Session: #239

Theme & Session Format

Archaeological theory and methods beyond paradigms
Session format:
Regular session

Title & Content

Un-packaging Neolithic Societies: from Static Notions to Bottom-up Models of Social Organization
Traditional ideas about Neolithic societies are shaped by questionable premises. Concepts of social and cultural coherence of residence groups and the ethnic interpretation of ‘archaeological cultures’ fostered ideas of static and homogeneous social entities with fixed borders. Farming – the core of the Neolithic way of life – was associated with sedentariness rather than with mobility. Furthermore, the widely used (neo-)evolutionist thinking assumed a universally growing social hierarchization in the course of prehistory. Such ‘top-down’-perspectives deprived individuals and groups of genuine agency and creativity. In recent years, a wide array of empirical results on social practices related to material culture and settlement dynamics, (inter-)regional entanglements and spatial mobility based on Stable Isotope Analyses, aDNA etc. have come to the fore. Yet the question of possible inferences regarding the social organization has not been sufficiently addressed.
The aim of the session is to study social practice and organization in Neolithic societies based on such results by adopting bottom-up perspectives. We want to discuss how data can be methodologically combined on the basis of corresponding theories as well as the potential of such bottom-up approaches to infer models of social organization which could live up to the diversity and dynamism of Neolithic societies. This might include perspectives on mobility, social complexity, the importance of (political) interests and factors of kinship etc. We welcome papers that address the following questions:
- What models of Neolithic societies are used in current research?
- What kind of premises are projected onto the past and why?
- What kind of data is available and how can we combine those to explore different forms of social organization?
- What theories are used to approach social organization in prehistoric contexts?
- How could archaeology benefit from anthropological perspectives?
- What are the epistemological limits regarding the social organization of Neolithic communities?
Neolithic, practice theory, social organization, epistemology
Session associated with MERC:
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Main organiser:
Caroline Heitz (Switzerland) 1,2
Maria Wunderlich (Germany) 3
Martin Furholt (Norway) 4
1. University of Bern, Institute of Archaeological Sciences, Prehistory
2. University of Bern, Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research
3. Kiel University, Institute of Pre- and Protohistoric Archaeology
4. University of Oslo, Institute of Archaeology, Conservation and History