The Medicine Tree: pollen analysis as a window into the elemental world of Tibetan Buddhism

Suzi Richer, B.R. Gearey

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


The (re)turn to elemental philosophies and using interpretations that are based on the cosmologies of the people who are being studied, potentially offers a fresh and invigorating way of reinterpreting environmental data. Approaches based more broadly in a posthumanism perspective are also attracting greater archaeological attention, but these have been primarily within the realms of period-based studies, zooarchaeology and osteoarchaeology (e.g. Fredengren 2013; Garcia-Rovira 2013; Sykes 2014). Arguably, these sub-disciplines offer either a theoretical or a direct link between people and the past; whether it is through the artefacts they made, the food they ate, and the animals they raised. Can we apply a similar approach to proxy palaeoecological data such as pollen analyses, whereby we attempt to de-centre our western anthropocentric, positivistic perspective and offer equally valid interpretations based on alternative frames of reference? This paper presents an example of how an elemental perspective can provide a reinterpretation of a pollen diagram from a Buddhist dominated area in the Himalaya of Nepal. In particular, we draw on the deeply complex elemental philosophy and knowledge of an Amchi (medicine man) to posit an interpretation focussed on potential entangled meaning within the landscape, rather than purely as an ecological ‘reading’ of the diagram following a ‘conventional’ disciplinary framework. We will also propose that such dominant, avowedly apolitical modes of academic enquiry may be anything but and will consider how we might foreground and negotiate these and related concerns.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 16 Dec 2015
EventTheoretical Archaeology Group (TAG) - Bradford, United Kingdom
Duration: 14 Dec 201516 Dec 2015


ConferenceTheoretical Archaeology Group (TAG)
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom

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