Sunday, January 31, 2021 at 3pm
Dr Jennifer Shaffer Foster – University of Buffalo
Healing Places: Intersections of Archaeology, Folklore, and Health in Ireland
Archaeological approaches to health and healing are often focused on the skeletal remains of past populations. In this lecture, I will instead address past and present understandings of archaeological sites and landscapes as healing places. Healing, as a concept, overlaps with, but is not identical to a biomedical understanding of successful treatment. What it meant to heal, and how once could go about healing, varied with time, location, and ailment. Thus, healing places were highly diverse and include sites that were specifically constructed for that purpose and those that were reused by much later, and even modern people. One good example, which will be discussed in depth, is the historical and contemporary use of rag trees as healing sites. Historically affiliated with Ireland’s many holy wells, those suffering ailments left rags or other symbolic tokens at these trees since at least the 19th century, and in some areas the tradition has continued to the present day. In the past few decades rag trees have also appeared in other places, both archaeological sites and areas that are considered to be “ancient”—and not always accompanying holy wells. Thus, understanding healing places in Ireland necessitates exploration of archaeology, folklore, and the role that perceived connections to the past play in health and wellbeing.
All Lectures for the 2020-2021 season will be conducted via Zoom. More specific instructions will be provided as we get closer to the lecture dates.