Shamanism is where people are regarded as having access, and influence, in the world of good and evil spirits. Typically, such people enter a trance state during a ritual and practice divination and healing. The shaman culture is most common among the people of Asia and North America. Shamanism is one of the oldest religions in the world that is still in practice today.
At one particular burial site at Upton Lovell in Wiltshire, two bodies, a man and a woman, were found buried with a number of items. Interestingly, most of these items were believed to have belonged to a shaman. The items found ranged from bone jewellery to flint cups to a battle-axe. However, other objects buried with the couple suggest that one of them could have been a metalworker – as a burnishing stone (used to polish metal) was excavated, as well as a collection of six hammer and burnishing stones, deemed to be a metalworker’s set. Tiny traces of gold were also found on the surface of the stones, suggesting that the owner was also possibly a goldsmith.
Another interesting item found and considered to be associated with the shaman was a tattooing set. Four flint nodule cups made from decayed fossil sponges and a bronze awl were found together at the feet of one of the bodies. Tattoos are often believed to have been inked for magical purposes in the ancient world. For instance, a shaman was often believed to have had tattoos as a symbol of their wisdom, or a warrior as a sign of their bravery. Today, most tattoos are inked for many reasons, maybe not all of them rational, but in some tribal cultures, they still retain their spiritual quality.
Despite the most well-known tattoo art being from tribal cultures all around the world, the discovery of this shaman and his tools in Wiltshire suggest it played a significant part in our communities as well. This shaman lived in the earlier bronze age (2200BCE-1500BCE), long before Christianity was introduced to Britain. Our own more tribal roots may have been forgotten in the wake of Christianity; however, discovering people like the shaman can tell us a lot about the society, the people and the beliefs that came before.
By Sasha Minnis,
Duke of Edinburugh Award student