ago I was given a guided tour of the Salisbury Plain’s finest sites by my charming scholar friend Rebecca Montague. Entering the West Kennet long barrow’s megalithic burial chamber, I felt a marked scent of joss sticks. Becca told me about Mid-summer nights at Silbury Hill, when she was posted to kindly ask hippies not to scale the vulnerable monument. Many agreed not to, but one greying lady became very irate. Before stomping up the hill, she snapped, “I’m not going to let you keep me from sucking at the teat of the Mother Goddess!”.
It’s not uncommon to find little offerings at ancient monuments of the more photogenic kind. A bouquet of wildflowers, a colourful feather weighted down with a stone, a coin or two. There’s even a 1997 Antiquity paper by Chistine Finn about such offerings. Guest books at sites like these are full of messages about astral vibes.
My friend Howard Williams once surveyed a site popular among newagers, using an EDM total station. The instrument gave off a plaintive beep every time he took a measurement. After he had been working for some time, one of the visitors, a hippie girl, came up to him. Visibly agitated, she asked, “It’s you, right? It’s your machine!” Howard didn’t understand at first. Said the girl, “I’ve been meditating and tuning in to the vibrations for two hours now. And it’s just your silly machine!”
As long as these people don’t damage anything or demand reburial, I think it’s great that they care about the sites and visit them. The Çatal Höyük excavation project has long cultivated relations with Goddess cultist tourists. The main threat to the archaeological record isn’t erosion by visitors, it’s lack of awareness, knowledge and interest.