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Ontology in Neolithic Britain & Ireland: beyond animism

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Chris Fowler



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


A combination of new animism and new materialism has influenced recent interpretations of the Neolithic archaeology of Britain and Ireland, including decorative and figurative productions often referred to as ‘art’. This article queries the appeal to animism in some of this work and considers four alternative ways to react to the use of the term. First it considers contextualizing animism by discussing Descola’s identification of four kinds of ontologies—animism, totemism, analogism and naturalism—outlining examples of practices and material culture involved in each. After examining the effect of applying these to the Neolithic archaeology of Britain and Ireland, it then considers identifying Neolithic practices which seem at odds with animism without boxing these as indicative of other categories of ontology. After noting the wide range of Indigenous ontologies such models attempt to characterize, the article advocates an emphasis on ontological difference and attends to ontological diversity within the Neolithic.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Fowler C

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Religions

Year: 2021

Volume: 12

Issue: 4

Online publication date: 01/04/2021

Acceptance date: 25/03/2021

Date deposited: 13/04/2021

ISSN (electronic): 2077-1444

Publisher: MDPI


DOI: 10.3390/rel12040249

Notes: The publication will be Open Access (Religions is a fully OA journal)


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