Houses of the Gods - my new book is published!


Debates about the role of astronomy at the Neolithic monuments of the British Isles have occupied academic and independent researchers for many years. My new book - Houses of the Gods, Neolithic monuments and astronomy at the Brú na Bóinne in Ireland and beyond - argues that the practice of astronomical observation had a deeply practical as well as symbolic role for early prehistoric societies negotiating the transition to an agricultural way of life.

The book is available on Amazon, via the website, here

It argues that all societies, from the hunter-gatherers of the Upper Palaeolithic to our current technologically-driven cultures, require sufficiently accurate forms of time-keeping. Where these have not been available, it has resulted in significant challenges relating to the coordination and synchronization of social or collective behaviour.

Avebury's Stones Selected Shaped Carved

West_KennettAt Avebury - the Neolithic monumental complex and World Heritage Site in Wiltshire - are Britain’s largest stone circle, longest stone avenue and finest megalithic long barrow. These great standing stones have repeatedly been described as unworked since they were first documented, but in a new book, Di Pattison finds abundant evidence to the contrary.

Pattison documents a remarkable corpus of over 170 large-scale three-dimensional carvings, including astonishing architectural installations in 4D, the principal motif of which is the human head. She convincingly demonstrates that the carvings and masonry were integral elements of each structure from the outset, certain types of stone being chosen to be worked and others to make tools. 

The book is the product of ten years research and has been peer-reviewed. It is introduced by Terence Meaden and Kate Prendergast. 

Further details are available here.

The Neolithic Monument of Newgrange in Ireland - a cosmic womb?

A collection of papers from a session on ‘Mother Earth’ sites presented at the Fourteenth Annual Conference of the European Association of Archaeologists in Valetta, Malta, September 2008. The papers discuss the various forms of evidence from a wide range of ‘Mother Earth’ sites.

My paper - The Neolithic Monument of Newgrange in Ireland: a Cosmic Womb? - brings together astronomical, architectural, artistic and mythological evidence to argue that Newgrange should be seen as a womb-like sanctuary where the cycles of birth, death and rebirth were - and still are - celebrated, according to complex but robust and residual social and ritual logic. 


BARThe papers are published in Archaeology of Mother Earth Sites and Sanctuaries Through the Ages: Rethinking symbols and images, art and artefacts from history and prehistory, Edited by G. Terence Meaden. Oxford BAR 2012. ISBN 9781407309811.

Download my article.

View photos of the winter solstice event at Newgrange here.

You can also see my article on Newgrange in Minerva magazine:


History at the End of the World?

Book_cover History, Climate Change and the Possibility of Closure

This collection of essays proposes that climate change means serious peril. Our argument, however, is not about the science per se. It is about us, our deep and more recent history, and how we arrived at this calamitous impasse. With contributions from academic activists and independent researchers, History at the End of the World challenges advocates of “˜business as usual” to think again. But in its wide-ranging assessment of how we transcend the current crisis, it also proposes that the human past could be our most powerful resource in the struggle for survival. Our approaches begin from archaeology, literature, religion, psychology, sociology, philosophy of science, engineering and sustainable development, as well as “˜straight” history.

My contribution focuses on the evidence from prehistory, and particular the transition from glacial to post-glacial conditions and the kick-start of Old World agriculture around 10,000BC.

The book is an attempt to understand how other human societies have responded to climatic changes - and how we might use those responses to help us in the massive effort that still faces us to successfully transition to a low-carbon and sustainable future.

Neolithic Rock Art at the Avebury Stone Circles in Southern England

015_Meaden, T, Prendergast, K and Pattison, D.(2010) in Monumental Questions: Prehistoric Megaliths, Mounds, and Enclosures, Proceedings of the XV UISPP World Congress (Lisbon, 4-9 September 2006), Vol.7 edited by David Calado, Maxiliam Baldia and Matthew Boulanger.

There is strong academic research on a range of different rock art traditions in Neolithic Britain. These traditions span much of the Neolithic era, and represent a major expressive medium for these societies.  Phone aug 11 206

This paper argues that comparable rock art exists in Neolithic Wessex, specifically at the Avebury stone circles in southern England. It presents evidence for dressed and carved stones and suggests that potential meanings associated with such carvings are integral to the wider ritual and symbolic uses of the monument. Hence it signifies a major, hitherto unrecognised, regional rock art tradition in Neolithic Britain. 

See Di Pattison's website for the full paper.

Sacred territories: astronomy, ritual and the creation of landscape at the passage grave sites of Neolithic Ireland

100_0297This article was published in Landscape in Mind: Dialogue on Space between Anthropology and Archaeology edited by George Dimitriadis, BAR 2009.

It argues that Neolithic passage-graves, and the wider landscape of Ireland and Scotland they inter-connect, was built and understood in terms of the relationship between time and place, the earthly and heavenly realms and the movement of time and its cyclical return.  100_0295

Constructing a landscape out of such ritual and cosmological understandings was, it is suggested, a major influence on the later Neolithic and on the ways in which agriculture came to be accepted and developed across the British Isles. 

Download article (pdf)

Rethinking circumcision as a traditional practice

This paper was originally given to the annual University of Calgary Chacmool archaeology conference in September 2004. It was subsequently published in the conference proceedings: Que(e)rying Archaeology, Proceedings of the 37th Annual Chacmool Conference, Susan Terendy, Natasha Lyons, Michelle Janse-SMekal (Eds.), University of Calgary, 2009.

Traditional vs Modern

Morocco December 2011 058Female circumcision (FC) is currently practiced widely across much of the Middle East and northern and central Africa. There is an extensive debate about how best to understand and respond to FC, which extends across academic, humanitarian and activist discourses. This paper argues that while this debate frequently places the practice in the context of assumptions about ‘tradition’ and ‘modernity’, these assumptions often have not have been subject to critical analysis. Specifically, it argues that attempts to read female circumcision as a ‘traditional’ rather than a ‘modern’ practice can work to obscure a fuller understanding of the phenomenon and may actively deny the sexual rights of vulnerable women. It therefore suggests these conceptual divisions need revision if we are to develop a fuller understanding of female circumcision, and its justification.

Download article (pdf)

Female circumcision: historical evidence

If it is relatively easy to debunk the notion that invasive circumcision of young girls in Africa and the Middle East is an extensive time-honoured 'traditional' practice, what does the historical evidence actually tell us about the real nature of these practices? It points to a complex history, with roots in the development and spread of Judaism in the Middle East and East Africa in the first millennium BC and which appears to have been influenced decisively by the arrival of the Portuguese and the development of Islam on the East African coast and its trade in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This is a subject I will return to in further detail later.