Session: #259

Theme & Session Format

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

Title & Content

The Creative Reinterpretation of Material Culture in Prehistoric Societies: A Reappraisal
A broad range of archeological artifacts whose physical appearance obviously diverges from the initial characteristics of the related object category are known. This intentional and explicit transformation can either manifest (a) in the physical alteration of objects themselves, or (b) in the actual manufacture of entirely new objects mimicking the ‘originals’ (such as for instance ceramic house models, clay axe heads, or miniature bronze swords). By means of formal adaption, extreme under- and oversizing, or the choice of peculiar materials etc., the original use is prevented in favor of a repurposing, and the altered objects’ differentness is excessively pronounced, and yet still strongly referring to the ‘originals.’
The overt social significance of these object variations seems unquestionable. In the past, catchwords like ‘icon’, ‘idol’ or ‘fetish’ have been applied, and concepts involving ‘object worship,’ ‘symbolic currency,’ and ‘votive object substitutes’ have been proposed. This obvious reduction of the social reality asks for a thorough reappraisal of the widespread phenomenon in the light of the complex entanglement of people and things.
This session focuses on the many facets of physically altered and transformed objects and their archeological contexts throughout prehistory. We aim to explore the archeological phenomenon of creative reinterpretation and set it into a wider, interdisciplinary theoretical framework, discussing both the practice of transformation, and the role/s of the transformed objects themselves, and most importantly the relevant human-thing relations. Papers dealing with pertinent examples and case studies from the Paleolithic to the Iron Ages, as well as theoretical discussions are welcome.
Material culture, Object reinterpretation, Object alteration, Object mimicking, Icons – Idols – Fetishes, Human-thing relations
Session associated with MERC:
Session associated with CIfA:
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Main organiser:
Ariane Ballmer (Switzerland) 1
Daniel Neumann (Germany) 2
1. University of Bern
2. Lower Saxony State Museum Hanover