Michael E. Smith lays down an interesting challenge at Publishing Archaeology: What are the hard problems in Archaeology? What questions haven’t archaeologists answered and aren’t likely to answer any time soon? A couple of ideas come to mind. I’ll start with the easier problem to express.
Is an ancient history or archaeology of religion a sensible project?
I’ve got an interest in ancient science, but one of the things most people researching ancient science would agree that science in the ancient world didn’t really exist. There’s something that’s a more systematic inquiry about nature, but something like natural philosophy would be a better description for the classical world. I’m not sure that the same term would work for other societies because philosophy carries a lot of baggage too. So when academics talk about ancient science, there’s this undercurrent that we’re not talking about science. Ancient science is not the same as modern science.
I’ve got an interest in ancient religion too. I’m not so interested in the content as such, more religion in a socio-political context. That’s something you can say that makes sense to modern people. If you said the same thing in the ancient world they’d think you were mad. It’d be a bit like saying you’re interested in fish, but only the ones that live in water. In the ancient world it was accepted that religion was entwined with civic life. There’s a second problem that what we call religion has developed from its ancient roots.