Visions of Transformation: a presentation at the TAG conference

Earlier this year I received an invitation from Dr Ffion Reynolds to present in a TAG session entitled 'Shamans through time'. This seemed an valuable opportunity to present the preliminary results of my optical fieldwork at Neolithic chambered cairns.

Here is the abstract for my paper:


Almost twenty years ago, I wrote a paper that sought to enrich my interpretation of the acoustic properties of Neolithic monuments by referencing the anthropology of shamanism. The sounds I was hearing inside passage tombs were extraordinary. Using vocalization and percussion it was possible to generate powerful resonances and echoes, and I was interested to explore how people in a shamanistic society might have understood such effects. I envisioned that Neolithic ritual specialists manipulated theatrical and transformative sounds to journey between dimensions, or manifest otherworldly forces.

Fieldwork has since revealed that passage tombs also have remarkable optical properties. Without using a lens, I have projected moving images of the outside world into the darkness of their chambers. An audience gathered inside can thereby observe, in real time, the activities of people beyond the passage entrance. In the modern world we might compare these dynamic and luminous visions to a cinematic experience, but this could not have been a Neolithic understanding. Once again, might the anthropology of shamanism help to reveal and interpret the exceptional multisensory potential of ancient architecture?


The session proved to be excellent, with a variety of papers and some really helpful questions and discussion.