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BRONZE AGE — Result In Brief

Project ID: 274395
Funded under: FP7-PEOPLE

Tracing the evolution of technical traditions in the European Bronze Age

Studies of European Bronze Age cultures and archaeological materials generally focus on finished artefacts. An EU-funded project took a novel approach, electing instead to investigate the physical modalities used to transform raw materials into a finished object.
Tracing the evolution of technical traditions in the European Bronze Age
The 'European Bronze Age cultures and technical evolution: A phylogenetic approach' (BRONZE AGE) project sought to better understand and model the origin and evolution of the techno-diversity characterising the Middle Bronze Age (2 200–800 BC). To this end, project researchers considered two cultures: one insular and the other continental.

This approach was based on the idea that technical behaviours, representing a link with the body and mind, are influenced by the sociocultural environment of the craftsman and the passing on of traditions from one generation to the next. The question is whether this is a result of evolution within a cultural group (phylogeny) or of intercultural transfer (ethnogenesis).

To answer various questions on the evolution of technical traditions, project members used the 'chaîne opératoire' concept and phylogenetic trees and networks to illustrate ancestor–descendant relationships. This formed the basis for advancing a new paradigm for the Bronze Age and a new methodology for research into the anthropology of technology. Chaîne opératoire is a methodological tool used to analyse the technical processes and social acts involved in the step-by-step use, production and eventual disposal of artefacts.

BRONZE AGE researchers developed characters capable of coding in a relevant manner of chaîne opératoire, in a matrix that could be used for phylogenetic analysis. They completely redesigned and adapted to phylogenetic analysis 60 chaînes opératoires of the shaping technique. The developed methodology proves the possibility of creating a bridge between the anthropology of techniques and phylogenetics.

Study findings strongly support the hypothesis of phylogenesis, with similarities between technical traditions being related to a process of descent with modification from a common ancestor. This means that these cultural groups were largely based on a process of phylogenesis. The discovered rarity of horizontal transfers between apprenticeship lineages implies a society organised in communities where few exchanges took place.

On the whole, BRONZE AGE results uphold the theory of the phylogenetic evolution of cultures, serving to refute current beliefs that European Bronze Age societies were rich in extracultural interactions and exchange networks. The project-developed methodology is applicable to any archaeological and ethno-archaeological context, and therefore can be used to analyse and model the entire European Bronze Age, to confirm or qualify the results of this study.

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