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This paper examines the relationship between the presence of symmetry and the Acheulean biface within a predominantly British Lower Palaeolithic context. There has been a long-standing notion within Palaeolithic studies that Acheulean handaxes are symmetrical and become increasingly so as time progress as a reflection of increasing hominin cognitive and behavioural complexity. Specifically, the presence of symmetry within Acheulean handaxes is often seen as one of the first examples of material culture being used to mediate social relationships. However, this notion has never been satisfactorily tested against a large data set. This paper seeks to address the issue by conducting an analysis of some 2680 bifaces across a chronological and geographical span. The results from the sample presented here are that symmetrical bifaces do not appear to have a particularly strong presence in any assemblage and do not appear to increase as time progress. These results have significant implications for modern researchers assessing the cognitive and behavioural complexities of Acheulean hominins.
Traumatic death rends the fabric of personal and social relations in a manner that is qualitatively different to other kinds of mortality. Mourners must deal with the personal affects, familial consequences and political aftermath of such events. This paper examines the way in which performances around such difficult deaths were used to express and negotiate trauma, through the lens of Iron Age burials in Britain and Ireland. It draws on performance theory developed in relation to contexts of violence to argue that such funerals embodied a necessary tension: articulating pain whilst working towards a re-making of the world. The paper makes an original contribution to the archaeological analysis and interpretation of funerary performance, and moves recent debates on violence in the Iron Age into a new arena of study.
Augustus' propaganda founded the ruler's power on a series of references to the sky: Caesar's comet, which helped to establish the divine nature of kingship, the completion of the calendar's reform celebrated in the Campus Martius' meridian, and Augustus' association with Capricorn, the zodiacal sign of the winter solstice. Various forms of proof derived from texts, works of art and numismatics show the key role of such a ‘power from the stars’. We present here new archaeological and archaeoastronomical evidence coming from Augusta Praetoria Salassorum (modern Aosta), founded around 25 bc after the victory of Augustus' army on the Salassi. An emergency excavation along the Aosta's Roman walls has brought to light, on a corner of one of the towers, an in situ block which carries several reliefs — including a plough and a spade — apparently related to the town's foundation ritual. As a consequence, we carried out a complete analysis of the original urban plan of Aosta and of its relationship with the sky and the landscape, taking into account the complex natural horizon of the Alps in which Aosta's valley is nested. The results show that the town was oriented in such a way as to pinpoint Augustus' ‘cognitive’ relationship with the ‘cosmic’ signs of renewal.
To build a theoretical and empirical foundation for interpretation of the absence, segregation or simplicity of infant burials in archaeological contexts, we review social theories of emotion, inter-disciplinary views on the relationship between mortality rates and emotional investment, and archaeological interpretations of infant burial patterns. The results indicate a lack of explicit theory in most archaeological accounts and a general lack of consideration for individual variation and the process of change in mortuary practice. We outline the tenets of Bowlby's attachment theory and Stroebe and Schut's dual process model of bereavement to account theoretically for pattern, variation and change in modes of infant burial. We illustrate the value of this psychology-based perspective in an analysis of Victorian gravestone commemorations of infant burials in 35 villages in rural south Cambridgeshire, England, where individual and class-based variation, relative to falling mortality rates, is best explained as a function of coping strategies and contextually based social constraint on the overt representation of grief and loss.
This paper explores the biography of a wagon road located in the First Nations (indigenous) territory of the Stl'atl'imx of the lower Lillooet River Valley in southern British Columbia, Canada. While the road is best known as a route to the Fraser Canyon during the Fraser River Gold Rush of 1858, here I investigate its multiple lives. Adopting themes from symmetrical archaeology, I show that the wagon road was not a passive outcome of colonial action but instead shifted in form and meaning as it interacted with the human and non-human world. I draw on archival documents from the Royal Engineers and oral accounts from the Stl'atl'imx of the lower Lillooet River Valley to illustrate how people, places and things were woven into the landscape through bodily engagement with the road. This paper thus highlights the complexity of the colonial encounter and the importance of movement and the materiality of movement (roads) in understanding the diversity of interaction in tensioned landscapes.
While many studies of inequality focus on the role that specialized craft production plays in the emergence of elite identities, variations in non-specialized crafts can also provide insights into political trajectories as they may reflect diverse choices made by multiple social segments whose socio-political roles are in transition. This article examines non-specialized potting during a time of increasing inequality in the first-millennium ad community of Kirikongo, Burkina Faso. In exploring production at the house level, ceramic analyses demonstrate increasing investment in potting throughout the community and increasing variance between house traditions coinciding with the co-option of ritual and political power by the community's founding house. While these transformations suggest the expression of newly significant house identities, potting is used primarily to express differentiation rather than elite power as, in contrast to other lines of evidence, the pottery from lower-ranked houses is higher in quality and diversity. These expressions of emerging elite and non-elite house identities at Kirikongo, and potential tensions between them, may have spurred inventions and adoptions of technologies and stylistic elements contributing to the divergence of regional potting traditions.
Some of the painted caves in southern France preserve human footprints from the Ice Age of 17,000 years ago. Research has so far dealt with them sparsely and through a morphometric approach only. In 2013 three indigenous hunters/trackers from the Kalahari had an opportunity to read several spoor accumulations in four caves on the basis of their indigenous knowledge. As a result of this morpho-classificatory approach to track reading they produced new hypotheses on prehistoric cave visitors. Most spectacular is the narrative which the trackers generated from the footprints not far from the clay bison at Tuc d’Audoubert. Further research is planned to inspect more tracks and look into the epistemological status of the indigenous tracking method.
Control over the exchange of prestige goods is an important component of emerging socio-political complexity in many ancient societies. During the Iron Age period (500 bce–ce 500), communities in mainland Southeast Asia were undergoing rapid socio-political changes, due in part to new interactions with societies from South Asia. As objects made from exotic raw materials and using complex technologies, stone and glass beads are one type of prestige object from South Asia that were exchanged widely across Southeast Asia. This study examines beads from 12 sites in Cambodia and Thailand. Morphological and compositional analyses using LA-ICP-MS resulted in the identification of different bead types that were circulated in distinct exchange networks. Initially, beads were exchanged within a pre-existing South China Sea network. However, as trade with South Asia intensified in the late Iron Age, exchange networks in Southeast Asia expanded, with an increase in the quantities of beads circulated. These results show the utility of studying beads as a means of examining trade and emerging socio-political complexity. Lastly, in considering evidence for control over the exchange of beads, I propose looking to an emerging state in the Mekong Delta.
The Cogotas I culture (c. 1800–1150 cal. bc) is an unusual test case in Bronze Age Europe with its incomplete definition due to empirical and epistemological difficulties. The idiosyncratic materiality of those small-scale communities is poorly understood because of its unexpected nature. The characteristic evidence is limited to formal deposits and accumulations of secondary residues whose survival was decisively driven by prehistoric social practices. Thus, in the absence of intact activity areas or dwellings, normative burials and representative domestic equipment, alternative lines of enquiry are needed. However, standard interpretative models have proposed mismatching socio-economic accounts or misleading narratives envisioning these societies as regressive and isolated. This updated multi-scalar review covers from the high level of cultural demarcation and territorial representation to the micro-scale stories of human–things relationships. The lifestyles and worldviews in Cogotas I societies entailed the upholding of atavistic habits, a relational cosmology and a strategy of transient durability, which ultimately resulted in their characteristic archaeological invisibility.
The influence of Egyptian unification and expansion on the southern Levant at the end fourth millennium bc has been the source of a protracted debate. In this article, a novel approach to the study of Egyptian–Levantine relations considers how food preferences, mediated by knowledge transmission and local cultural logic, provide an effective interpretive scheme for understanding the nature of relations between neighbouring societies. To this end, zooarchaeology can reveal how food preferences become enmeshed into the transformation of identity. Zooarchaeological analysis from the Early Bronze I (EB I) village of Horvat 'Illin Tahtit, Israel, finds a clear overrepresentation of cattle forelimb parts relative to hindlimb parts. The results of a correspondence analysis of faunal data from late fourth-/early third-millennium assemblages in the Levant and Egypt shows that this pattern of forelimb overrepresentation is most common in Late EB I when the intensity of Egyptian–Levantine relations peaked. I suggest that while Egyptians clearly accorded high status to cattle forelimbs, their Levantine contemporaries, who did not have materially inscribed social rankings, defined cattle forelimbs according to a cultural logic unrelated to status.
In southwest Asia, the emphasis on architecture and burial ritual, which was instrumental in the construction of place-bound identities during the Early Neolithic (c. 10,000–7000 cal. bc), shifted toward an emphasis on miniature portable objects, such as figurines, stamps and ceramics, during the Later Neolithic (c. 7000–5000 cal. bc). Through a focus on stamps, this article argues that the appearance and proliferation of image-bearing portable objects is related to a new understanding of identities around emergent concepts of ‘house’ and ‘community’, which reordered the terms of social affiliation as well as difference and hierarchy at various scales. In terms of an iconographical approach, stamp imagery shows some affinities with the anthropomorphic and zoomorphic themes of the Early Neolithic; however, the majority of the Later Neolithic stamp imagery is composed of highly abstract types that cannot immediately be associated with the themes of the Early Neolithic. A close examination would indicate that these abstract types were also reproduced by manipulating ancestral imagery. It would also appear that certain types of images were employed on certain types of objects, such as ceramics and figurines, in increasingly structured ways. Arguably, these seemingly different object classes are an outcome of a seamless historical discourse of raw materials, images and forms, continuously shifting the conceptualization of self and society. It is in this context that stamps may be treated as figurines of a highly abstract, highly crafted and highly standardized nature. While the clay figurines appropriated social identities in the domestic sphere, stamps and ceramics were instrumental in linking multiple scales of identity formation, from personal to communal. Reconsidering the material shift from the Early to Late Neolithic, I suggest that the spreading regulation of appropriating body and food was central in the construction of a convergent politics of reproduction around the concepts of ‘house’.
Taking as a point of departure the in-depth analysis and description of an exceptional discovery, consisting of a large hammered gold sheet decorated with embossed motifs from the well-known Chalcolithic settlement of Valencina de la Concepción (Seville, Spain), this article presents a general appraisal of the social and ideological role of gold in Copper Age Iberia. The information available for this find, including both its context and its inherent characteristics, opens up new perspectives for research into the technology, use, sociology and symbolism of gold during this time period. We describe and analyse this unique item in detail, including the characterization of the raw material used and the manufacturing process (via SEM-BSE and LA-ICP-MS), as well as an extensive reconstruction of the graphic motifs that are represented, by using digital imaging processing techniques (RTI). We compare this find with the data currently available for the (approximately) 100 Chalcolithic golden artefacts (or fragments of artefacts) found in Iberia to date. Finally, we present an appraisal of the social and ideological framework in which gold was used in Copper Age Iberia, discussing its relevance in aspects such as the dynamics of social complexity, worldviews or artistic creations.
To what extent do we need structuralist cognitive settlement models such as the Central Cattle Pattern and the Zimbabwe Pattern for future research and understanding of Iron Age social life in southern Africa? How will alternative approaches enable us to progress beyond the present status of knowledge? While the three last decades of debate have underpinned key aspects of archaeological inquiry, notably questions of social change, gender dynamics, analytical scale and the use of ethnographic and ethnoarchaeological insights, the sometimes entrenched nature of the debate has in other respects hindered development of new approaches and restrained the range of themes and topics scholars engage with. In this article, we identify the issues of analytical scale and recursiveness as key to the development of future approaches and present an alternative framework through empirically grounded discussion of three central Iron Age themes: ceramics and the microscale, the spatiality of metal production and the temporality of stonewalled architecture.
The wealth of inscriptions at the Wadi Hammamat greywacke quarries (Egyptian Eastern Desert) have made it a key place to pursue enquiries about the social organization of expeditions to procure resources. Analysis of this textual material alone has, however, given us only a partial view of the social milieu that maintained quarrying from the fourth millennium bc to the fifth century ad. This article presents a fresh perspective on Egyptian quarrying that aims to balance the more accepted (and persistent) perceptions of overriding state control of these activities with viewpoints gained from recent archaeological survey of the Wadi Hammamat quarries. Practically and theoretically, a holistic approach is taken that contextualizes the textual sources and other elements of the archaeological record within the quarry landscape as a series of material complexes. Cross-cultural and comparative approaches to interpreting the data have enabled both reappraisal and augmentation of the ways in which we understand the social interplay between local and regional kin-groups within notions of state control of these activities. The article argues for the essential roles played by kinship ties and linkages to place, through the continual inscribing of names, as parts of the underlying human narrative that maintained quarrying here for generations.
Within the recent popularity of Actor-Network Theory (ANT) in material culture studies, scholars tend to lose sight of its origin in ethnography of laboratory work. In particular, ANT studies how scientific facts are constructed and stabilized in laboratories so that they become universally accepted, seemingly platonic, categories. This article returns to this initial insight and links it to the long-standing issue of archaeological types. Analysis of the practices of production, consumption and distribution of terra sigillata — Roman archaeology's most salient pottery type — shows how it became a category, how it was stabilized as such, and how this process imbued sigillata with specific agentic properties that allowed it to shape the range of possible actions in the past. By reframing platonic types as constructed categories, they can become active elements in our historical narratives.
‘Landscape: the land escapes (1) when we try to seize it with our maps, satellites, geographic information systems and Street Views, land is what evades our surveillance (2) land is the terrain of escape.’ (Cubitt 2012)
‘Since the middle of the twentieth century, the claim that something is art does not imply what it might have meant at the end of the nineteenth century, when it was made out to be a hallmark of European high and bourgeois society.’ (Heyd 2012, 287)
The destruction of Indigenous rock art sites in the Pilbara district in Western Australia has become a natural sight within the mining landscape of the area. Whilst much of the destruction is explained as acts of vandalism and as a result of the industrial activities that are propelling the Australian economy, I claim that a new theory of iconoclasm is needed to explain fully this disastrous example of heritage conservation. Henceforth, in order to explain the destruction of the Murujuga/Burrup Peninsula petroglyphs, the largest archaeological site in the world, this paper develops the theory of landscape iconoclasm. This theory states that the destruction of Indigenous landscapes can be compared to the destruction of religious images, by analysing the inherent symbolic functions of iconoclasm, together with those of heritage, the better to elucidate the state of affairs in the Murujuga/Burrup Peninsula. Furthermore, by drawing from Aboriginal mythology and art-historical and anthropological theories, the theory of landscape iconoclasm is able to explain the destruction of archaeological sites within a framework that falls outside prevalent discourses of heritage.
Interactions with the bodies of hunted animals often follow prescriptions pertaining to social relationships among human and non-human persons. Despite this, deposits of archaeological food remains are seldom considered in terms of deliberate placement, instead serving primarily as reflections of preparation and consumption activities. The residues of feasts, in particular, are often highlighted as indexes of special consumption events, although such salient occasions might also be expected to highlight ritualized depositional practices as well. This study reconsiders the archaeological residues of feasts through the vantage of a fauna-filled pit in late Pre-Columbian Florida. Most of the contents of the feature correlate with a large feast, but the structure of the deposit and inclusion of specific elements reflects scrupulous emplacement. Drawing on North American relational ontologies, we explore the idea that this pit feature was created as a deliberate bundle, the result of an intentional act of interment that was concerned with positioning its contents in ways that manifested and shaped various relationships.
Standardized weights and measures play an important role in the economies of complex societies. Traditionally, archaeometrologists have employed individual weights as their basic units of analysis and, as a result, they have been able to address a limited range of questions concerning the economic role of weights. I propose a shift in emphasis from individual weights to sets of weights as the primary units of analysis. Using cases from the Aegean Bronze Age, I present a method for reconstructing sets of weights, offer criteria for their analysis and discuss the implications of this new perspective.
In the last few decades, archaeologists have increasingly studied the material expression of religion. At the same time, they have recognized that some objects are animate in ways similar to people. Building on previous research that combines studies of religion, object agency and behavioural perspectives, we present an approach that focuses on the variety of rituals, especially rites of passage, in which objects participate over the course of their life histories. Occurring in societies at all levels of organizational complexity, rites of passage offer archaeologists an opportunity to contribute to the anthropology of ritual and an understanding of the ways that some objects take on, or are given, attributes of life. More subtly, by comparing the rites of passage of objects and the people who interact with them, we can assess differences in the specific qualities of object and human agency. These approaches may help us to orient the search for archaeological evidence of rites of passage as well as to interpret enigmatic deposits such as caches, hoards and offerings.
Social complexity is synonymous with inequality, a political form whose origin is associated with a reduction in residential mobility, the intensification of production, craft specialization, long-distance exchange, public architecture, the proliferation of prestige goods and ceremonial feasts. Archaeological evidence of these processes, however, is insufficient without the identification of practices related to prehistoric leadership. In the early Andean area, this social distinction was deposited in emblems or insignias of authority, objects of visual prestige whose value resided in myths and divinities. Similar arrangements of material culture, around the first millennium before Christ, appear contextually related with the first village-based communities in Northern Chile.