Fellow Talk | Stella Katsarou

Date: Wednesday, 22 March
Time: 11:00 a.m. EDT

Hybrid Format: The in-person portion of this event will take place at the Center for Hellenic Studies in House A. If you wish to attend virtually, a Zoom option will be available.

Stella Katsarou is a prehistoric archaeologist at the Ephorate of Palaeoanthropology-Speleology of the Ministry of Culture, Greece. She earned her Ph.D. in Greece and was a visiting fellow in Sheffield, UK, and Cincinnati, USA. She has excavated and studied prehistoric settlements and caves in various parts of the Greek mainland and the islands, including research collaborations with the American School of Classical Studies and the British School at Athens. She specializes in pottery, and through pottery, she explores technology, innovation, social tendencies and relationships, and domestic and ritual life in prehistoric communities. Her latest research focuses on the use of caves on the Ionian coast. She has published extensively in journals and book chapters. Her most recent book is entitled Cave and Worship in Ancient Greece. New Approaches to Caves and Ritual (co-edited with A. Nagel, Routledge 2021). Her research within the CHS fellowship focuses on the ritual use of caves in the Greek Neolithic.

The ritual use of caves in the Greek Neolithic
Greece hosted vibrant Neolithic communities that spread over various landscapes, including caves in all settings. The absence of textual evidence makes materiality our utmost medium through those communities’ social and spiritual worlds. Cave sites are even more provocative in these terms: typical worship activity in historical cave shrines makes us wonder about recognizing the kind of ritual practices that Neolithic people performed on the other end of time. However, older functional explanations about Greek prehistory would avoid dealing with religion and rituals as a taboo and feel safer to see caves only as household consumption contexts and subsistence resources for exploitation. Recent approaches came to deny exclusive domesticity but introduced the notion of the ritual as intrinsic in every aspect of prehistoric life and cave use. Anthropological theories have also highlighted the transcendental and otherworldly qualities of cave landscapes on humans cross-culturally. By filtering through these norms and examining how practice becomes specific in Greek Neolithic cave contexts, I argue that we can capture diverse activities, including ceremonies dealing with the dead and the ancestors and instances of non-mortuary rituality. The evidence suggests formalization, social connections formed through rituality, and the development of ritual expertise within society. The powerful spirituality created around cave spaces during that time may have also generated enduring cave-ritual traditions beyond the Neolithic.