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Mapping intentionality: demonstrating innovation in Neolithic pottery uptake in the Eastern Balkans.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - MINERVA (Mapping intentionality: demonstrating innovation in Neolithic pottery uptake in the Eastern Balkans.)

Reporting period: 2018-11-01 to 2020-10-31

Today's rapid technological and social changes have clear parallels in prehistory. The project ‘Mapping Intentionality’ aims to investigate how a new technology (pottery) was transferred into new territories during European Neolithisation.

Pottery was an essential component of the new and settled, agriculture-based Neolithic lifestyle in the Balkan region (7th-6th mill BC) that is in contrast with the earlier, hunter-gatherer pre-pottery way of living.

The new pottery technology gradually spread from its Anatolian source into Europe. However, while the chronology and physical forms of the earliest ceramic wares from Bulgaria – amongst the key hotspots located at the crossroads between Asia and Europe – are known, the social processes by which pottery transfer occurred have not been studied in detail.

When ceramic technology is considered, the non-uniform raw material geology of the Balkan Neolithisation routeways (clay, mineral temper, pigments), and variable plant tempers relating to subsistence practices, means that pottery adoption must have involved a degree of adaptation (intentional change) as it progressed. By identifying innovation across various target sites, MINERVA effectively maps social responses to the challenges of adapting a new technology, providing a window into the wider Neolithisation process for this gateway region.

The MINERVA project not only reveals hidden aspects of prehistoric social learning, transfer of knowledge and training of craft skills. It actually encodes dynamics of communication of past societies, adaptation to new conditions, and especially the interaction between past communities in locally-specific contexts and changing environments, thus helping us to better understand major processes within European pre- and protohistoric societies.
The MINERVA project investigates how the new technology was actually transmitted from the homeland Anatolian territories to European lands. By recovering and interpreting the hidden fabric variability shown by the first pottery at each study location, the actions of the project reveal the multiple innovative adaptations to local conditions that the adoption of pottery must have involved.

By combining programs of pottery analysis and geoarchaeology, a comparison of the clays and tempers observed in the pottery fabrics, with the reconstructed raw material and social landscapes, MINERVA makes visible the extent to which there were intentional departures from the homeland tradition of pottery-making, as it was progressively adopted.

More complex and multi-disciplinary analytical program activities in MINERVA are focused on the main pottery making components – the clay bodies, the inclusions within the clay paste, and especially the surface treatment, all considered within their specific context. In line with the aims of the project, initiatives in training, synergy and expanding scientific networks have widened the current research horizons, allowing for the advanced study of material culture as a proxy for past societies’ social interactions. This holistic approach brings to a new level the practical analytical apparatus, as well as interpretative approaches within the social sciences domain.

The dissemination of the MINERVA project results on technological changes and on social transformations in a key region within prehistoric Europe was targeted at the broadest possible range of audiences – reaching the widest spectrum of social and age groups (pupils, university students and adults from non-archaeological domains to the active members of most respected European archaeological organizations). Adapted accordingly, dissemination activities took place at numerous social, as well as professional venues – practice that continues even beyond the end-date of the project.
The MINERVA project is designed to provide a new scientific framework to explore large-scale social and cultural processes. In this way past events, such as European Neolithization, help us to better understand the challenges of technological innovations, the mechanisms of knowledge transfer, the adaptation to changing landscapes, and fluctuating social developments and transformations.

The specific aim of the MINERVA action is to develop an innovative methodology for the study of the mechanisms by which pottery transfer occurred. The approach reaches beyond both the traditional application of one single theoretical paradigm and the interpretative model that suggests large-scale uniformity across extensive European regions.

In going beyond existing typo-functional studies to target the actual decision-making inherent to pottery adoption, MINERVA provides a new, holistic approach to explore prehistoric dynamics and mechanisms of social learning, as well as means to maintain connectivity and ways of adaptation to changing environments.

As a project focused on the interplay between traditions, innovations and adaptation within various groups of population in the distant past, MINERVA immediately attracts public attention. The current advance in the research reveals the various models of transferring knowledge and technological achievements, that have gradually associated with a new, better lifestyle within an area bridging two continents together. The findings were communicated by aiming for a balance between strictly scientific dissemination of results and more popular approaches corresponding with non-specialist audiences of various age, educational backgrounds and professional interests.

Project's public websites:
Workshops and presentation organised for various age groups
The sites are considered within locally-specific cultural and geological context