In Heaven as it is on Earth: Archaeological Traces of Minorities and Radical Religious Ideas Within Social Identities in the Middle Ages

Posted on March 8, 2017


Another session from the EAA conference that we video recorded:

Friday, 2 September 2016, 14:00-16:00
Faculty of Philology, Room SP2
Author – Garc a-Contreras Ruiz, Guillermo, University of Reading, Reading, United Kingdom (Presenting author)
Co-author(s) – Tejerizo, Carlos, Universidad del Pa s Vasco, Vitoria, Spain
Keywords: Archaeology of religion, Minorities religious, Social identities

Understood as a part of social identity of past societies, religion shall be contextualized in a historic and social frame that can explain this phenomenon in terms of complexity. Religion can be seen as part of macro-ideological discourses, such as the Crusades or Jihad, or as part of the relation between States and religious institutions, but also a form to shape social relationship within local communities and a form of political and ideological control among those who profess a different faith of the rulers. The main aim will be to explore the possibilities and limits of archaeology to study religion as a social phenomenon in past societies and to shape its importance in different case studies within a long-term view. The session will discuss religion both in its importance as a state institution and as a social form of identification within local communities and minority religions, and also the conflicts derived from the contact of those spheres, as for example when internal transformations from radicalization of some groups within major religions are produced. The first groups were targeted by stigma and discrimination, especially when religious differences are correlated with other instances of social identity, such as ethnicity. The seconds have been agents of change at different times, causing not only cultural reforms, but above all economic, political and social transformation. Both are needed to understand the role of religion as a part of social identity, and serve to understand the cultural complexity of the Middle Ages and beyond.
Which kind of material record is available for the study of these groups? What are the main differences of minorities and radical versus majorities beyond the cults? How does religion reinforce their identities in relation to others? These are some of the questions we intend to address in this session.

Muslim and Protestant religious minorities and funerary spaces in south of France Author – Gleize, Yves, Pessac, France (Presenting author)
Keywords: Funerary archaeology, Religious minorities, South of France

During the middle Ages, the institutionalization of the concept of Christian cemetery raises the question of the integration of the religious minorities. Were religious minorities always had separated funerary spaces and how were they organized? Archaeological data could inform on specific funerary practices of peculiar communities. Thus different types of graves have been identified by funerary archaeology and their analysis could sometimes provide to discuss the presence of minority groups. However their study requires a careful inquiry to identify religious minorities and the possibility of specific funerary spaces. Small groups of graves recently excavated in South of France could be maybe linked with religious minorities as Muslims and Protestants. But their identification and their study require taking in account historical context and different archaeological parameters. The archaeo-anthropological analysis crossing at the same time archaeological and biological data allow to bring new data on the identity of the deceaseds, on the funerary practices and the organization of funerary spaces. Examples from recent excavations in south of France, in particular from the city of Nimes, will be analyzed by crossing at the same time textual and archaeological sources. These discoveries still few in France allow to discuss the inclusion or not of communities such as the Muslims or the Protestants in the funerary spaces. But it will important to analyze their presence over the long term of history and to try to distinguish potential evolution.

Dealing with identities. Archaeological traces of Muslims and Dimmi-s in the Middle Mark Author – Bueno, Marisa, Université Paris Est-créteil, Paris, France (Presenting author)
Keywords: Archeology, Ethnicity, Identity

In this paper I deal with the problems derived from adscription of archaeological staff to Berbers, Muslims and Christians in the north of the Middle Mark of al-Andalus. I present both, the results of archaeological surveys integrating data from the Archaeological and Culture Territorial Service of Soria, Castile-León, and the analysis of materials preserved in the Numantino Museum (Soria) used in my PhD dissertation. I will pay special attention to concrete sites such as Miño de Medinaceli and Conquezuela. These sites reflect the different powers successively overlapped and the problems concerning the adscription of identitarian bearings in the complex Middle frontier between 8th-11th centuries.
The settlement of Umayyad’s powers in the north-est of the Middle Frontier is a process quite well established trough written Islamic sources: between the 8th and 9th century different Berbers linages, clients of the Umayyad’s lords were settled in this area, years later, after the nomination of Abd – el Rhamman III (939) as Caliph, this area was rebuilt and became the most active frontier with Christianity in al-Andalus between the 10th and 11th century. However, the explicit recognition of these realities raised delicates problems concerning their chronological and religious-identitarian adscription.
In one hand, the settlement of Berbers linages in this area, as mawāli, clients of the Umayyad’s lords raised with the problem of their adscription to a specific material culture. What kind of archaeological staff can we use as cultural markers of this specific ethnicity? What interpretation problems present these indicators in order to identify Berber population? Are they fully assimilated with the Umayyad’s elites? Can we demonstrate the islamization’ traces of this population?
After 946, Medinaceli was rebuilt and became the administrative centre of the Middle Mark, while the nearby fortress of Gormaz became the military centre, the starting point for the northern expeditions replacing the Atienza fortress. This area became a sophisticated frontier based entirely in a network of fortress and towers depended on Umayyad power, and the expression of power of the Umayyad Caliphate based on jihad mentality.
However, the new Muslims’ rulers were not installed over an uninhabited areas, terra deserta, but rather over a territory previously politically-disarticulated. The previous indigenous inhabitants were mostly “Christians”. The new power granted them a protected subordinate place in society through the status of dimmī-s or protected people. The traces of these people are almost invisible, mainly rock-cut tombs sites. These ones are not associated with artefactual or osteological remains, thus making it impossible to determine accurate chronologies, so they merit to be integrated in a collective debate.

From hand to mouth: dietary perspectives on religious minorities in Medieval Portugal Author – Toso, Alice, University of York, York, United Kingdom (Presenting author)
Co-author(s) – Dr. Alexander, Michelle, University of York, York, United Kingdom
Keywords: Diet, Isotopes, Medieval Portugal

Diet had an important cultural and symbolic meaning in medieval societies. In particular, the preparation and consumption or avoidance of certain foods played a significant part in the construction of identities by social status, age, sex and faith. This is especially intriguing for the multi-faith societies of Medieval Iberia were Christians, Muslims and Jews co-existed during the medieval period. In multi-faith societies co-existence and rulers’ religious tolerance towards minorities are inextricably linked, affecting all aspects of socio-religious life including dietary requirements. This paper addresses debates on socio-religious changes in an understudied area of Portuguese history, applying carbon ( 13C) and nitrogen ( 15N) stable isotope analysis to investigate the diets of Islamic and Christian communities in medieval Portugal under shifting religious political control. Stable isotope analysis, which provides direct evidence of the diet of archaeological individuals, has been applied to the skeletal remains of Muslims and Christians from the medieval sites of Beja (9th-12thC AD) and Silves (9th-13thC AD). These sites are notable for the presence of communities of Muslims and Christians that co-existed before and after the Christian conquest. Beja provides the remarkable opportunity to analyse contemporaneous Muslims and Christians living under Muslim rule and buried in the same burial ground. In addition Silves offers an insight into the influence of the Christian conquest onto the economy and lifestyle of the Christian minorities in southern Portugal as well as the effect of the shifting political control on the pre-existing Muslim groups. The combination of the data from these two settlements can provide information on the economies and the subsistence strategies put in place by religious minorities as well as shedding light on the development of medieval pluralistic societies under shifting powers and during transitional periods.

Archaeology and religious identities: the example of the Évora Inquisition court (Portugal) Author – Magalhães, Bruno M., University of Coimbra, Jovim-Gondomar, Portugal (Presenting author)
Co-author(s) – Santos, Ana Lu sa, University of Coimbra, Coimbra, Portugal
Keywords: Jewish, Minorities, Persecution

The origins of the Inquisition are related to the power that religion had in Medieval times, representing values as engines of collective lives. As a result, the Catholic Church and the Papacy took over, since the 12th century, the leading role in the fight against heresy. The Inquisition had its origin at that time, and its development through the Catholic world led to its official creation in Portugal in 1536, aiming the surveillance of the ‘purity of faith’, the suppression of heresy, and the discipline of religious beliefs and behaviors, essentially related with the Jewish presence in the Portuguese territory. In 2007/2008 an archaeological excavation took place in approximately 12% of the so-called Jail Cleaning Yard, the dump of the Évora Inquisition court. Having as starting point this archaeological excavation, this work aims to discuss several archaeological traces on how the Catholic Church developed mechanisms currently understood as radical to deal with the presence of religious minorities. Twelve adult individuals in articulation (3 males, 9 females) were recovered and a minimum number of 16 were identified from a commingled context. The absence of funerary ditches suggests that the bodies were deposited directly in the dump. Moreover, the variability of the orientation and position of the body and limbs, and the absence of grave goods are not in accordance with the procedures of a Catholic burial. These results are underlined by the fact that the individuals were recovered from a location that was not sacred. Also, the manuscripts from the Évora Inquisition allowed the identification of 87 prisoners who died during the period in which the dump had been in use (somewhere between 1658 and 1634), and showed that at least 11 (12.6%) of them were confirmed discarded in the dump, likely because they were charged of ‘Judaism, heresy and/or apostasy’. The archaeological traces, as well as the anthropological and historical contexts, are in accordance with the characterization of these individuals as unburied dead, that were not judge by the court of the Portuguese Inquisition and reconciled with the Catholic faith before they died. More than a penalty to the body, this was a punishment to the soul of the deceased. Nevertheless, we will never be certain if these individuals were really Jews, once it could happen that people made their accusations because they were afraid of being accused first. Also, the defendant never knew what crime he was accused or even who made the accusation. From this perspective, the archaeological findings have to be interpreted carefully, but also show us the climate of fear created in people’s everyday life. Even so, these individuals show a unique context which can be used in the future to help interpret other burials which do not fit within the usual scope of the Catholic burial rules in Medieval and Modern times.


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