Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory

, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp 245–308

Where are the witches of prehistory?

  • William H. Walker

DOI: 10.1007/BF02428071

Cite this article as:
Walker, W.H. J Archaeol Method Theory (1998) 5: 245. doi:10.1007/BF02428071


Why are certain common classes of ritually destroyed objects (persons, artifacts, or architecture), such as persecuted witches, so difficult to identify in the archaeological record? Although a common topic in cultural anthropology, witches seldom receive the attention of archaeologists. The difficulties archaeologists face in the study of religion derive, in part, from the lack of correlates linking ritual activities to the formation of archaeological deposits. This paper defines ritual as a technology and employs an object life history approach that draws upon ethnographic, archaeological, and experimental research to begin building such linkages—including those describing the presecution and deposition of witches, sorcerers, and other victims of ritual violence. These new directions are illustrated through a case study of anomalous deposits of human skeletal remains from the North American Southwest

Key words

behavioral archaeology witches warfare cannibalism archaeological theory violence artifact life histories 

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • William H. Walker
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Sociology and AnthropologyNew Mexico State UniversityLas Cruces