Breaking the Mould


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Breaking the Mould seminar series

Welcome to our seminar series! Through invited guest lectures and discussion round tables, we will be exploring new ways for understanding ancient craft practices with a strong emphasis on practical skills. The series is entitled:

"Gaining knowhow: Experimental and technological approaches for understanding ancient craft practices."

We will meet on selected Wednesdays at 5pm in the seminar room in Ardmore (invited speakers) and the Centre for Experimental Archaeology and Material Culture seminar room in Roebuck (Round Tables). Please check individual seminars for details. Details of our next seminar by Jill Hilditch can be found via the link to Seminar 10. A map to the seminar room can be found here.

September 30th

Round Table

All welcome! Seminar will be in the CEAMT seminar room in Roebuck

Experiential archaeology, embodied approaches, kinaesthetic methods... Fantasy or Functional?

The discussion document can be found HERE. Please email me for copies of the texts to be discussed and / or if you wish to join the mailing list for this series.

October 7th-8th

Jerolyn Morrison

Institute for Aegean Prehistory Study Centre East Crete

Seminar on 7th will take place at 17.30 in the Ardmore seminar room. Workshop on the 8th will take place at the CEAMT open air site at 14:00

The Art and Archaeology of Cooking: Studies from Late Bronze Age Crete

In this seminar we will explore functional aspects and cultural roles of cooking pots to evaluate domestic cooking on the island of Crete (located in the Southern Aegean Sea) during the Late Bronze Age (Late Minoan, ca. 1600-1190 BC). A methodology is proposed for identifying interrelation between people and pots in terms of production and use by focusing on key elements of the vessels’ design, i.e. shape, ceramic fabric, and size. This approach enhances the characterization of cooking pots beyond defining morphologies and fabric-types; it includes an experimental component that evaluates hypotheses concerning production and use. Additionally, it is applied to reevaluate established cooking pot typologies to address our lack of knowledge about how individuals performed daily tasks in the prehistoric Aegean. Two case studies target cooking contexts well-placed to investigate cooking pot production and function, in both space and time. The cultural groups concerned are the towns of Mochlos and Papadiokambos on the northeastern coast. Mochlos was a thriving harbor town in the LM I period; Papadiokambos was its contemporary, a prosperous enough settlement. Mochlos was abandoned for a generation; it was reoccupied when Mycenaean influence was strong on Crete (LM II-III). Essentially, the cooking pot suites at Mochlos and Papadiokambos belong to a broader tradition, utilizing open and closed vessels. Experimental work that produced LM-style vessels out of similar clays as the archaeological cooking pots shows that while closed, bowl-shape bodies were used for slow cooking (i.e. stewing liquid- based foods) and open vessels are better suited for quickly sautéing, grilling, and baking foods there are hidden steps to producing and using these vessels. These actions are multifaceted and complex. This work encourages us to rethink how these tasks were performed to understand better why choices were made that have materialized in the archaeological record.

November 25th

Miljana Radivojevic

University of Cambridge

Paint it Black: The Rise of Metallurgy in the Balkans

This research integrates archaeological, material, microstructural and compositional data of c. 7000 years old metallurgical production evidence with the aim to address the knowledge of the world’s earliest metalworkers. The main focus is placed on copper minerals, ores, slags, slagged sherds and metal droplets coming from four Vinca culture settlements in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina: Belovode, Plocnik, Vinca and Gornja Tuzla, all dated between c. 5400 – 4400 BC. Chemical study of copper minerals throughout all sites points at striking uniformity in selecting black and green minerals from the early days of the settlements’ occupation, some of which predate the metal smelting events. Microstructural examination of metal production debris showed convincing technological similarity throughout c. six centuries of copper making in the studied sites, as well as a consistent choice of black and green ores for metal extraction. It is argued that black and green ores were intentionally selected as ingredients for the metal smelting ‘recipe’ in the early stages of Balkan metallurgy based on the knowledge related to their characteristic visual aspects. This finding demonstrates how important the adequate combination of colours was for the early copper metalworkers and suggests a unique technological trajectory for the evolution of metallurgy in this part of the world. It also illustrates the capacity that micro-research carries in addressing the how and why of the emergence of metallurgy, and outlines a methodology for future studies of early metallurgies worldwide.

December 2015

Practical seminar

Mariusz Wisniewski


Seminar 4 in our series will occur slightly out of sync in the sequence and will be on conducting structure from motion 3D modelling of artefacts. Details on this will follow soon.

February 3rd

Marc Vander Linden and Jane Gaastra

University College London (ERC EUROFARM project)

How to become a farmer. Characterising the spread of early farming and associated technologies in the western Balkans

The study of the transmission of innovations is a key topic widely addressed by several disciplines, including evolutionary biology, sociology, economy, history of sciences and techniques, anthropology, and archaeology. Without a doubt, one of the key innovations for human history is the development and subsequent spread of farming (i.e. agriculture and stock-breeding). The shift from food foraging to food production is a defining moment in economic, social and cultural terms, and implies a profound redefinition of the relationships between the involved communities and their environment. The new sedentary lifestyle associated with farming also leads to drastic modifications of the way these communities interact together.

There was probably no real economic advantage in this shift. Farming seems less profitable that foraging in terms of cost effectiveness, as it requires an increasing investment in labour and resources. Yet, the transition did occur and the innovation then spread. Despite many years of research, the diffusion of farming is a complex phenomenon that we still do not fully understand. In Europe, a large part of the archaeological literature revolves around the evaluation of the respective weight in this process of the last local foraging populations (Mesolithic) and the incoming farmers (Neolithic). This approach is limited by the relative lack of Late Mesolithic data, especially in several key regions, and although multiple voices have denounced the limits of this binary opposition, the debate remains mostly set in these terms. New approaches that consider what is spread and how, rather than who, should cast a fresh light on this critical transition.

In most of Europe (with the exception of the Baltic and North Sea shores), early farming is accompanied by other technological innovations, especially pottery production, the so-called 'Neolithic package'. This coincidence offers us the possibility of investigating the parallel transmission of several innovations together. In archaeology, technologies are generally studied separately, and there are few comparative analyses of how several technologies are transmitted together. Yet archaeologists deal with assemblages composed of multiple categories of artefacts and material traces of practices, exhibiting spatial and chronological variability.

In order to answer these many questions, we have undertaken as part of a five-year ERC-funded project (EUROFARM, PI: Dr. M. Vander Linden) a thorough assessment of the literature in the Western Balkans (i.e. Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and neighbouring areas), a necessary but arduous task given the fragmented and uneven state of the documentation. So far, our efforts have focused upon the creation of a site gazetteer covering the entire region from c.10000 to 4500 cal BC, a review of all 14C dates, zooarchaeological and archaeobotanical records, plus field work undertaken in northern Bosnia and Herzegovina and eastern Montenegro and direct analysis of archaeological assemblages held in various institutions across the research area, including obtaining samples for new 14C dating. As part of this talk, we would like to offer a first review of our results, with a focus on the radiocarbon record and the farming systems (zooarchaeology and archaeobotany). Radiocarbon evidence allows us to compare the pace and spatial structure of each stream, characterised by distinct tempos and magnitudes. Differences in preferences for animal and plant domesticates are also noticeable, and cannot be accounted for in mere ecological terms.

February 10th 2016

David Fontijn

Leiden University

Craft and Destruction - life paths of metalwork in the European Bronze Age

With the inception of metallurgy, a whole new range of material shapes and forms became possible. Remarkably, metalwork that was initially produced in Northwest Europe in the Early Bronze Age seems to be rather limited in form and decoration. It is also very similar between regions. There are reasons to think that this was not merely due to limitations in skill on the part of the craftsperson. This paper will deal with this and suggest that "the right" form also had to do with a cultural desire of "belonging to a network". We will also deal with the remarkable fate of much of this metal. A significant part of the metalwork that came down to us, ended up in the archaeological record because it was deliberately destroyed, often by placing these in watery landscapes. What were the motivations behind such remarkable practices? And are there relationships between particular object shapes and selection for permanent deposition in watery places?

March 2nd

Ann Brysbaert

Leiden Universtiy

Tracing Craft Networks Viewed through a Technological Lens at Late Bronze Age Tiryns, Greece

Considerations of space are fundamental in archaeological research because we study space in relation to time in order to contextualise our findings and imbue them with meaning. Often, space is simply seen as a neutral backdrop for human interaction to take place. The interactive relations of space and time in the production of both a practical and a social environment have often been overlooked, and considering space as an active component in the building of social networks between people and things is only useful if we understand that the neutrality of space is an illusion. Instead, inhabited and other spaces are imbued with memory, sensory experiences, emotions, and are filled with matter. Scholars like Gibson describe the inhabited environment from a physical or material perspective, consisting of mediums (e.g. the air we breathe), substances (e.g. rocks, sand, plants) and surfaces. This emphasis on materials and their physical makeup are very useful notions because they indicate the dynamic relationships between materials and people at any given time: how they live together through each motion and how materials may either allow or limit people in what they want to do during any given moment.

Spaces are created by building materials, construction techniques and the people who both build and use these spaces. Revealing active links between space and time while discussing technologies and peoples activities, performances and practices, imbue these practices, activities and performances with interconnected meanings. Spaces, and therefore by extension architecture, are shaped by people but these also shape people and afford their communication, not just in monumental and public architecture contexts but also in settlements and mortuary spheres and, as discussed here, in workshop contexts. The latter contexts in particular have been largely ignored.

This seminar aims to integrate material evidence ranging from the portable small leftovers to the solid built walls of two specific workshop contexts from LBA Tiryns (Greece) to study peoples interactions within and with these workshops over time. As such, the main emphasis of the seminar will fall on the rich and varied material culture aspects as ways to access past peoples technical and social practices in producing, through crafting, their daily lives. Their spatial environment is therefore only one of those aspects that will be discussed. While social networks are often traced through artefact distribution studies, I also aim to illustrate that these workshops can only be fully understood when portable, fixed and built constituents are evaluated in relation to each other and to people. Thus, by understanding spaces as active interfaces and facilitators or inhibitors of each activity, practice, technology, emotion, memory and (skilled) experience, living workshops emerge as something much more than a fulfillment of the criteria of specific workshop models.

April 6th

Ben Chan

Leiden University

Crafting the house: understanding craft activities in domestic contexts through the microwear analysis of stone tools

The Neolithic houses of Orkney represent some of the best preserved Neolithic domestic architecture in western Europe with many examples having preserved walls, house floors and external occupation surfaces, such as middens. These rare contexts of preservation offer excellent potential for the detailed analysis of both the broad range of activities associated with houses, and in the best cases, the identification of the spatial organization of those activities in relation to domestic architecture. There is therefore the potential to assess variability in the organisation of craft and subsistence activities across different types of settlements (e.g. farmsteads vs aggregated settlements). In this seminar I will look critically at the current state of knowledge concerning house-related activity areas in Neolithic Orkney and will argue that there are many unanswered questions about the basic composition of the house and the craft activities and subsistence practices that took place within and around them. It will be suggested that this issue can to some extent be addressed by using microwear analysis to increase the resolution of our understanding of craft activities and to add crucial insight into the missing organic components of our artefact assemblages. The potentials of this approach will be examined in relation to the small Early Neolithic settlement of the Braes of HaBreck and the large aggregated Late Neolithic settlement of Barnhouse.

October 19th

Chloe Duckworth,

Newcastle University

Talking Dirty Glass: Experiments on Recycling and Contamination

There is no such thing as a perfect circle...
...Or a closed production cycle, or a straight line between finished object and raw ingredients.

Especially not when you deal with glass. Glass will absorb into its structure almost any number of elements, as long as they are not present in too high a quantity. This property of glass makes it ideal for archaeological scientists wishing to trace a line between raw ingredients and finished object. By applying chemical analysis to glass samples, it is possible to draw links between the composition of the glass and that of the geological source of sand or other ingredients used to make it.

The problem is that this same, inclusive property of glass also makes it ideal for recycling with glasses from different origins, and open to contamination during production, adding an untold number of complications to the relationship between finished object and primary source. And these complications do not only happen in times of scarcity when supplies of freshly made glass were limited; they seem to have been a normal part of the circulation of glass materials from the first century AD on. I will present my current approach to this conundrum, which employs a combination of experimental manufacturing and recycling of glasses, and a 'big data' approach using published datasets. I suggest that as long as we have enough data, it is possible to retrace some of the effects of the recycling and contamination of glass, and - rather than seeing them as an annoying obstacle to the goal of chemical provenance - to use them in order to understand the more complex, and ultimately more interesting patterns of trade and consumption of glass in the first millennium AD Mediterranean.

November 23rd

Jill Hilditch

University of Amsterdam

The nitty-gritty of ceramic technology: investigating prehistoric pots and their makers

Understanding how ceramic vessels vary, both spatially and diachronically, is no longer the sole domain of typological studies. Over the past 30 years or more, ceramic analysis has become an integral part of most archaeological studies, developing an increasingly integrated methodology for investigating both provenance and technology in ancient material culture. Using elements of geological and chemical sciences, sociology and experimental archaeology, alongside traditional typological and stylistic study, current ceramic analysis has the ability to understand the dynamic human interactions that create, move and use ceramic objects in the past.

Tracing the transmission of technical knowhow between craft specialists is an exciting development and one which can be identified in many stages of the pottery production sequence, whether that be in the preparation of clay pastes, the choice of forming technique or the method of firing. My talk will explore several examples of change within the technological choices of potting communities within the Bronze Age Aegean, presenting the tangible evidence for reconstructing ancient interactions and discussing how they changed over time.