Objectives and Methods
Since it was founded, the DAI has studied complexes of this nature, and so it has at its disposal a multitude of research data on the subject. The material basis for the comparison is a representative sample of scientifically well examined sanctuaries.
These sanctuaries will be considered and compared in thematic categories according to the temporal dimension; genesis, continuity and change during its existence; and finally the cessation of religious practice at the site and its loss of function. The question of change in the course of time is of crucial importance, too, in the investigation of ritual practice, which unifies site, form and design, and the participants in the cult.
Every cult and every ritual site is invested with meaning only through the communities responsible for the emergence and spread of the religion. Very few ritual sites retain their character unchanged throughout the period of their existence. And no cult is eternal - often the god falls silent, as was said to have happened at Delphi.
This cluster aims to view sacred sites as stages and results of processes. In other words, the stages of existence in various societies will be defined and analysed in comparative studies.
Genesis and continuity
Speakers: Reinhard Senff, Wolf-Dietrich Niemeier
In recent decades archaeology, in particular, has brought to light revealing information about the origin of many sanctuaries. Sanctuaries are often amongst the oldest structures of a settlement, where for example a founding hero or a patron deity is honoured. They may however also be erected later in time at existing settlements or at pre-existing ritual sites. As religious centres they have a claim to universality; as places of assembly of small or exclusive groups they strengthen the sense of belonging and serve political purposes. In many instances they play an important part not only in establishing the cultural identity of the cult participants, but also in securing the community's territory.
It is often possible to detect a connection with natural phenomena - even though a site throughout its existence may play host to successive different forms of a cult which may obscure or even replace the original practices.
While historical research, drawing primarily on written information, frequently presents a supposedly clear-cut picture of a sacred site, archaeology in many cases can achieve a much more complex, nuanced representation.
Indeed, in representing sacred places, there has been a deplorable tendency to assume unbroken continuities and insufficient consideration has been given to underlying social and political transformations in the interpretation of architecture, furnishings and cult artefacts. It is another task of this research field to view the sanctuaries in question in relation to changes known to have occurred thanks to other fields of study.
The involvement of various related disciplines, including their methodologies, will allow the thorough testing and revision of existing models. In the past it has often only been possible to make imprecise conjectures about the causes of change. Chronologically deep and topographically wide, the projects of the DAI will supply the first concrete answers to the question of the causes of change.
The end and after-life of ritual sites
Speaker: Stefan Lehmann
The end and after-life of ritual sites in the ancient Mediterranean region is the object of study of this project group. It is a subject which, in research conducted thus far, has been dealt with in a remarkably imprecise manner, both in terms of technical questions and terminology. The abundance of differently shaded terms for the end of a ritual site (waning, decline, demise, transition, change, etc.) is an indication of the ambiguity surrounding this key phenomenon.
The primary functions of a ritual site were religious (sacrificial site, altar, temple, cult image, offering, consecration, festival, ritual, procession). When the cult was no longer practised, the ritual site lost its raison d'être. Hence the end of a ritual site should be seen as the moment or final stage where its primary functions lapsed irrevocably. What has not been sufficiently appreciated in research to date, however, is the multiplicity of functions of a ritual site. The disappearance of the traditional cult did not automatically signify the material end of its ritual site. Large ritual sites in particular served secondary functions as well - economic, social, politically symbolic - and thus they could survive beyond the cessation of a cult as a centre of communication, the setting of a festival, or a focal point in the identification process for a local or regional population. Thereafter ritual sites continued an after-life in people's memories.
The project group will study ritual sites in the Mediterranean region from the Stone Age to late antiquity. Starting with find assemblages of excavations commenced relatively long ago, the project group will analyse the final, often neglected phase of use of ancient ritual sites and will seek to integrate their altering functions into a larger local and supralocal context. The second objective is to confront the find assemblages with written testimony. By this means the end and after-life of ritual sites can be analysed in all its aspects more precisely than heretofore.
It is hoped that the anticipated results will fill a gap in the study of ancient sanctuaries. The project group will thereby contribute to a better understanding of the archaeology and history of key sites of ancient religions.
Speaker: Nils Hellner
Sanctuaries are always consciously occupied, designed spaces for the practice of a cult of some kind. The spectrum ranges from simply laid-out nature sanctuaries via peak sanctuaries, stelae fields, wayside altars, burnt offering sites to monumental temples. The sanctuary as a designed space is the basic expression of a society or culture and its creativity and/or wealth - and possibly even the deliberate non-display of such. The form and design of a sanctuary reflect the form and design of the religion: its needs, demands and the objectives of the cult.
What expectations does a culture, social group or individual have of the sacred site? The sanctuaries are to be analysed with regard to the following aspects:
- division of the space into public and private areas or conspicuously emphasized areas
- depositing or destruction of the votives, i.e. cremation sites or store-rooms
- paths or fixed points, succession of spaces
- forms of ritual procedure or worship
- screening of the sanctuary or visibility of the image of the deity or focus of the cult
- dimensions of the designed space in relation to people.
The degree of unity, the external development, the network of paths within the complex, the different weighting given to external and internal appearance are the variables by which sacred spaces can be shaped and formed.
What are the common characteristics of sanctuaries in contrast to profane places? Among defining factors may be geographical features (water source, mountain peak, mountain plateau, cave), special features of the landscape (trees, clearing, copse) and requirements of the cult itself (line of sight, mythical places, places of social memory). Creative engagement with these determinants can lead to the production of a new type of structure, the adaptation of an already existing type, or even the design of the space in a way that completely ignores such typologies.
The spatial design can disregard the geographical features of the locality and it can also be determined by it. The functional requirements made by the cult itself can be taken into account in differing degrees in the lay-out of the sanctuary. A key contribution can be made by large-scale analysis of the cult topography, i.e. the position that a sanctuary occupies within a territory or a defined cult landscape: is it located at the boundary, or does it define one? Does it constitute the centre, or is it isolated, or can a constellatory grouping be discerned?
Votives and ritual
Speakers: Gunvor Lindström - Dietrich Raue - Thomas Schattner
Rital sites have at all times been domains of encounter with the sacred. The encounter could take the form of symbolic actions and ritual, such as processions, dance and music, prayer, oracles, animal sacrifices, libations, incense offerings, dedications and banquets or ritual meals. Rituals, just like the architecture and interior design of a sanctuary, reflect the conceptions of a given society, and an understanding of rituals is important if we aspire to a historical reconstruction of those conceptions. Today however the sequence of the rites, i.e. the formalized, orchestrated and repeatedly performed acts, can only be ascertained in part. For the region of the ancient Near East, ancient Egypt and the Graeco-Roman world, written documents like ritual texts and laws, and graphic representations like vase paintings and frescos, can provide clues as to the form and sequence of some of these acts. For rituals which were not documented in writing or by images, on the other hand, such relics as remain in the earth are the only evidence we have of cult activity.
In many sanctuaries layers of ash are to be found, mixed with animal bones and artefacts, which could constitute the material remains of sacrifices and/or ritual meals. Analysis of such relicts requires interdisciplinary cooperation (e.g. consulting specialists in the analysis of archaeofauna and botanical finds), as has been practised for a long time already in various projects. This can throw light upon aspects of the rites for which there is no written or iconographic testimony.
Extremely common - and not infrequently the only evidence of the existence of an ancient sanctuary - are votive offerings which were left at the same spot where they were once displayed or were subsequently deposited separately in the sanctuary. These offerings to deities bear witness to the symbolic exchange of gifts between believer and deity, and they can reflect both the religious conceptions and the social background of the cult participants, such as status, gender and origin. The investigations of the votive offerings are aimed at gaining information about the composition of the cult society and thereby also about the character of the ritual site - whether, for example, it was of local or transregional significance; or was visited mainly by women or by men. At many sacred sites there are large quantities of votives spanning several centuries. A diachronic analysis of votive spectrums may shed light on the evolution of ritual sites, and also more broadly it allows specific period preferences to be observed regarding votive types and the conventions of their use, which may reflect societal change, not only changes in religious beliefs or practices.
Only with considerable reservations can what we know about ritual practice in ancient sanctuaries be applied to the sanctuaries of prehistoric cultures. Often it is questionable whether there was any concept at all of deities to whom sacrifices and offerings were made and for whom rites were performed. Therefore basic questions need to be asked about the nature of prevailing religious notions. In this effort, particular importance attaches to the rock art from the late Stone Age onwards such as may be found in cave sanctuaries, for example. So far only an approximate evaluation has been possible of the Neolithic iconography now available for study in the Near East. What is already clear is that image and cult were closely associated in this region and that a notation system predating writing existed in a religious context. The creation of this system evidently enabled the society that created it to fix its cultural memory effectively. A comparison would appear to be possible here with the votives displayed in ancient sanctuaries and the rituals practised there.