Ask the Experts

Our Experts, who have volunteered to share their time and information, include researchers, university professors, AIA Board members, ancient art historians, field archaeologists, museum specialists, architectural historians, and more – all with specialized knowledge of specific ancient cultures and subjects.

We have created a catalogue of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ). In the FAQ section are answers to some of the questions archaeologists are most often asked, arranged by topic. If you want to know the meaning of a particular archaeological term, please check our online Glossary.

If you cannot find an answer in the FAQ, please leave a comment! Please be patient, since our volunteer archaeologists are sometimes excavating, teaching, or otherwise occupied, and may not be able to respond immediately.


Archaeology and early religion

Dear Jonathan,

This is a great question that cannot be adequately answered in a forum like this. Tracing the origins of religion is a difficult issue. Archaeological investigations can help us identify “religious” objects, ritual spaces, and religious iconography. I qualified “religious” because the designation of an ancient artifact as religious is based on the archaeologist’s interpretation of the object. Furthermore, since we deal with material remains, we cannot say when religious belief first emerged but we can make statements about its manifestation in object form. Once objects have been identified as religious artifacts, we can usually trace how they changed (both in form and function) over time. Creating a chronology for the evolution of religion within different cultures allows us to compare and contrast them. Cross-cultural comparisons, however, have to be undertaken cautiously. Many cultures share superficial similarities. Archaeology shows us in material terms that human cultures have been dealing with ideological and “religious” issues for a very long time.



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