New Age Vibes at Archaeological Sites

i-291911bd1ca270a252c98a7746c59149-stonehenge-solstice-crowd.jpgRecent 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.

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  1. #1 mary
    August 1, 2007

    National Park Service actually curates all the feathers, sagebrush-incense, strings, pebbles etc. that folks leave stuck in the walls at Chaco Canyon. Our taxes at work!

  2. #2 Sara
    August 1, 2007

    When we visited Newgrange and Knowth, in Ireland, several of the 25 people on oru bus to the site had brought crystals which they planned to somehow “charge up” inside the tomb, when we were taken in. They tried to linger after the rest of us scrambled back up the passage, to touch the stones to surfaces, and I overhead some discussion of being able to sell the charged stones when they got back home, whereever home was. California, by the accents.

  3. #3 Mattias
    August 2, 2007

    Well, we christians tend to be quite pious when we get to an abandoned church or holy well, so I guess I should not say anything. But we tend to be less intrusive. We are satisifed with some moments of silence or such as we “takes in the wibes.”
    But as long as they do not harm I have no objections, really. And in the matter of repatriation, well, that is something that must be discussed, not only form the “scientific” point of view. But there need to be a dialogue between different parties, but I would not see hippies as one part in the dialogue. What if two different groupings claim the skeletons? How funny it would be to see two of those groups battling it out while the archaeologist hangs on by the sidelines watching in amusement.

  4. #4 Christina
    August 2, 2007

    No, it would not be funny. It would be just like the battle over Kennewick Man (First Nations vs. Asatruar vs the archaeologists), i.e. a massive waste of taxpayers’ money that ten years later seemed to have solved absolutely nothing. Repatriation is a HUGE issue over here on the west coast of Canada, too, which is not to say that we would have dealt with the issue in the same fashion as was done with Kennewick. All I am saying is that what you mention has already happened, and it is no joke when you’re dealing with something that old and precious, especially if vital parts of the otherwise complete skeleton “goes missing” in the process, and new material gets placed in with the remaining parts “somewhow” and so on. We need to get better at this!

  5. #5 Inget att säga
    August 2, 2007

    If they respect the site, then its ok, and they can take in as many vibes as they want, but when they come in buses and live piles of junk behind, or in other way don’t respect this places, I say its better for them to stay home then.

  6. #6 Martin R
    August 3, 2007

    I may have a romantic view of newagers, but I have the feeling that most of them would consider it sacrilege to litter a “sacred” site.

  7. #7 Hans Persson
    August 11, 2007

    I’m pretty sure that I’ve been to the top of Silbury Hill, many years ago.

  8. #8 Martin R
    August 12, 2007

    Sucking at the teat, no doubt.

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