Exploring the Roots of Religion
(Roots of Religion)

The most important record of religious history resides not in books and sacred texts but buried in the earth. Ancient graves, statues, temples, standing stones, sacrificial offerings, and places of initiation all bear witness to the universal human quest for spiritual power and understanding. Since the beginnings of scientific archaeology in the 18th century, excavators have been discovering and interpreting evidence ranging from tiny goddess figurines carved from mammoth ivory to entire sacred landscapes, such as the Giza plateau in Egypt. The millennial of human experience that preceded the invention of writing about 5,000 years ago is only accessible to us through archaeology. And even for more recent religions and cults, the "testimony of the spade" provides an essential perspective that enhances our understanding of the literary tradition.

Archaeology provides evidence that is very different in nature from historical writings. With aerial reconnaissance and remote sensing technology, archaeologists relocate lost temples and other cult sites. With trowels and brushes, they gently remove the dust of ages from buried sites and artifacts. And with space-age laboratory techniques, they analyze the residues left by royal funeral feast as well as the last meals of sacrificial victims.