Is it ritual? Or is it children?

Distinguishing consequences of play from ritual actions in the prehistoric archaeological record

Michelle C. Langley, Mirani Litster

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Citations (Scopus)


This paper identifies a significant interpretive issue for prehistoric archaeology: distinguishing adult ritual actions from the activities of children in the archaeological record. Through examining ethnographic accounts of recent hunter-gatherer children and reconsidering archaeological patterns and assemblages in light of these data, we explore how the results of children’s play can be—and likely have been—misinterpreted by archaeologists as evidence for adult ritual behavior in prehistoric contexts. Given that children were a significant component of past hunter-gatherer (and other) societies, the fact that the material components of their activities overlap tremendously with items used in adult rituals must be routinely considered by archaeologists if we are to reconstruct robust understandings of past peoples all over the globe.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)616-643
Number of pages28
JournalCurrent Anthropology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2018
Externally publishedYes


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