Saturday, December 23, 2017

Mad Skills, Meaning Nils (Kuijpers, 2017)

Kuijpers argues that archaeometric examination of early metal works have produced results that are often projected directly as raw data onto a social framework.  In doing so, much of the context is absent or a different picture is created altogether.

It's simplifying those things that require great skill and time at the forge but look easy in the mature hands of the craftsman.  Through the eyes and in the hands of the craftsmen were ancient works created; it's in this dimension where Kuijpers argues so much of our understanding depends.

"The Blacksmith",  Minneapolis Museum of Art, (Franz von Defregger)

"There are two distinct frameworks in which prehistoric technologies are studied: a material framework and a social framework."  [Kuijpers, 2013 proposed a third "psychophysical framework"]..This framework takes into account prehistoric skill, cognition, and the senses"
Kuijpers proposes a 'sensory update' to the chaîne opératoire in reconstructing the processes of metal production, limited to the smithyVandkilde, 2010, had suggested applying this approach to metal production, which had been applied with success by lithics researchers. 

This sensory update optimizes the operational chain by including those ques used by the smith: colors, smells, hardness, speed, malleability, plumes, etc.  From these ques a decision tree forms that illuminates the mental processes of the smith during the initial production using raw materials.  From this expanded approach, additional information is learned, such as the skill-level of EBA craftsmen, which is highly variable and more often 'motley' in Kuijper's view.

But most important a decision tree emerges based on the way different materials were worked in order to achieve a desired endstate.  In this way, much more can be reverse engineered out of an object, particularly it's use need if the artisan was skilled.  About 10-15 pages.  See also: Kuijpers, 2018

A Sensory Update to the Chaîne Opératoire in Order to Study Skill: Perceptive Categories for Copper-Compositions in Archaeometallurgy
Kuijpers, M.H.G. J Archaeol Method Theory (2017).

This paper introduces the methodology of perceptive categories through which an empirical analysis of skill is achievable, taking European Bronze Age metalworking as a case study. Based on scientific data provided by the material sciences, in this case compositional and metallographic analyses of Late Copper Age and Early Bronze Age axes, the thresholds to categorise and interpret these data, and organise them in a chaîne opératoire, are centred on the human senses—and thus on metalworking as a craft. This is a pragmatic approach that appreciates scientific measurements of metal objects as essential empirical evidence whilst recognising that a considerable share of these archaeometric data are inapt or too detailed for an understanding of skill. This empirical approach towards skill is relevant to our knowledge of the role of crafts and materials in the past. After all, skill is a fundamental asset for the production of material culture, and a distinct human-material relationship characterised by an intimate form of material engagement.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

More Loch Ness Beakers (AOC Archaeology)

New Beaker cist from across a medical center in Drumnadrochit via DailyMail.

(AOC Archaeology via Scotland Herald)
Previously, there was a stone lined cist discovered under during construction of the medical center [this post].  A lot of superlatives here and there, still trying to figure out what it is that is so exciting.  In one article they seem to suggest that there are more graves??

(AOC Archaeology via DailyMail)

One thing that is astonishing, however, is how far Beakers spanned in the Island of Britain within just a few generations and considering what appears to have been near total population replacement by the Middle Bronze Age.  That's epic.


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Hell on Horseback - Únětice Armies? (Harald Meller, 2017)

There is an image of Early Bronze Age warriors as solitary figures who seldomly engaged in combat, but looked the part. When they did go to combat, it was some sort of insipid, highly-individualized type of combat without any real purpose other than general cock-strutting and virtue broadcasting.  Heads spinning off shoulders and torched landscapes would have been an implausible narrative for this period.

"Asgårdsreien", by Peter Nicolai Arbo, 1872.
To a degree, Late Neolithic warfare continues to be viewed as an age of loner heros, including in this paper in Cambridge "Antiquity" by Harald Meller.  But Meller's paper is one of several recent papers by prominent archaeologists that are starting to question the prevailing view of European warfare as limited ceremonial skirmishing rather than a now more plausible idea of large-scale, organized warfare in the Early Bronze Age.  He examines the widespread Únětice Culture and questions the interpretation of the ritual deposits of bronze axe hoards.

Most interesting is what Meller interprets to be Unetice barracks at Dermsdorf in Sömmerda District.  The longhouse is unusually long and could be a kind of communal squad bay for the 98 axes and two daggers deposited at its door.  In some ways, a class distinction between weapons of modern 'officers' and 'enlisted', common to Western Europe could be interpreted in this way.  Strangely the number is about the size of a Roman centuria and similar descended units.  He speculates that within sight of the Leubingen burial mound, other barracks may have been seen in the landscape.

Next, he discusses the division of arms in other hoards and suggests the percentages are indicative of a military unit structure; axes, halberds, daggers and (the likely ceremonial) double-axes.  A good illustration of this social division of arms in an infantry unit can be seen in the homecoming video of the 1st Battalion Scots Guards.  Keep in mind though, that this 'European' social division of arms within a unit is different from a Combined Arms Concept, although that may be further developed in the future as well.

After the pipe band passes, you'll see officers equipped with service pistols and holding their ceremonial swords and following by basic riflemen.  (see below)

Meller continues by mathematically breaking down other hoards and envisions a rank structure not unlike those of historical Europe.  I think he makes an interesting and very powerful argument. 

There are now several important papers queued up by influential archaeologists regarding the magnitude and organization of warfare in the Early Bronze Age.  Horn and Christiansen have a paper that may already be out regarding Bronze Age warfare.  Christian Horn has a very comprehensive paper on type-use of halbards as well that I hope to get to at a later date. 

"Armies in the Early Bronze Age? An alternative interpretation of Únětice Culture axe hoards" Harald Meller, Antiquity, Volume 91, Issue 360.December 2017 , pp. 1529-1545


"The Early Bronze Age Únětice Culture in central Germany was a highly stratified society with a ruling class of ‘princes’, as evidenced by the famous burials at Leubingen and Helmsdorf, and the newly excavated burial mound Bornhöck near Dieskau. To investigate the notion of Únětice military organisation, this article presents a new interpretation of the numerous weapons hoards recovered from the region. Hoard deposition and composition from central Germany strongly suggests a shift from a Late Neolithic culture of ‘warrior heroes’ to the creation of organised standing armies of professional soldiers under the control of ruling elites."