Maldonado, “What Does Early Christianity Look Like?”

Maldonado, Adrian. 2012. What Does Early Christianity Look Like? Mortuary Archaeology and Conversion in Late Iron Age Scotland. Scottish Journal of Archaeology 32(2).

Abstract: The study of the inhumation cemeteries of Late Iron Age Scotland tends to revolve around the vexed question of whether or not they provide evidence for Christianity. As a result, our approach has been to look for ‘Christian’ practices (lack of grave goods, west-east orientation) that are expectations based on analogy with the more standardised Christianity of the later medieval period. As these burial practices originate in a Late Iron Age context, recent theoretical approaches from the study of late prehistory also need to be applied. It is the emergence of cemeteries that is new in the mid-first millennium AD, and this distinction is still under-theorized. Recent theoretical models seek to understand the significance of place, and how these cemeteries are actively involved in creating that place rather than using a predefined ‘sacred’ place. By tracing their role in shaping and being shaped by their landscapes, before, during and after their use for burial, we can begin to speak more clearly about how we can use mortuary archaeology to study the changes of c. AD 400-600. It is argued that the ambiguity of these sites lies not with the burials themselves, but in our expectations of Christianity and paganism in the Late Iron Age.

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