Session: #109

Theme & Session Format

Interpreting the archaeological record: artefacts, humans and landscapes
Session format:
Regular session

Title & Content

Getting into Shape: Reconsidering the Relationships between Perception, Skill, Cognition and Materials in the Design of Ancient Figurines
In looking back on the archaeology of the last two centuries, it is presently noticeable that research on ancient figurines was heavily influenced by the aesthetic trends prevailing at the time of its undertaking. This dynamic is clearly illustrated by, for example, past fluctuating descriptions of Cycladic figurines as ‘primitive small monsters’ or as great works of minimalist art (see commentary in Gill and Chippindale 1993). Moreover, alongside such phenomena arose discussions that the appearance of ancient figurines resulted directly from their makers’ artistic skill, and that artistic skill developed chronologically (see commentary in Zeimbeki 2004).
In the light of recent archaeological theoretical and methodological developments, the aforementioned approaches are now debatable. In this session, we therefore explore new avenues for understanding what other factors may have influenced the appearance of ancient figurines. In deconstructing the concept of ‘artistic skill’ and ‘style’ (see Cochrane and Meirion-Jones 2018) we consider afresh the idea of ‘design’ behind appearance. We also seek to more closely investigate the role of materials in artefact production, alongside the general impact of human cognitive and perceptual development upon design processes.
We address the following questions:
- What impacts do materials used in figurine production have upon the development of skilled behaviour?
- How are perceptual relationships influenced and facilitated by specific materials and styles?
- In what ways do production of, and engagement with, representations of bodies and faces impact cognitive processes?
- Is it truly possible to assess developments in figurine appearance chronologically and stylistically?
- Do concepts such as typology, sub-varieties, and a focus upon identifying specific “artists”, still provide useful frameworks?
- What would new methodologies or alternative aesthetics for interpreting the development of figurine appearance consist of?
We accept papers concerning any form of ancient figurine. We impose no geographical or chronological limitations.
Figurines, Appearance, Style, Skill, Perception, Cognition
Session associated with MERC:
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Main organiser:
Celine Murphy (Greece) 1
Alexander Aston (United Kingdom) 2
1. Heritage Management Organization Athens
2. University of Oxford