This session aims to locate the concept of healing within the wider context of human activity and belief. Using a theoretically led understanding of performance, religion and materiality, we hope to re-examine the social, economic and political contexts of medical practice.
Archaeological investigations into medicine and healing practices traditionally favour systemic and processual approaches and methodologies, such as the evolution of disease, skeletal pathology, and the chemical properties of plant-matter. Whilst informative, these approaches alone do not articulate the lived-in world of the people or things in question. Medicine can be considered a 'science', grounded in the material, observable world. Yet outside the modern western world, health and the treatment of disease are understood in many different ways. Incantations, séances, and acts of scapegoating are examples of performative techniques often used to tame supernatural forces and 'heal' fractures in people and society. Apotropaic amulets, charms and surgical tools are material manifestations of such medicinal processes. We consequently wish to consider a number of themes. How were medical practitioners or sufferers of ill-health and disability perceived by the wider community? Can healing performances be observed in the archaeological record? And where does the distinction between science and religion lie? For this session we encourage participants to consider a more theoretical and integrated analysis of medicine, medical practitioners and their patients. We would be interested to receive papers which evaluate the relationship between the socio-religious and physical processes of healing, disease prevention and body maintenance. We also welcome participants who seek to assess the role of the scientific method within the wider theoretical framework and who try to reconcile the methodological divide.