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In this article we put forward an alternative account of the famous wristguards, or bracers, of the European Early Bronze Age. Combining new materialism with empirical microwear analysis, we study 15 examples from Britain in detail and suggest a different way of conceptualizing these objects. Rather than demanding they have a singular function, we treat these objects as ‘multiplicities’ and as always in process. This, in turn, has significant implications for the important archaeological concepts of typology and object biography and our understandings of material culture more widely.
Excavated over two centuries ago, the Upton Lovell G2a ‘Wessex Culture’ burial has held a prominent place in research on Bronze Age Britain. In particular, was it the grave of a ‘shaman’ or a metalworker? We take a new approach to the grave goods, employing microwear analysis and scanning electron microscopy to map a history of interactions between people and materials, identifying evidence for the presence of Bronze Age gold on five artefacts, four for the first time. Advancing a new materialist approach, we identify a goldworking toolkit, linking gold, stone and copper objects within a chaîne opératoire, concluding that modern categorisations of these materials miss much of their complexity.
The appearance of Beaker pottery in Britain and Ireland during the twenty-fifth century bc marks a significant archaeological horizon, being synchronous with the first metal artefacts. The adoption of arsenical copper, mostly from Ireland, was followed by that of tin-bronze around 2200 bc. However, whilst the copper mine of Ross Island in Ireland is securely dated to the Early Bronze Age, and further such mines in the UK have been dated to the Early and Middle Bronze Age, the evidence for the exploitation of tin ores, the other key ingredient to make bronze, has remained circumstantial. This article contains the detailed analyses of seven stone artefacts from securely dated contexts, using a combination of surface pXRF and microwear analysis. The results provide strong evidence that the tools were used in cassiterite processing. The combined analysis of these artefacts documents in detail the exploitation of Cornish tin during this early phase of metal use in Britain and Ireland.
What can a body do? To answer Baruch Spinoza's question, we engage with posthumanist feminist concepts of nomadic subjectivity and relations with non-humans. Through an exploration of two ‘patches’, the Chinchorro Mummies of the Atacama Desert in South America and the burials at Wor Barrow in the Neolithic of southern England, we suggest that these approaches open up a new way of encountering past bodies. What capabilities do bodies, past and present, have? This question is one in which bodies’ capacities are revealed as immanent, historically contextual and emergent.
In this paper we argue that to understand the difference Posthumanism makes to the relationship between archaeology, agency and ontology, several misconceptions need to be corrected. First, we emphasize that Posthumanism is multiple, with different elements, meaning any critique needs to be carefully targeted. The approach we advocate is a specifically Deleuzian and explicitly feminist approach to Posthumanism. Second, we examine the status of agency within Posthumanism and suggest that we may be better off thinking about affect. Third, we explore how the approach we advocate treats difference in new ways, not as a question of lack, or as difference ‘from’, but rather as a productive force in the world. Finally, we explore how Posthumanism allows us to re-position the role of the human in archaeology,
Posthumanism is a growing field of interdisciplinary study that has emerged, principally in the last 20 years, as a broad church which seeks to reconceptualize human beings’ relationships with the world. At its heart, Posthumanism seeks to destabilize and question the category of ‘human’, which it sees as having previously been treated as transcendent and ahistorical. In its place, the figure of the posthuman aims to capture the complex and situated nature of our species’ existence, outside traditional dichotomies like culture and nature, mind and body, person and environment, and so on. From animal studies (e.g. Despret 2016; Wolfe 2009), via a rekindled attention to the material world (Coole & Frost 2010) to the cutting edge of quantum physics (Barad 2007), Posthumanism draws on a diverse range of inspiration (Ferrando 2019). This diversity also covers a significant internal dissonance and difference, with some posthumanists taking relational approaches, others arguing for the essential qualities of things, some focusing primarily on material things without humans and others calling for explicitly feminist investigations.
In this paper we explore ancient DNA (aDNA) as a powerful new technique for archaeologists. We argue that for aDNA to reach its full potential we need to carefully consider its theoretical underpinnings. We suggest that at present much aDNA research rests upon two problematic theoretical assumptions: first, that nature and culture exist in binary opposition and that DNA is a part of nature; second, that cultures form distinct and bounded identities. The nature–culture binary, which underpins much aDNA research, not only is a misunderstanding of our world but also results in placing archaeology and material culture in a secondary and subservient position to science and aDNA. Viewing cultures as distinct and bounded creates exclusionary, simplistic and singular identities for past populations. This stands in contrast to the work of social scientists, which has revealed identity to be complex, multiple, changing and contradictory. We offer a new way forward drawing upon assemblage thinking and post-humanism. This allows us to consider the messy and complex nature of our world and of human identities, and demands that we expect equally messy and complex results to emerge when we bring aDNA into conversation with other forms of archaeological evidence.
A rare, intact Viking boat burial in western Scotland contained a rich assemblage of grave goods, providing clues to the identity and origins of both the interred individual and the people who gathered to create the site. The burial evokes the mundane and the exotic, past and present, as well as local, national and international identities. Isotopic analysis of the teeth hints at a possible Scandinavian origin for the deceased, while Scottish, Irish and Scandinavian connections are attested by the grave goods. Weapons indicate a warrior of high status; other objects imply connections to daily life, cooking and work, farming and food production. The burial site is itself rich in symbolic associations, being close to a Neolithic burial cairn, the stones of which may have been incorporated into the grave.
The growing interest in assemblages has already opened up a number of important lines of enquiry in archaeology, from the morphogenetic capacities of matter through to a rethinking of the concept of community. In this paper I want to explore how assemblages allow us to reconceptualize the critical issue of scale. Archaeologists have vacillated between expending energy on the ‘great processes’ of change like the evolution of humanity, the colonization of the globe or the origins of agriculture, and focusing on the momentary, fleeting nature of a small-scale ethnographic present. Where archaeologists have attempted to integrate different scales the result has usually been to turn to Annales-influenced or time perspectivism-driven approaches and their fixed, linear and ontologically incompatible layers of history. In contrast, I will use assemblages to examine how we can rethink both the emergence of multiple scales and their role in history, without reducing the differences of the small-scale to an epiphenomenal outcome of larger events, or treating large-scale historical processes as mere reifications of the ‘real’ on-the-ground stuff of daily life. As we will see, this approach also has consequences for the particular kind of reality we accord to large-scale archaeological categories.
In this article, we wish to return to the suggestion made by Sarah Tarlow a decade ago about the importance of understanding emotions in archaeology as a central facet of human being and human actions. We suggest a further expansion of this that focuses exclusively on the relationship between material culture and emotions (as opposed to textually, verbally or iconographically informed approaches), and offer a vocabulary that may better equip archaeologists to incorporate emotions into their interpretations. We attempt to show the implications of such a vocabulary in a specific British Neolithic case study at the henge monument of Mount Pleasant.
We would like to thank the five commentators for their thorough and stimulating reflections on, and criticism of, our article. The different comments raise various issues, and we appreciate their diversity of perspectives and their analysis of problems in our attempt at a rethinking of emotion in archaeology. The comments are each in their own way highly rewarding for us, and they certainly bring concerns to the fore that we have left out. Here we identify several issues that the commentators address in different voices and with varying intensities, and would like to examine these in turn. First, we consider the question of ritual at Mount Pleasant and the absence of the quotidian from our account. Second, we engage with the worry expressed over the lack of specificity of emotions in our given scenarios. Third, the phenomenological perspective in our article is given some critical thought. Fourth, we address the important point on which several of the commentators agree: that we leave out how emotions unfold in historically specific and context-dependent situations. Finally we turn back to the issue of our vocabulary to see how it stands the test of both application and critique.
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