I’ve recently finished reading this book and have been raving to all and sundry about it. Despite it’s grandiose title it offers a clear and level headed discussion of the archaeology of religion in a North American archaeological context. His key concept is the idea of ‘bundling’, a process by which sacred things, events and materials are brought into relationship with people. I found his early chapter on medicine bundles especially fascinating (bundles being an apposite example of the process of bundling) as it seemed to offer a fresh way of thinking about the assemblages of artefacts we call ‘hoards’ or simply ‘ structured deposits’ in European prehistory.
The majority of the book is a detailed discussion of aspects of the sacred landscape of Cahokia, Illinois, one of the key civic centres in early historic America. Cahokia has been the subject of much of Pauketat’s work over the past several years, and it was good to see a cohesive discussion of the site (mainly because I don’t know much about it). The chronological time frame of the book is not prehistoric, strictly speaking, though the methods and concerns of the book speak to many of the issues discussed by European prehistorians.
Finally, the book lays to rest Christopher Hawkes old assertion that religion is an intangible of human experience and therefore unavailable for archaeological study, by instead showing that religion is a material concern, and that materials were vibrant and animate substances for the inhabitants of historic Cahokia. An excellent example of the use of archaeological theory to write a really interesting account of the past. An example for us all to follow.