How is Archaeology of Religion Possible?

  • Zorica Kuzmanović Department of Archaeology, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Belgrade
prehistory, religion, ritual, funerary rite, holism, practice


The text discusses the epistemological problems and dilemmas of the attempts to study religious life in prehistory by archaeological means. Among numerous difficulties, theoretical as well as practical, hindering these attempts, a general problem is discussed here: is archaeology of religion possible and on what grounds? This dilemma raised a series of discussions over the last decades of the 20th century, primarily among the English-speaking archaeologists. However, in the tradition of regional archaeology of Yugoslavian and post-Yugoslavian lands this discussion has not been initiated, and the religious life of the prehistoric communities has not been the subject of particular research interest. Consequently, the aim of this paper is to bring attention to the possibilities and limitations of research into religion in prehistory, referring to the recent discussions in wider archaeological community. Two questions are discussed: firstly, how religion is conceptualized and defined in prehistoric contexts, and secondly, how it is possible to make inferences on religion on the grounds of material remains, if religion is understood in general sense, as belief in supernatural, non-material principles.  The text concludes by the suggestion that the holistic approach, advocating that the religious phenomena should be regarded in structural relationship to all other aspects of social life, is productive if this proposition is taken to imply the scrutiny of numerous correlations between religion and other social domains. However, it is not acceptable to deny heuristic and analytic value of the very concept of religion. The importance of research into religious rituals is stressed, i.e. religious behaviour and practices, that are accessible through archaeological record, as opposed to religious principles, beliefs and dogmas. The orientation of archaeological research towards the field of ritual practices presupposes the effort to discern the purpose of a ritual and its outcomes, i.e. to consider the structural intertwining of ritual behaviour with all other aspects of social life, in accordance with the holistic approach. 


Download data is not yet available.


Aldenderfer, Mark. 2010. “Gimme that Old Time Religion: Rethinking the role of religion in the Emergence of Social Inequality”. In Pathways to Power. New Perspective on the Emergence of Social Inequality, edited by Price T. Douglas and Gery M. Feinman, 77–95. New York: Springer.
Asad, Talal. 1993. Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam. Balti-more: John Hopkins University Press.
Babić Staša. 2002. “’Princley Graves’ of the Central Balkans – A critical history of research”. European Jour-nal of Archaeology 5 (1): 70–88.
Babić, Staša. 2004. Poglavarstvo i polis. Starije gvozdeno doba centralnog Balkana i grčki svet. Beograd: Bal-kanološki institut SANU.
Bandović, Aleksandar D. 2017. „Miloje Vasić i Gustaf Kosina: susret koji se nije dogodio?“. Zbornik Narod-nog muzeja XXIII (1): 409–433.
Barrett, John C. 1989. “The living, the Dead and the Ancestors: Neolithic and Early Bronze Age Mortuary Pra-ctice”. In The Archaeology of Context in the Neolithic and Bronze Age, edited by John C. Barrett and Ian Kinnes, 30–41. Sheffield: University of Sheffield, Department of Archaeology and Prehistory.
Barrett, John C. 1991. “Towards an archaeology of Ritual”. In Sacred and Profane. Proceedings of Conference on Archaeology, Ritual and Religion, edited by Paul Garwood, David Jennings, Robin Skates and Judith Toms, 1–10. Oxford: Oxford University Committee for Archaeology.
Batović, Šime. 1987. „Liburnska grupa“. U Praistorija jugoslavenskih zemalja V, uredio Alojz Benac, 339–391. Sarajevo: Centar za balkanološka ispitivanja ANUBiH.
Bell, M. Catherine. 1992. Ritual theory, ritual practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Benac, Alojz, ur. 1964. Simpozijum o teritorijalnom i hronološkom razgraničenju Ilira u praistorijsko doba. Sarajevo: Centar za balkanološka ispitivanja ANUBiH.
Benac, Alojz, Borivoj Čović i Edina Alirejsović (ur.) 1984. Duhovna kultura Ilira. Sarajevo: Centar za balka-nološka ispitivanja ANUBiH.
Benac, Alojz. 1973. „O identifikaciji ilirskog etnosa“. Godišnjak Centra za balkanolo­ška ispitivanja XI: 93–107.
Benac, Alojz. 1984. „Kult mrtvih na Ilirskom području u praistorijskom dobu“. U Duhovna kultura Ilira, ure-dio Alojz Benac, Borivoj Čović i Edina Alirejsović, 133–153. Sarajevo: Centar za balkanološka ispitivanja ANUBiH.
Benac, Alojz. 2012. Religijske predstave prastanovnika južnoslovenskih zemalja. Sarajevo: Centar za balkano-loška ispitivanja ANUBiH. (publikovano poshumno)
Berger, Peter L. 2008. „Desekularizacija sveta: opšti pregled“. U Desekularizacija sveta. Preporod religije i svetska politika, prevela Minja Janković, 11–31. Novi Sad: Mediteran.
Bloch, Maurice and Jonathan Parry. 1982. “Introduction: death and regeneration of life”. In Death and the re-generation of life, edited by Maurice Bloch and Jonathan Parry, 1–45. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Bloch, Maurice. 1986. From Blessing to Violence: History and Ideology in the Circumcision Ritual of the Me-rina of Madagascar. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Bloch, Maurice. 2008. “Why Religion is Nothing Special but is Central.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B363: 2055–61.
Bloch, Maurice. 2010a. “Bloch on Bloch on ‘Religion’”. In Religion and Society: Advances in Research ‘Por-traits’ 1 - Special Virtual Issue, 4–1. Berghahn Books.
Bloch, Maurice. 2010b. “Is There Religion at Catalhöyük… Or Are There Just Houses?” In Religion in the E-mergence of Civilisation: Catalhöyük as a Case Study, edited by Ian Hodder, 146–164. Cambridge: Cam-bridge University Press.
Bowie, Fiona. 2008. “Anthropology of Religion“. Religion Compass 2/5: 862–874.
Bradley, Richard. 2005. Ritual and Domestic Life in Prehistoric Europe. London: Routledge.
Brück, Joanna. 1999. “Ritual and rationality: Some Problems of Interpretation in European Archaeology”. Eu-ropean Journal of Archaeology 2 (3): 313–344.
Cannell, Fenella. 2010. “Is Ritual Really Like a Hat? Or, The Category Formerly Known as ‘Religion’”. Religi-on and Society: Advances in Research ‘Portraits’ 1 - Special Virtual Issue. Berghahn Books: 22–24.
Carr, Christopher. 1995. “Mortuary practices: their social, philosophical-religious, circumstantial, and physical determinants”. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 2 (2): 105–200.
Cermanović, Aleksandrina. 1962. „Nekoliko spomenika tračkog konjanika iz naše zemlje i problem tračkog konanika“. Starinar n.s. 13-14: 113–124.
Čović, Borivoj. 1964. „Osnovne karakteristike materijalne kulture Ilira na njihovom centralnom području“. U Simpozijum o teritorijalnom i hronološkom razgraničenju Ilira u praistorijsko doba, uredio Alojz Benac, 95–111. Sarajevo: Centar za balkanološka ispitivanja ANUBiH.
Čović, Borivoj. 1976. Od Butmira do Ilira. Sarajevo: Veselin Masleša.
Čović, Borivoj. 1984. „Umetnost kasnog bronzanog i starijeg gvozdenog doba na istočnoj Jadranskoj obali i u njenom zaleđu“. U Duhovna kultura Ilira, uredio Alojz Benac, 7–41. Sarajevo: Centar za balkanološka ispi-tivanja ANUBiH.
Davie, Grace. 2008. „Evropa: izuzetak koji dokazuje pravilo?“ U Desekularizacija sveta. Preporod religije i svetska politika, prevela Minja Janković, 81–101. Novi Sad: Mediteran.
Drechster-Bižić, Ružica. 1987. „Japodska grupa“. U Praistorija jugoslavenskih zemalja V, uredio Alojz Benac, 391–442. Sarajevo: Centar za balkanološka ispitivanja ANUBiH.
Edwards, David N. 2005. “The archaeology of religion”. In The Archaeology of Identity. Approaches to gender, age, status, ethnicity and religion, edited by Margarita Díaz-Andreu, Sam Lucy, Staša Babić and David N. Edwards, 110–128. London: Routledge.
Fernández-Götz, Manuel. 2016. “The Power of the Past: Ancient Cult and Collective Memory in the Central Europe Iron Age”. In Funerary Practice during the Bronze and Iron Ages in Central and Southgeastern Eu-rope, edited by V. Sirbu, M. Jevtić, K. Dmitrović i M. Ljuština, 165–178. Beograd and Čačak: Univerzitet u Beogradu and Narodni muzej u Čačku.
Fogelin, Lars. 2007. “The Archaeology of Religious Ritual”. The Annual Review of ­Anthropology 36: 55–71.
Garašanin, Draga. 1951. „Prilog proučavanju Dupljajskih kolica“. Starinar II: 270–272.
Garašanin, Draga. 1976. „Razmišljanja o ilirskoj etničkoj interpretaciji nalaza iz gvozdenog doba“. Godišnjak XIII: 173–179.
Garašanin, Milutin 1979. „Ka istorijskoj i etničkoj interpretaciji sahranjivanja pod tumulima na ilirskom pod-ručju“. U Sahranjivanje kod Ilira, uredio Milutin Garašanin, 1–12. Beograd: Balkanološki institut SANU.
Garašanin, Milutin. 1988. „Nastanak i poreklo Ilira“. U Iliri i Albanci, uredio Milutin Garašanin, 9–80. Beo-grad: SANU.
Goody, Jack. 1961. “Religion and ritual: the definitional problem”. British Journal of Sociology 12: 142–164.
Goody, Jack.1977. “Against ‘ritual’: loosely structured thoughts on a loosely defined topic”. In Secular Ritual, edited by S. F. Moore and B. G. Myerhoff, 25–35. Assen: Van Gorcum.
Gramsch, Alexander. 1995. “Death and Continuity“. Journal of European Archaeology 3.1: 71–90.
Gramsch, Alexander and Tomas Meier. 2013. “An Archaeological Outline of Ritual Dynamic and Social Spa-ce”. In Counterpoint: Essays on Archaeology and Heritage Studies in Honour of Professor Kristian Kristi-ansen, edited by S. Bergerbrand and S. Sabatini, 193–198. BAR International Series 2508. Oxford: British Archaeological Reports.
Henninger-Rener, Sashur. 2020. “Religion”. In Perspectives: Open Introduction to Cultural Anthropology, edi-ted by N. Brown, T. McIlwraith and L. Tubele de González, 286–303. American Anthropological Associati-on.
Hodder, Ian. 1992. Theory and Practice in Archaeology. London: Routledge.
Insoll, Thimothy. 2004a. Archaeology, Ritual, Religion. London: Routledge.
Insoll, Thimothy. 2004b. “Are Archaeologists afraid of Gods? Some thoughts on Archaeology and Religion”. In Belief in the Past. The Proceedings of the 2002. Manchester Conference on Archaeology, 1–6. BAR Interna-tional Series 1212. Oxford: British Archaeological Reports.
Jovanović, Aleksandar. 2003. „Kult Apolona u predrimskom period na prostoru severnog Balkana“. U Rad Dragoslava Srejovića na istraživanju antičke arheologije, uredio Nikola Tasić, 9–20. Kragujevac: Centar za naučna istraživanja SANU i Univerzitet u Kragujevcu.
Jovanović, Aleksandar. 2007. Ogledi iz antičkog kulta i ikonografije. Beograd: Filozofski fakultet.
Kaljanac, Adnan. 2015. Historija arheologije. U potrazi za prošlošću. Sarajevo: Univerzitet u Sarajevu.
Kyriakidis, Evangelos. 2007. “Archaeologies of Ritual”. In The Archaeology of Ritual, edited by Evangelos Kyriakidis, 289–308. Los Angeles: Cotsen Institute of Archaeology.
Kuzmanović, Zorica and Ivan Vranić. 2014. “On the reflexive nature of archaeologies of the Western Balkan Iron Age: A case study of the ‘Illyrian argument’”. Anthropologie, International Journal of the Science of Man 51 (2): 249–259.
Lévy-Bruhl, Lucien. 1998. Primitivni mentalitet, preveo Niko Beruds. Beograd: Plato.
Libe, Herman. 2012 (2086). Religija posle prosvetiteljstva, preveo Slobodan Damnjanović. Beograd: Albatros Plus.
Malinovski, Bronislav. 1971 (1948). Magija, nauka i religija. Beograd: Prosveta.
Marković, Čedomir. 2006. Arheologija Crne Gore. Podgorica: Cid.
Meier, Thomas and Petra Tillessen. 2014. “Archaeological imagination of religion: an introduction from an Anglo-German perspective”. In Archaeological Imaginations of Religion, edited by Thomas Meier and Pet-ra Tillessen, 11–249. Budapest: Archaeolinqua Foundation.
Mihajlović, Vladimir D. 2014. “Tracing Ethnicity Backwards: the case of ‘Central Balkan Tribes’”. In Frin-gerprinting the Iron Age, eds. C. N. Popa and S. Stoddart, 97–108. Oxbow Books.
Milosavljević, Monika i Aleksandar Palavestra. 2016. „Zakon periferije“. Etnoantropološki problemi 11 (3): 775-808.
Mithen, Steven. 1996. The Prehistory of the Mind. A Search for the Origins of Art, Religion and Science. Lon-don: Thames & Hudson.
Morley, Ian. 2007. “Time, Cycles and Ritual Behaviour”. In Cult in Context: Reconsidering Ritual in Archaeo-logy, edited by David A. Barrowclough and Caroline Malone, 205–209. Oxford: Oxbow.
Morris, Ian. 1992. Death-Ritual and Social Structure in Classical Antiquity. Cambridge University Press.
Morris, Ian. 1987. Burial and ancient society. The rise of the Greek city-state. Cambridge University Press.
Novaković, Predrag. 2015. Historija arheologije u novim zemljama Jugoistočne Evrope. Sarajevo: Univerzitet u Sarajevu.
Palavestra, Aleksandar. 2011. „U službi kontinuiteta. Etno-arheologija u Srbiji“. Etnoantropološki problemi 6 (3): 579–594.
Palavestra, Aleksandar. 2014. „Arheološki izlet u pograničnu koloniju“. Etnoantropološki problemi 9 (3): 669–696.
Palavestra, Aleksandar and Staša Babić. 2016. “False Analogy: Transfer of Theories and Methods in Archaeo-logy (Case Study of Serbia)”. European Journal of Archaeology 19 (2): 316–334.
Palavestra, Aleksandar i Monika Milosavljević. 2016. „Hiperboreja u srpskoj arheologiji“. Arhaika 4: 119–140.
Renfrew, Colin A. 1985. The Archaeology of Cult: the Sanctuary at Phylakopi. London: British Schoool of Ar-chaeology at Athens.
Renfrew, Colin A. 1994. “The archaeology of religion”. In The Ancient Mind, edited by Colin Renfrew and E-zra Zubrow, 47–54. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Renfrew, Colin and Paul Bahn. 2012 (1991). Archaeology: Theories, Methods, and Practice. London: Thames & Hudson.
Richards, Colin and Julian Thomas. 1984. “Ritual Activity and structured deposition in late Neolithic Wessex”. In Neolithic Studies: a Review of Some Recent Work, edited by Richard Bradley and J. Gardiner, 189–218. British Archaeological Reports, Series 133.
Rowan, M. Yorke. 2012. “Beyond Belief: The Archaeology of Religion and Ritual”. Archaeological papers of the American Anthropological Association 21 (1): 1–10.
Sørennsen, Jørgen Podemmann. 1993. “Ritualistics: A New Discipline in the History of Religious”. In The Problem of Ritual. Based on Papers Read at the Symposium on Religious Rites Held at Ăbo, Finland, 1991, 9–27. Abo: The Donner Institute for Research in Religious and Cultural History.
Srejović Dragoslav. 1979. „Pokušaj etničkog i hronološkog razgraničenjna starobalkanskih plemena na osnovu načina sahranjnivanja“. U Sahranjivanje kod Ilira, uredio Milutin Garašanin, 78–83. Beograd: Balkanološki institut SANU.
Stein, Rebeka L. and Philip L. Stein. 2008. The Anthropology of Religion, Magic and Witchcraft. London and New York: Routledge.
Stipčević, Aleksandar. 1981. Kulturni simboli kod Ilira. Sarajevo: Centar za balkanolo­ška ispitivanja ANU-BiH.
Stipčević, Aleksandar. 1984. „Kult heroiziranog pokojnika“. U Duhovna kultura Ilira, ur. Alojz Benac, Borivoj Čović i Edina Alirejsović, 215–223. Centar za balkanološka ispiticanja ANUBiH.
Stipčević, Aleksandar. 1989. Iliri. Zagreb: Školska knjiga.
Vasić, Miloje. 1908. „Preistorijski obredni predmeti. Prilozi ka poznavanju preistorijske religije u Srbiji“. Sta-rinar n. r. III: 71–120.
Vasić, Miloje M. 1954. „Analiza dupljajskih kolica“. Živa antika IV/2: 376–380.
Vasić, Voislav i Rastko Vasić. 2003-2004. „Identifikacija ptičjih predstava u praistoriji“. Starinar LIII-LIV: 181–192.
Waterson, Roxanna. 1990. The Living House: an Anthropology of Architecture in South-east Asia. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Wengrow, David and David Graeber. 2015. “Farewell to the ‘childhood of man’: ritual, seasonality, and the origins of inequality”. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N.S) 21: 597–619.
Whitley, David. S. 2008. “Religion”. In Handbook of Archaeological Theories, edited by A. Baxter, H. Maschner and C. Chippindale, 547–566. Lanham, NJ: Altamira Press.
How to Cite
Kuzmanović, Zorica. 2020. “How Is Archaeology of Religion Possible?”. Issues in Ethnology and Anthropology 15 (3), 643–661.