Session: #300

Theme & Session Format

5. Assembling archaeological theory and the archaeological sciences
Session format:
Regular session

Title & Content

Contact – the ‘Other’ in Experimental Use-Wear Studies
The concept of alterity, an ‘other’ in contrast to which the (collective or individual) self is defined and constructed, has long been a mainstay of social archaeology. Following the material turn in the social sciences, we may also consider the agency of material objects on one another. This leads us to a fundamental, though in some respects perhaps underdiscussed, principle of use-wear studies: any object under analysis develops its defining characteristics, i.e. use-wear traces, only through contact with an ‘other’, i.e. the contact material.
While welcoming all proposals exploring the epistemology of use-wear analyses either through specific case studies or in more general terms, the session aims to put, for the first time, contact materials centre-stage in traceological discourse and especially invites contributions highlighting the role of contact material choice and treatment in experimental use-wear studies. Topics discussed might include, e.g., issues of both replicability and ethics (as well as legal ones) in the choice of natural contact materials or artificial analogues, e.g. in the study of Palaeolithic hunting or Prehistoric warfare; the diagnostic potential of comparative studies of ‘narrow ranges’ of contact materials, e.g. different plant species such as types of cereals exploited by Neolithic farmers; best practice in the choice and pre-treatment of single contact materials standing in for larger, more varied groups of materials including potential proposals for standard samples, e.g. in the study of Bronze Age axes and forest clearance.
With use-wear study having taken much inspiration from the engineering and natural sciences, e.g. tribology, this session also directly pertains to a fundamental epistemological debate in the ‘hard’ sciences, i.e. the much-cited crisis of reproducibility and the (partly) resultant crisis of confidence in science: careful consideration of the traceological ‘other’ is crucial for ensuring repeatability, replicability and reproducibility in both controlled laboratory and actualistic field trials.
use-wear, traceology, contact material, materiality, replicability
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Main organiser:
Ulrich Thaler (Germany) 1
João Marreiros (Germany) 2,3
Danielle Macdonald (United States) 4
1. Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum Mainz, Leibniz Research Institute for Archaeology, KB Scientific & Experimental Archaeology
2. ICArEHB, Interdisciplinary Center for Archaeology and Evolution of Human Behaviour, FCHS, Universidade do Algarve
3. Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum, Leibniz Research Institute for Archaeology, MONREPOS Research Centre and Museum, Laboratory for Traceology and Controlled Experiments
4. University of Tulsa