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Personal Ornaments in the Palaeolithic of Europe

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - PeOPLE (Personal Ornaments in the Palaeolithic of Europe)

Reporting period: 2018-02-01 to 2020-01-31

"This project sought to reconsider the cultural and social structure of the Upper Palaeolithic (ca. 45,000–11,000 years ago) of Eastern Europe by studying the personal ornaments found at archaeological sites across the region. Personal ornaments – beads, pendants, etc – can provide key information on past cultural links and diversity. They can provide a new perspective on traditional frameworks of ancient cultural structuration that are based mainly on stone tool types. The traditional frameworks that archaeologists use for Eastern Europe have been difficult to integrate with larger-scale European and Eurasian frameworks. This is largely because there are numerous Upper Palaeolithic cultural units that are identified in Eastern Europe only but not elsewhere. However, it is not clear whether these units truly reflect past cultural diversity, or whether they are the product of regional research histories or some other factor. The study of personal ornaments, if carried out systematically and on a large scale, can provide a new perspective on this problem.

These kinds of studies are important for society because they help to test widespread assumptions about past human societies. Often, Upper Palaeolithic societies – and populations – are put into a series of named ""boxes"" that do not truly reflect the complexity of cultural processes in the past. These overly simplistic ideas about how human society worked in the past can in turn give rise to damaging assumptions about the ""natural"" or ""normal"" state of human society and human interactions. Archaeologists have a responsibility to find better ways to describe the true complexity of the processes that took place in the past, and this project forms one small part of this endeavour.

The overall objectives of this project include the following:
- Creation of the first database of Upper Palaeolithic personal ornaments in Eastern Europe and surrounding regions
- Analysis of this data using statistical and network analysis methods
- Comparison of the results with the traditional framework used for the classification of sites and assemblages and investigation of the differences between them"
There have been two main aspects to the work that has been carried out to date. First of all, a survey of personal ornaments from Upper Palaeolithic sites across Eastern Europe has been carried out, with the results put into a database that is suitable for further analysis and sharing. The final analyses of this data is ongoing and will be brought to completion in the coming months, with publication of the results to follow. The second main aspect has been the development of a new theoretical approach that can be used to describe Upper Palaeolithic cultural diversity without recourse to traditional top-down classification. There has been good progress in developing this theoretical approach, and this aspect of the project has already led to three papers either published or in press (Reynolds & Riede 2019; Reynolds in press a, b), as well as multiple talks and conference presentations.
The theoretical results of the project have to date provided the clearest progress beyond the state of the art. The attempts to develop a model for visualising and analysing past diversity in the archaeological record without imposing top-down units on the data have great scope for wider generalisation. The further results to be expected from the full data analysis will also provide an important step forward in our understanding of Upper Palaeolithic cultural processes in Eastern Europe and an important test-case for the theoretical approach that has been developed.