Session: #366

Theme & Session Format

Archaeological theory and methods beyond paradigms
Session format:
Regular session

Title & Content

History and Prehistory of Space: the Archaeological Viewpoint
With our contemporary knowledge of space including not only high precision maps of both the planet Earth and the solar system, and the ability of exactly locating any position and event through GPS, it is difficult to imagine the representation of space that was available to prehistoric populations from hunter-gatherers to sedentary pastoralists and farmers.
An understanding of the ways in which these populations variously experienced their surrounding space and the expanse beyond their horizon must take into consideration the cognitive (pre-scientific) limitations that necessarily constrained the perception and interpretation of their environment (e.g., the human inability to visually evaluate correctly the relative distances between objects beyond the threshold of the sense of perspective. The heuristic imagination and simulation of the life conditions resulting from such limited cognitive affordances could help understand, using a top-down approach, the functions and meaning of some of the graphic representations these populations produced. Conversely, following a bottom-up approach, this session will also investigate the possibility of inferring from the archaeological record the spatial knowledge that grounded their actions (such as explorations and/or migrations) and artefacts (such as possible geographical and celestial graphic representations) in view of the limitations and opportunities of their life experience of space. Analogical models like experimental and experiential archaeology could be used as additional inference instruments. Comparison with surviving traditional cultures can also help understanding these problematics but cannot suffice to conclusively determine long-past states of affairs.
Therefore this session will address the methodological issues of how reliable can such inferences be in view of the archaeological evidence we have and how these results may converge with the hypothetical (heuristic) reconstruction of a pre-scientific perception and interpretation of space, while being mindful of the danger of being trapped in a circular argument.
space, culture, symbolic productions, graphic representations
Session associated with MERC:
Session associated with CIfA:
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Main organiser:
Paul Bouissac (Canada) 1
Dragos Gheorghiu (Romania) 2
1. University of Toronto
2. National University of Arts - Bucharest