High Fidelity or Chinese Whispers? Cult Symbols and Ritual Transmission in the Bronze Age Aegean


  • Camilla Briault University of Cambridge




ritual, cultural transmission, Aegean, symbols, cultural virus theory


The reproduction of ritual practices has long been a concern of social anthropology, but has been largely neglected in archaeology, where the time-depth is potentially better suited to investigating the mechanisms behind ritual stability and change. This paper proposes a quantitative methodology for exploring the long-term transmission of ritual practices, using material from the Bronze Age Aegean as a case study. It is argued that through charting the distributions of three materialized cult symbols (the double-axe, horns of consecration and composite double-axe/horns of consecration), it is possible to document the spatial and temporal spread of ritual practice, and, crucially, to identify changes in ritual between periods and between regions. Patterns in the symbols’ uptake, deployment and transformation indicate that they played a significant role in the transmission process, and it is suggested that analogous transmission mechanisms might be traced in other prehistoric ritual systems using a similarly quantitative approach.

Author Biography

Camilla Briault, University of Cambridge

Camilla Briault received her PhD from the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, in 2005. She is currently Junior Research Fellow in Cognitive Archaeology at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research. University of Cambridge, where she is investigating the transmission of ritual practices in the Bronze and Early Iron Ages of the eastern Mediterranean.



How to Cite

Briault, C. (2007). High Fidelity or Chinese Whispers? Cult Symbols and Ritual Transmission in the Bronze Age Aegean. Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology, 20(2), 239–265. https://doi.org/10.1558/jmea.v20i2.239