Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Chronology, Innovation and Memory (Müller, Hinz, Ullrich 2015)

Let me condense this down to a sentence:

Within the Rhine-Main-Neckar regional group of the Bell Beakers, it is rigorously demonstrated that there is a stylistic cycle, periods of variation followed by a more conservative periods.

This may seem a little dense or not that interesting, but hang with me for a moment...

Here, Beaker pottery seems to have an ebb and flow pattern in stylistic variation:
"What triggered BB communities to develop pottery styles in such a cyclic rhythm, which involved the creation of innovative styles..."
"We suggest that the construction and creation of new design systems and their function for individuals and societies is influenced by the nature of memory, in particular social memory in non-literate societies. (Forty and Kuchler 1999)"

If I understand the conclusions of Muller, Hinz and Ullrich correctly, they seem to rightly point to social memory and cyclical nature of human society.  They go further and reference what practical, realistic social memory means in a non-literate society.  From this, they seem to suggest that linear, cultural transmission becomes jumbled past a certain number of generations and this is the cause of the punctuated periods of variation in Rhine-Main-Nectar pottery.
"In a recent study, Whittle came up with 100-200 years duration for memory transmission in non-literate societies (Whittle et al. 2011, 911-914) as some type of real social memory in contrast to 'mythical time'."
"To sum up, approximately 4-8 generations of more or less unchanged memory transmission seem to guarantee the prerequisites for the transmission of ideological basics within an unaltered societal background."
I take a slightly different view on what this means for the Beaker society.  Rather than social chaos and the limits of faithful cultural transmission, I would interpret this as a normal ebb and flow of any society, literate or illiterate. 

It's a difficult case to make that durable materials are subject to the limits of social memory when they are in fact, durable.  This means that he who makes a spear point different from his father does so, knowingly.  (because he is a bratty teenager that doesn't want to listen)

So how does this apply to a modern person? 

In the English-speaking world, given names are cyclical on a 100 year to 150 year basis.  It makes sense that younger generations want their own stylistic expression and identity, but also borrow from and pay homage to their family and heritage.  After a while, old-fashioned names loose their oldness and become sexy and attractive once again.  Some names, like some pottery design features, will be more enduring because of a religious nature.

If you are to believe the Strauss-Howe Generational Cycle of American history (the structure of which is not unique to America), then we have completed the third turning, or unraveling phase, in which institutions have been deeply distrusted (the media, the government, the church) and have now splashed into the fourth turning of crisis and survival, a period of increasing nationalism that may climax in a decade or two.  Then the first turning begins.

Everything is cyclical.  Hope to see more from this book soon...

Taken from this from this book [The Bell Beaker Transition in Europe.  Prieto-Martinez, Salanova 2015]

The full article can been seen [here]

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