Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Children as Potters (Garrido-Pena, Herrero-Corral 2015)

I just changed my mind on ten things.  Seriously, this paper approaches Beaker pottery production through the lens of modern ethnography and then looks at the archaeological record in a way that makes greater sense.

Tiny Beaker (Thanet Arch?)
One item discovered throughout the ceramic-making parts of the planet are miniatures like the one above.  In the Late Neolithic of Europe, items like this found their way into graves which gives us a rare opportunity for some prehistoric insight.  Miniature grave items, whether they are tiny pots, battle axes or arrowheads, have sociological dimensions in the Late Neolithic as relates to idealism and the afterlife (Turek), but really there is another dimension too.

What Garrido and Herrero demonstrate is clear signals of prehistoric childhood apprenticeship using Bell Beaker as an example.  They extrapolate the ethnographic data from pre-modern cultures to show that tiny, medium-sized, and poorly-made Beaker pottery follow the natural trajectory of apprenticeship and learning by growing children.

Throughout the world, girls sat with their mothers at an early age, watching, playing and finally pinching tiny play pots.  Given the standardization of the Beaker pots, I previously believed before reading this paper that Beaker pottery was a specialized craft, executed by certain individuals.

There is now a more appealing explanation for the production of Beaker ceramics, that it was always made by ordinary women, and that all Beaker women participated in its production.  These women, every woman, began learning this craft and other crafts in early childhood.  That has profound implications for the miscegenation of regional pottery styles and the begleitkeramik itself, and I will absolutely go out on a limb and suggest that the genetic data (right now) can already complement this view.

To put it another way, we know that ethnic Bell Beakers intermarried frequently with local folks and, unsurprisingly, local character makes its way into the local Beaker pottery (or the other way around).  The only way to fully appreciate Irish food vessels or Dutch Zone Corded beakers or Artenac culture beakers, is to quite literally accept these material items as one product of actual ethnic miscegenation, largely between men of an Iberian Maritime Beaker ancestry and women of Carrowkeel Neolithic, Single Grave Culture and Artenac I culture, etc.  Blended families, blended pottery.

Another question is the poorly-made pygmy pottery that sometimes appears in the graves of adults.  In other respects there appears to be (IMO) at times evidence of sentimental grave offerings, such as single beads or an extra cup or equipment, and in the case of pottery appears likely that child pottery was sometimes deposited by those mourners in attendance of the funeral.

Really, I think the implications of this subject are more important that the many analyses of pottery and decoration.  This cuts right down to the important question of 'who' and the topic of 'cultural learning'.

Allow me to now put a slice of pizza in the punchbowl.  If all Beaker girls are learning how to make Beaker pottery at a young age, this would more likely be the result of "Unbiased Cultural Transmission".  It is the 'infinite alleles' model in which there is a tenancy for natural drift, but no explicit bias for prestige or non-conformity.

Most of the late models for the spread, adoption, imitation or trade of beaker pottery has been a preference for the later, that it was 'prestigious' or was part of some weirdo bonding ritual.  But I'll put this to brass tacks and get to the point:  Unbiased Cultural Transmission through childhood learning involves a stable and mature culture transmitting itself through the vehicle of ethnicity.

Papers can be found here.  Published 2015 [Link]

*Footnote for a paper involving lots of math and cultural transmission in archaeology assemblages:
"Neutral Cultural Transmission in Time Averaged Archaeological Assemblages" Mark E. Madsen Journal of Anthropological Archaeology (2012)  [here]

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