The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Wedding Rocks

Over the weekend, a friend of Kaylia's got married (or, actually, had a wedding ceremony - she actually got married at a courthouse ceremony several months ago).  After I dropped Kaylia off at the Bride's hotel, I had a bit of time to myself before heading over to the beach at which the ceremony was to be held. 

When I finally headed over to the wedding spot, it was cool (many of the attendees do not share my affinity for cooler weather and would have termed it "cold"), overcast, and misty.  Not precisely brilliant weather for a wedding - though Kaylia had warned the couple that this was likely to be the case when, over a year earlier, they first stated that they wanted to have a wedding on the beach in Monterey County in September*.  I brought my folding chairs onto the beach and placed them where they were supposed to go (yep, everyone had to bring their own chairs ot the wedding).  And then I sat and played chess on my cell phone while I waited for the ceremony to start.  While I sat, a woman (who I later saw was offciating at the ceremony) walked up with a back of rocks, and asked me to take one, which I did.  I was a bit confused - during past ceremonies, I have been provided with bags of rice to throw at the couple after the ceremony, but this seemed a bit odd.  I looked up at the woman who handed it to me and asked "so, we're supposed to throw rocks at the couple after the ceremony?"

She chuckled nervously, and said ", no, we're not asking you to stone them."

"You sure?  Because, I have to tell you, I have lousy aim, so I'll need to get REEEEEAAAALLLLL close..."

"No.  You are not to throw rocks at the couple!"

Anyway, the wedding occurred, and the entire time I was sitting with this rock in my hand, wondering just what the Hell, exactly, I was supposed to do with it if not use it as an offensive weapon.  Towards the end of the ceremony, all of the guests and hostages were asked to rise, walk through the arch, and place the rocks into a container filled half-way with sand, as the rocks were now "infused with our love and good wishes."  So, basically, we made a rather heavy good luck charm (which, admittedly, it would be fun to watch one member of the couple attempt to carry around on their key chain). 

When I was in graduate school, one of the professors had a habit of describing a situation that he had witnessed or that he had read about in an ethnographic or historical text, and then asking us to describe what the materials remains of such an event would look like should we find them in an archaeological site.  And so, I found myself  considering this good-luck-charm-of-DOOM (GLCD) and wondering what I would make of it if I had found it in a site.

The GLCD was comprised of a round glass container about 6 inches wide and a foot tall, rather like a huge drinking glass, that had been filled up halfway with sand.  The guests then piled rocks on top of the sand, filling the container much of the rest of the way.  Now assuming that I found it in a context where it was clear what this had been (either the glass container survived intact or the pieces of glass were arranged around the sand and rocks in such a way that it was clear that a glass container had once held them), I'm not sure what I would make of it.  The sand was from a beach in the Monterey Bay area, and of a sort that is a bit unusual for sand in that region, so I'd probably be able to work out where the sand had come from.  The rocks, though, came out of a bag of rocks purchased from a store (who knew such things were sold..why they are sold is still a bit baffling to me, are there places that are throwing-size rock deficient?) and were not of local materials.

Now, if I were to find such an item without any knowledge of other similar items, I might think it was simply decorative (not really correct), religious (quasi-correct), or I might think that it represented something having to do with travel or settlement (focusing on the potential symbolism of local sand covered by imported rocks...very much not correct).  I probably wouldn't be able ot figure out that it was a charm created as part of a wedding ceremony because, hey, I would have no information even pointing in that direction.

If, by contrast, it were a common item, and I found it only in the homes of couples and families, I would likely think that it was an item either granted to a couple or made by the couple as part of a "life crisis"** ritual for their marriage (which would be true), but I would likely still get caught up on the symbolism of the sand and the rocks, trying to figure out why there were local sands and foreign rocks, and probably concluding that this was a show that people from different areas were marrying and that the item symbolized their union (incorrect).

In other words, I would be stumped, which was often the point that my old professor was trying to make - always show some humility, because the materials record is usually incomplete and there's always a strong likelihood that you got it wrong and are barking up the wrong tree.

*Really, when you know a local who is willing to tell you about the area, it is best to accept that their assessment of the local weather conditions is likely ot be more accurate than your fantasy.  Just syain'...

**The term "life crisis" is used by social scientists to refer to events that alter one's status within the community and/or one's personal/home life - this includes coming-of-age ceremonies, marriage, childbirth, and death (which, really, isn't a life crisis so much as, you know, death).  In most societies, many, if not all, of these events are marked with rituals.

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