Personhood of Water: Depositions of Bodies and Things in Water Contexts as a Way of Observing Agential Relationships
Keywords:Materiality, Rivers, Lakes, Wetlands, Ontology, Human-Animal Relations, Sacrifice, Gender, More-than-human Agency, Environmental Humanities
This paper stems from a curiosity about relationships between water, depositions, life, death and sacrifice. It probes into how traditional binaries such as nature/culture, human/animal, alive/dead and language/reality were addressed in Irish medieval place lore, using critical posthumanist theory to explore ways in which agential powers were not merely ascribed to the environment, but also observed and acknowledged by people in the past. It also considers how the agentialities of both artefacts and waters could have affected and made their way into human storytelling. In so doing, the paper presents a contribution from archaeology to the emerging field of environmental humanities, offering research that could entice us to sharpen our environmental sensibilities and respond to environmental change. Depositions of things and bodies in wet contexts are often understood as sacrifices made to deities located in the otherworld. However, there is plentiful evidence in archaeology and in medieval place-lore to suggest that waters were observed as being alive, as immanent beings, as more-than-human persons who could have received these depositions as gifts. This study explores how depositions would have added to and reconfigured such water-personhood in locally and regionally-situated ways, and how they may also have worked as apparatuses for paying close attention to the water environment.
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