"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Friday, March 16, 2018

Pre-Historic Iconoclasms

One of the things that recent research into iconoclasm, broadly understood, has been revealing is the fact that images have power, and are feared and subject to destruction for that very reason. This is by no means a phenomenon limited to Christian images in the East-Roman Empire in the seventh to ninth centuries. Iconoclasm both antedates its Byzantine outbreaks, and has long surpassed them, as we have seen in this country recently in debates about Confederate monuments, and as we have seen in post-Saddam Iraq, post-Soviet Ukraine, and elsewhere. It has, then, become something of a law that the outbreak of iconoclasm--that is, the destruction of images--is always politically motivated, and is always felt to be a necessary prelude to a new form of politics--something James Noyes argued several years ago in his very useful and insightful book.

Now a new book by Henry Chapman, Iconoclasm and Later Pre-History (Routledge, 2018), 246pp. comes along to demonstrate that humans were smashing images even before recorded history.

About this book we are told:
Iconoclasm, or the destruction of images and other symbols, is a subject that has significant resonance today. Traditionally focusing on examples such as those from late Antiquity, Byzantium, the Protestant Reformation and the French Revolution, iconoclasm implies intentioned attacks that reflect religious or political motivations. However, the evidence highlights considerable variation in intentionality, the types and levels of destruction and the targets attacked. Such variation has been highlighted in recent iconoclasm scholarship and this has resulted in new theoretical frameworks for its study.
This book presents the first analysis of iconoclasm for prehistoric periods. Through an examination of the themes of objects, the human body, monuments and landscapes, the book demonstrates how the application of the approaches developed within iconoclasm studies can enrich our understanding of earlier periods in addition to identifying specific events that may be categorised as iconoclastic.
Iconoclasm and Later Prehistory combines approaches from two distinct disciplinary perspectives. It presents a new interpretative framework for prehistorians and archaeologists, whilst also providing new case studies and significantly extending the period of interest for readers interested in iconoclasm.

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