20 January, 2016

2016 A Monumental New Year

Ditched Enclosures in Neolithic Europe
I have to thank Víctor Jiménez Jáimez for raising me from the deep sepulchral gloom of my seasonal torpidity, to bring you news of his new website ; Ditched Enclosures in Neolithic Europe.
He has produced an excellent site that is not only technically accomplished, but also succeeds in conveying the physical scale and geographical spread of Neolithic enclosures. Using some of the latest information and modern methods of presentation it is an excellent introduction to the topic as a European phenomenon.  The site is completely non-profit, and is aimed at the general public, but would be a good introduction for archaeology students, as the Neolithic is a period that is best understood in a European context.
 Since we are defining entities simply in terms of a type of boundary which is most apparent to archaeologists, often from the air, there is clearly a range of functional interpretations, as well as the possibility them being part of wider built environments.  While there are things I disagree with on this excellent site, since structural archaeology is not taught at University level, you cannot expect to find properly reverse engineered earth and timber reconstructions.  Similarly, the issue of hedges is seldom considered in these contexts. 
For archaeologists like me, who like a joke, a picture of the re-creation of the Southern Circle at Durrington Walls put up for the TV programme ‘Time Team’ is included, but sadly, not the one with people in white diaphanous robes carrying torches.  I have a very different understanding of the site and this gets my vote as the nadir moment of archaeo-sploitation television, mostly on the grounds of its monumental scale.
As I can attest, any web site is hard work, and I am happy to support attempts to reach a wider audience with quality thought provoking material; please have a look; Ditched Enclosures in Neolithic Europe 

Although I can attest SouthamptonUniversity does serious evidenced based archaeology, naturally, regular readers might be concerned that this might be one those dodgy links that you don’t want on your internet history, but I can assure you that I checked it most carefully, and it is only mildly infected with post processualism.  
However, just to be certain Victor was an archaeologist and not a post processualist [and first in the wicker man come the revolution], I drew him into a conversation about the use of the word “monumental”, which, as he pointed out can be a difficult word to avoid. 

Thinking Big
For reasons I have often discussed, particularly in relation to Hadrian’s Wall, I consider what archaeologists name things and even the terms used to describe them can become a barrier to understanding.  I think “monumental” is a term to be used with care, because there are two aspects to its meaning, a situation complicated by its routine use by map makers and administrators.
While some things are, by definition, “Ancient “Monuments””, regardless of scale or purpose, it also  has a very specific use, denoting  something commemorating a person or event; structures specifically created to convey messages and meanings, in addition to that inherent in [functional] architecture; [Latin Monere - warn, advise].
So monumental is fine by me if it’s a 120 foot statue of Mao, but when we are talking about a crop mark, I think we should be more circumspect.  It is also a suspiciously period specific term, in that, I have sectioned the ditches of  large Late Iron Age enclosures to which the word monumental would never normally be applied, and it would certainly not be used for a ditched Roman camp of any size.   In the Neolithic, academics like to use the word “ritual” to describe things they can’t comprehend, because it sounds more meaningful than "unknown function".  This has giving us the ultimate in meaningless descriptions - “a ritual monument” - while also succeeding in conveying sufficient mystery to trigger an injudicious quest to discover what it is trying to tell us about the period.


Theoretical Structural Archaeology is now officially up and running in 2016; I have been working on 3D CAD modelling which is unbelievably time consuming and frustratingly low yield in terms of blogging.  I hope to be discussing this as part of the latest Doug's Archaeology Grand Challenges for archaeology Blog Carnival, which I would also encourage you to support.

Screenshot 3D model : There are nearly 100 ties in this layer alone - each is a different length and has to be individually tailored to fit.


Odin's Raven said...

Happy New Year! It's good to see you back.

That's a nice site with lots of pretty pictures, but it avoids speculating about 'Why'. If 'form follows function', those who study form closely should be expected to have some idea of the function served by the form.

Last night there was a TV programme about Stonehenge. A fat man explained that the cremated remains of 63 people had been placed under 56 stones over about 200 years from 3,000 B.C. He did not explain whether there had been an original circular plan of evenly distributed stones, or whether the circle was more ad-hoc; nor whether there had been at least one burial at each stone, nor whether the number of stones was by chance or corresponded to some purpose such as predicting eclipses, as some say. Would it need to be a full circle for that? Was the circle complete, and had it been so from the start? For a 'graveyard' a rectangular arrangement would seem more practical. He mentioned the Amesbury archers' teeth having grown on the Swiss border, and other Beaker people having grown up in England - but not whether they were descendants of this pioneer immigrant. Also, they could trace pig bones to Scotland, but did not mention the possibility of people having come shorter distances from say, France, to the annual feasts.

Can you recommend any less evasive, if more speculative, sources?

Victor Jimenez Jaimez said...

I like the tone of this post. It's very funny, including the criticism (probably well-deserved).
Thanks very much Geoff for you support to my website. I really appreciate it.

Geoff Carter said...

Hi OR.
I Share your frustration; I cannot watch TV like this, too much shouting at the telly.
Unfortunately, nobody has got Stonehenge sorted, it was used over a long period of time and most accounts are confused by strange agendas or the need to tell a "story".
We do not have enough samples to know if there were many people from Europe, but I think it likely that the elite of the Beaker period were European as in most later periods; that is how Europe works, just like the Mediterranean. We are not talking about cave men, but the sort of society depicted or reflected in ancient Greek literature.
By the later phases of Stonehenge copper and tin traded from Britain was driving the European Bronze Age.
As far as I know I am the only one who understands Stonehenge as a building with two main phases; I've done the maths, they haven't; they have a job, I haven't; they win, so it's not a building because most pre historians are structurally illiterate.
It's none of my business, but I suspect that the blues Stones formed the original Neolithic "Stone circle ", which were moved indoors into a temple in the EBA, which was subsequently rebuilt with sarsen load bearing components - something entirely different and distinct from the blue stones / stone circles, this is simply building engineering or as we would call it elsewhere in this period, architecture.

I think the burials are secondary, and until they sort the structural archaeology, I would not worry unduly about Astronomy or Astrology as it was in this period, it will be aligned on something, but the big bits of stone are positioned to support the roof.

Geoff Carter said...

Hi Victor,
Thank you for telling me about your site, and letting me promote it.
I am in no position to criticise; it is a frustration that I cannot help more people with this type of projects; for example, recreating banks is a matter of maths and soil mechanics. Local conditions effect angles of rest and shear, as well as bulking up / compaction factors, but all too often this is left to the imagination of illustrators and artists; we have some very bad "pictures" of the past.
It is largely a frustration that I am not permitted to teach the basics that I have such an "agenda" about non deductive reasoning in archaeology.
Good luck with the next one.