Skip to main content

Materiality and depositional practices in the later Prehistory in Europe: an interdisciplinary approach using central Iberia (Spain) record as a case study

Final Report Summary - PAST FRAGMENTS (Materiality and depositional practices in the later Prehistory in Europe: an interdisciplinary approach using central Iberia (Spain) record as a case study)

The research agenda of later Prehistory in many national disciplinary strands in Western Europe lacks disciplinary debate and is based on consensual and stagnant perspectives which not always consider the updated information yielded by developer-funded archaeological projects. This research proposal has constituted an advanced training-through-research project, aimed to invigorate and update the theoretical and methodological approaches applied to this topic, challenging its assumptions through a non-positivist and non-determinist viewpoint. These goals have being reached through a timely work plan which has implemented a multi-scalar, diachronic strategy focused on different sites, such as barrows, pit burials, settlement and ceremonial pit sites.
The research project has been designed to integrate two complementary and interlinked scales of enquiry: 1) a micro-scale approach to material culture (taphonomic, use-wear, erosion and archaeometric studies) and 2) a macro-scale focus on the spatial dimension of connectivity between people, things and places (re-fitting studies).
The applicant was trained by the scientist-in-charge of the research project (Prof. Chapman) through a hands-on training-through-research experience based on a re-fitting experiment, employing the Neolithic pottery assemblage from Thirlings (Northumberland, UK) at the Wolfson Laboratory (Department of Archaeology, University of Newcastle) in May 2012. This experience allowed both researchers (the Scientist in charge and the Marie Curie fellow) to discuss and publish a new scoring method for assessing sherd-to-vessel associations using probably matching sherds (i.e. non-conjoining sherds from the same vessel). This scoring template, tested using statistic tests, have been published in the Journal of Field Archaeology (Blanco-González & Chapman 2014).
Once the training operation was achieved, this methodology was successfully implemented in several pottery assemblages in Spanish museums through four research stays: an Early Neolithic collection (La Lámpara site, Ambrona, Soria) in the Museo Numantino in Soria; a Bell Beaker assemblage (Valdeprados pit, Avila) in the Museum of Avila, and a large ceramic collection from the Chalcolithic site of El Ventorro (Madrid) in the Museum of San Isidro, and a Late Bronze Age set (Pico Castro, Dueñas, Palencia) in the Museum of Palencia. These well-documented case studies have provided unexpected and very important information to reassess how they reached the archaeological record. In particular, such re-fitting and taphonomic operations have provided fresh and crucial information on the formation processes, depositional histories, timespans and post-breakage trajectories of such items.
These tasks also provided with data to draw some preliminary hypotheses that required further archaeometric testing. Therefore, the subsequent extraction of ceramic samples from the Museum of Palencia and Museum Numantino of Soria served to conduct a petrographic thin-section analysis (17 Neolithic + 17 Bronze Age samples). A short stay at the Laboratory for Conservation and Applied Research of the Hungarian National Museum (Budapest) in March 2013 allowed to strengthen this method to test morphological and visual ceramic refits resorting to archaeometric characterization, in collaboration with Dr. Attila Kreiter. This method, presented at an international conference (European Meeting on Ancient Ceramics, September 2013, Padova, Italy). The strategy of sampling and the analytical procedure is presented in a paper submitted to the Journal of Archaeological Science (peer-reviewed, accepted, in press).
All in all this fresh evidence has allowed to get a more accurate characterisation of the social practices involved in the elaboration, use and discard of hand-made pottery vessels throughout later prehistory in central Iberia (e.g. their deliberate fragmentation and dispersion across the landscape). Thus, the study of the actual technological skills, lifespan trajectories, and depositional patterns (both intentional and unintended) involved in the formation of the later prehistoric materiality in central Iberia, will allow to reassess the meaning of different wares as active participants in these cultural practices.
Regarding the publications and dissemination activities resulting from the project, we have participated in the edition of 1 monographic volume, the writing up of 5 book chapters and 9 scientific papers in peer-reviewed international journals, 6 of them already published in: Antiquity, Journal of Field Archaeology, European Journal of Archaeology, Norwegian Archaeological Review and Trabajos de Prehistoria. Forthcoming, peer-reviewed papers are about to be published in Journal of Archaeological Science, Complutum, Cambridge Archaeological Journal and Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society. A synthetic paper by both researchers is about to be submitted to the Journal of Social Archaeology. A book proposal with the theoretical premises, methodology and outcomes of the research project has been submitted to Springer. The scientist-in-charge of the research project (Prof. Chapman) and the MC Fellow (Dr. Blanco) have organized, in collaboration with Dr. Jasna Vukovic (Belgrade University, Serbia) a monographic session for the next Annual Meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists to be held at Pilsen (Czech Republic) entitled: “Deliberate fragmentation revisited. Assessing social and material agency in the archaeological record”. The call for prospective presentations was very successful (40 proposals). This event gathered a wide range of archaeologists interested in the issues explored in this research project, and an edited volume from this session will be published shortly.