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Metals, weapons and social change around the Adriatic and Ionian seas 2000-1000 BC: A longue durée vista on the impact of military praxis on technology, politics and communication networks

Final Report Summary - METAL WEAPONS CHANGE (Metals, weapons and social change around the Adriatic and Ionian seas 2000-1000 BC: A longue durée vista on the impact of military praxis on technology, politics and communication networks)

The objective of this project has been to investigate the nature, directionality and intensity of long-term martial interactions between Bronze Age societies surrounding the Adriatic and Ionian seas in the second millennium BC. Intensive focus was placed on the later part of this period when dramatic changes in social organisation took place, particularly in relation to the expansion of the Urnfield phenomenon in Europe with attendant spread of material culture forms and social practices. This led to re-modelling of the settlement systems in all parts of the study area, with a growing emphasis on fortified sites that was particularly striking in the Balkans. Alongside this change in settlement, there was a dramatic increase in the visibility of bronze weaponry. Linked by land and sea, the relationship between Greece and the Balkans formed the ideal test-case for military exchanges in this region, particularly as the latter has not been the focus of extensive bronze artefact research programmes for decades. It was revealed that there were significant overlaps in the design of weaponry and related practices, and that these emerged from a short but intense period of interaction in the thirteenth into twelfth centuries. The difference in metal procurement and technology were nonetheless marked, and so clearly revealed confluence when this occurred. This interaction transformed Aegean societies during the so-called “catastrophe” when the previous palatial centres of power were undermined and collapsed, and society was re-formulated in a less-stratified, yet still hierarchical, manner more closely aligned structurally with groups in the Balkans and Italy.

As metalwork has long been used as a proxy for mapping peoples’ movement, long distance contacts and interregional relations, it formed an ideal dataset for examining the transformative role of interactions in this case study region. The foremost theoretical concern was to build beyond the core-periphery dialectic typical to the dominant World Systems analytical approach. This was pursued by introducing a network approach that cross-referenced each step in the chaîne opératoire, including metal acquisition, production, consumption and deposition. That approach required a combination of 1) provenancing, 2) technological characterisation, 3) use-wear and metric analyses, and 4) characterisation of depositional practices. This required visits to 25 museums in nine countries during the two years of the project. During this fieldwork over 300 XRF analyses were made along with 110 metallographic and metallurgical samples taken.

1) Samples were analysed using SEM-EDS and portable-XRF surface analyses to determine composition. These results were used to determine the typical range of metal compositions in use, from the local to the macro-scale. A selection were also analysed for their lead isotope ratios, to determine the origin of the metals. The results revealed many instances of probable Sardinian and Greek imported metal, which significantly transforms our understanding of long-distance relationships of Balkan societies at the height of the Bronze Age.
2) Using optical microscopy and the SEM, the structure of the metals were analysed to reveal steps in the production process. These revealed both local and regional patterns in technological choices. This played an important role in determining the spatial extent of workshop traditions.
3) Quantifying use-wear was coupled with measuring proportions and weights of weapons to reveal micro-regional differences in the selection of objects for deposition, their apparent life-cycles, and it is proposed the scale / manner of recycling. This method also revealed distinct differences in workshop traditions.
4) Biases in recovery, perhaps more than deposition, have affected the regional patterning of the distribution and dissemination of technologies and traditions of use. It has been argued that the martial-art applications of weapons suggested more intense interaction than has hitherto been proposed, supported by results from 1-3 above.

The results of these analyses have been the subject of several publications in forthcoming papers in peer-reviewed journal (3), conference proceedings (2), and thematic edited volumes (5). Only those with full publication details have been appended to this report. The core synthetic monograph of analyses and findings is in preparation, with the main chapters on the analytical results completed. Presentation of the results has taken place as invited papers at four international conferences held in Sweden, Denmark, Czech Republic and United Kingdom. As part of the research agenda being pursued through this specific study, I organised the Sheffield Aegean Round Table in 2013 on the topic of defining prehistoric network connections between the Aegean, Balkans and Anatolia. I am editing the proceedings of this, which are in advanced stage of preparation and will be submitted to the publishers in early 2014.

In meeting the objectives of the project, it was possible to define regional characteristics in weapon design on the basis of technological choices relating to design and alloy composition. This was closely correlated with subtle differences in martial arts traditions associated with the use of weapons, which in turn could be correlated with trace element and lead isotope characterisation to model regional traditions. Through this, it was revealed that weapons coming from the south Adriatic (probably Italian) made their way into the Balkans, and that weapons from this latter area were found in Italy and Greece. These were occasional pieces representing ca. 1-5% of total assemblages, though they confirmed that all three areas were interlinked through exchange of military objects. It has been proposed in my publications that this was the result of mobility of a military nature in the decades around 1200 BC. Thereafter, the political fallout of those events resulted in the hybridisation of local and transcultural weapon forms as part of new elite agendas that manipulated the ancient and recent past in contemporary politics. Weaponry is revealed as a highly dynamic social symbol, because it visually represents participation in a transcultural package while at the same time requires modes of use that are associated with these ‘international’ martial art practices. From a post-colonial perspective, these changes arose from a ‘third space’ of engagement, most probably on-board ships and in military campaigns, such that they were not derived from a specific region but emerged from cross-cultural interaction that was not spatially grounded.

Overall, the emerging picture suggests that the river routes of the Balkans, particularly the Sava-Danube corridor, were important components in complex communication networks. The traditional focus on the economic aspects of these networks is tempered by the fact that it appears weaponry was amongst the most highly mobile artefact type. The purposes for mobility are thus revealed as being grounded in a variety of fields of social discourse, and that these were not stable networks across significant expanses of time. The changing political climate meant that these vacillated from intense and cooperative to restricted and potentially hostile. Significant differences in weapon forms occurred on each side of the Alps, though the Balkan material linked closely with the Italian and Central European series. It is proposed in my papers and in the forthcoming book, that the Balkans were intermediaries of far greater significance in metal exchange networks than has hitherto been believed. The routeways through the Balkans and the peoples that lived along these played a strategic role in communication networks that linked groups in the Mediterranean and Europe. Perhaps most significantly, the scale of interaction between Italian and Balkan societies appears particularly intense from the perspective of metalwork, forming a vibrant and influential sphere of cultural influence that affected both Mycenaean and Urnfield social groups.