Linda Speight wrote: >The superstition is very ancient, e.g. a deposit that included frog bones appeared to have been deliberately placed beneath a massive timber during the construction of Danebury hill fort (Merrifield).<
Yes, dogs (and frogs) at 4th-century BC Danebury to cats in 18th-century AD walls. Do we therefore argue for CONTINUITY? - and if so is it continuity merely of practice? - or continuity of belief - the rationale behind or the believed purpose of the practice - that is, the 'superstition'?
>Hearths and thresholds seem to have been the best places for burying pots, animals (and even old iron tools and other objects) in order to protect the household. Then chimneys were built, creating an opening that left the household vulnerable leading to the practice of placing a 'protective' object up the chimney. <
An interesting hypothetical reconstruction of a practice changing to meet a technological innovation - but unproven and probably unprovable.
Yet if this was indeed the reasoning, why cats and chickens (and, one might add, old shoes)? Why not the IRON that nailed at the threshold (and later in the form of a horseshoe hung above the door) protected the household from witches?
The desire for a ceremony of some sort, perhaps with an 'offering' or 'sacrifice', to mark the inception of a new building, structure or institution, in the hope of ensuring a generalised 'good luck', is surely a human universal. Kevin Tolley mentions the 'time capsules' buried beneath modern buildings (a practice already going strong in Victorian times). Then there is the ceremonial 'laying the foundation stone' - not actually a foundation stone since it is usually preserved highly visible in the front of the building - a ceremony often requiring the provision of special 'sacred' implements (the silver trowel, which is then preserved as a trophy and never used again).
And when did we start breaking a bottle of champagne over the bow of a ship being launched, with wishes of 'good luck to all who sail in her'?
The fact that we feel the need for such inaugural ceremonies, all of them entailing expense or indeed (like the bottle of champagne) deliberate destruction (=sacrifice?), does NOT, I believe, argue for 'continuity' of practice. 'Foundation deposits' or ceremonies could have been reinvented many times in slightly different forms. And the 'superstition' or 'religious belief' that those carrying out the ceremony might have put forward as its basis would certainly also have changed over time - and is probably now irrecoverable.
Ralph Merrifield was a folklorist as well as an archaeologist. He began his career in the 1930s at Brighton Museum, where the long-serving curator Herbert Toms similarly combined an interest in both topics. And Toms was trained by Pitt-Rivers, with his wide-ranging interests in archaeology and ethnography. (See http://web.prm.ox.ac.uk/rpr/index.php/article-index/12-articles/695-herbert-toms/)
But popular understanding of folklore, when drawn into discussion with archaeology, has perhaps still not entirely broken free from the influence of the great Victorian and Edwardian founders of folklore studies with their 'doctrine of survival' that led them to take note of forms of activity reported to be prevalent among so-called 'primitive' peoples, to identify these as practices once universal at a certain point in human development, and to link them with supposed 'survivals' in modern society (Frazer being the most obvious example of this approach). For example, in the 1890s Bertha (Lady) Gomme argued that the singing game 'London Bridge is falling down', a game which entails catching a 'prisoner' and contains a verse 'Set a man to watch all night...', commemorated the (supposed) 'primitive' practice of burying a captive sacrificial victim under the foundations of a bridge to protect it.
Ralph Merrifield (with whom I worked at Guildhall Museum, later the Museum of London - and who may have inspired, and certainly encouraged, my own interest in the relationships between folklore and archaeology) has some very wise words on the meaning of 'continuity' when applied to 'ritual' practices in his final chapter.
Ralph would certainly have approved of the ongoing series of 'Popular Antiquities' conferences at UCL Institute of Archaeology that bring archaeologists and folklorists together - see http://www.popularantiquities.eventbrite.co.uk/ if you aren't already aware of the forthcoming one!