I had meant to post this months ago, but it got lost in the shuffle: Lameen’s Reconstructing metaphors? (at Jabal al-Lughat) cites an interesting-sounding paper, Scott Ortman’s “Using cognitive semantics to relate Mesa Verde archaeology to modern Pueblo languages“:
Basically, the idea is that the favourite metaphors of a given culture will be reflected both in its language (notably by compounds, but also in semantic shifts) and in its arts. Thus, to quote one of his examples, in Tewa “roof” is literally “wooden coil-basket”, although modern Tewa roofs do not look much like that, while the roofs of Mesa Grande kivas were built to resemble coil baskets. He takes both to exemplify a metaphor BUILDINGS ARE CONTAINERS, which he takes to be supported not only by this case but by a number of other features, such as the use of pottery design motifs on walls and the polysemy of a word meaning “lake”, “ceremonial bowl”, and “kiva”.
Lameen says “I’m not sure how often this is likely to work in practice. For it to work, your metaphors have to be reflected in the kind of material culture that archeologists can dig up,” but that doesn’t seem that unusual a situation, and anyway it’s certainly stimulating to consider.