chapter  6
The archaeology of Christianity in global perspective
Pages 34

In the space of roughly two thousand years, Christianity has grown from being a marginal sect restricted to a minor province on the eastern margins of the Roman world, to being one of the largest world religions with followers spread across all five continents. Perhaps inevitably, given its current geographical extent and the diverse cultural backgrounds of its many believers, Christianity today is characterised as much by its internal division into different denominations and sects as it is by any single, shared set of beliefs. Significantly, these differences lie not just in variations in liturgy and practice between one branch and another, but also in terms of origins, belief and matters of theology. Moreover, while organisations such as the World Council of Churches seek to create a sense of harmony and to heal rifts between different sections of the Church, the number of branches of Christianity continues to grow at an ever increasing rate (in 1999, for example, there were at least 33 recognised denominations [Peterson 1999]). In the light of this, any attempt to write an ‘archaeology’ of Christianity faces a number of problems, not least of which is trying to find an all-encompassing definition of the fundamentals of the Christian faith. For, without such an understanding although it may be possible to identify correctly aspects of Christian iconography and other material symbols, in the absence of supporting literary sources the chances of unravelling what these symbols meant to the individuals who either encountered or deployed them seem positively remote.