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The first European daggers: Function, meaning, and social significance

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - EuroDag (The first European daggers: Function, meaning, and social significance)

Reporting period: 2019-02-22 to 2021-02-21

The EuroDag is the first ever comparative study of the function of early European stone and metal daggers, c. 3800-1500 BC. The EuroDag project aims to understand how early daggers were used, for what purposes, and in which social contexts, while also exploring whether meaningful functional differences might be discerned amongst this broad class of objects based on manufacturing technology, chronology, typology, or regional distribution. The research problem will be addressed through an original combination of microwear analysis (to be conducted on prehistoric flint and copper-alloy daggers from Italy) and functional experiments with purpose-built replica objects. The importance of the project is threefold: (1) this is the first comprehensive functional analysis of a class of objects that, though widespread in Neolithic and Early Bronze Age Europe, is still poorly understood; (2) it is the first attempt ever made to examine both flint and metal daggers as a coherent set of artefacts; and (3) it is the first time that a researcher will develop a unified experimental and analytical methodology for the investigation of both lithic and copper-alloy objects from world prehistory. The research will dramatically reshape the agenda of prehistoric studies by revealing the functional basis of the significance and lasting fortunes of flint and metal daggers in Neolithic and Early Bronze Age Europe. Prehistoric daggers have been subjected to a considerable amount of scrutiny. While early studies tended to focus on classification and chronology, later research concentrated on manufacturing processes; the role played by these objects in the construction of male and martial identities; hoarding and ritual practices; and the close yet ambiguous relationship that existed in prehistoric Europe between stone and metal implements. Functional analysis and experimentation represent important methods of analysis and to interpret the meaning of daggers. These were not just objects but a "dagger idea" spreads and was adopted throughout the continent and beyond.
The EuroDag project has the following objectives:
Objective 1 – To investigate the uses of early European daggers by means of microwear analysis, to be conducted on flint and copper-alloy objects from Italian context;
Objective 2 – To assess the hypotheses stemming from the microwear analysis by means of functional experiments with purpose-built replica flint and copper-alloy daggers.
The EuroDag project began with a literature review of the archaeological daggers known in the literature both in flint and in metal, found in Europe between c. 3800-1500 BC. Moreover, the research involved a training period in use-wear analysis on metal tools at NU.
The research focused on the creation of specific experimental protocols to build a reference collection of traces and residues. Following this line, we started by reproducing (a) n.12 experimental flint daggers using various knapping techniques; (b) 12 replicas of copper-alloy daggers; (c) Finally, the experimental daggers are test in butchering activity; processing of wood and siliceous plants.
The second year of the project focused on the study of 350 flint and metal daggers from Italian archaeological contexts. The study performed on the daggers from Roman Area allowed to identify functional traces attributable to butchery activities and cutting of siliceous plants. The daggers come from Nogarole Rocca site (Verona, Italy), one of the most important necropolises in Northern Italy attributable to the end of the Copper Age to the Bronze Age, showed traces of cutting of organic material (i.e. muscles, bone, organic tissues). Similar results come from the analysis of Valdarno (Verona, Italy) site.
The metal daggers from the Terramara of "Pragatto" (Bologna, Italy) have provided important results. The settlement can be dated to Middle and Late Bronze Age (c.1700-1350/1350-1200 BC). The excavation has returned more than 150 bronze objects in excellent condition. For the identification of biological tissues, we used a “stain” (Picro-Sirius Red). This protocol allowed to identify fibers of tendons, meat and remains of collagen.
The preliminary results of this study were partially included in a monograph about Neolithic and Metal Ages of the roman area (Caricola et al, 2020).
Pubblication on “Crucible (HMS)”;
In submission in PNAS journal: Caricola I. et al. Investigation on the Organic Residues on Metal Daggers During the Bronze Age;
Organisation of a session at the EAA International Conference, Budapest, 2020, Theme: 5. Theories and methods in archaeology: interactions between disciplines, Dolfini, Lemorini, Caricola, Petrović, Vinet: Looking beyond the microscope: Interdisciplinary approaches to use-wear and residue analysis;
“EAA” International Conference, Caricola and Dolfini, Researching the “Dagger Idea” in Prehistoric Europe: new perspectives from Experimental Archaeology and Use-wear Analysis, 29 August 2020, Virtual Conference.
Conference Invitation: Caricola I., Stone, Metal and Function. The contribution of use-wear analysis to understand prehistoric artefacts, University of Groningen. The Capita Selecta and Research Seminars Committee, Online Webinar, 10 November 2020.
There are three important elements of originality and impact to the research project. Firstly, this is the first attempt ever made to address long-standing questions regarding the function of early European daggers using a scientific method of analysis and working on a broad super-regional scale. While debates concerning the practical and symbolic uses of prehistoric daggers have been raging for decades, interpretations have normally been grounded in deposition contexts (e.g. burials and hoards) and pictorial evidence (e.g. rock art and stelae) rather than on the use traces observable on the objects themselves. The few functional studies that have been carried out are hindered by small sample sizes, narrow regional or typological foci, and tight concentration on either flint or metal objects. The field is so woefully underdeveloped that, arguably, the dagger is now the sole major type of prehistoric tool/weapon whose function(s) and social meaning(s) are still hotly debated. The project will make a significant contribution to prehistoric studies by revealing how uses in practical and symbolic tasks might have contributed to the significance and lasting fortunes of flint and metal daggers in Neolithic and Early Bronze Age Europe. Importantly, the research findings will be disseminated so as to reach a broad, multidisciplinary cross-section of academia including prehistoric archaeologists, material culture students, and microwear analysis specialists. Secondly, this is the first time that, following the most recent scholarship on the subject, both flint and metal daggers are examined comparatively as a coherent set of artefacts. Comparative examinations will also be carried out with respect to typology, chronology, and regionality in order to fill additional gaps in our knowledge. This will further contribute to disclosing the meanings of these objects in prehistoric Europe, while also providing an understanding of how their function and significance might have changed across space, time, and social geography. Thirdly, this is the first time that a researcher will develop a unified experimental and analytical methodology for the investigation of both lithic and metal objects.
Sampling of archaeological flint dagger
Experimental test:Cereal harvesting
Flint dagger production
Metal dagger production