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Pasts and pagan practices: moving beyond Stonehenge

by J Blain, R J Wallis
Public Archaeology ()
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Theorizing the past is not restricted to archaeology and interpretations of 'past' both influence and are themselves constituted within politicized understandings of self, community and in certain instances, spirituality. 'The past in the imagination of the present' is appropriated, variously, to give meaning to the present or to justify actions and interpret experiences. Summer solstice at Stonehenge, with an estimated 21,000 celebrants in 2005, is only the most publicized appropriation (by pagans and other adherents of alternative spirituality and partying) of a 'sacred site'; and conflicts and negotiations occurring throughout Britain are represented in popular and academic presentations of this 'icon of Britishness'. This paper presents work from the Sacred Sites, Contested Rites/Rights Project project, a collaboration of archaeology and anthropology informed by pagan and alternative approaches and standpoints investigating and theorizing discourse and practice of heritage management and pagan site users. Whether in negotiations around the Stonehenge solstice access or in dealing with numerous other sites, boundaries between groups or discourses are not clearly drawn - discursive communities merge and re-emerge. But clearly 'past' and 'site' are increasingly important within today's Britain, even as television archaeology increases its following, and pagan numbers continue to grow.

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