Friday, 1 June 2012

Archaeology and text

I managed to visit briefly a three-day conference at the Classics at Cambridge on archaeology and text. The organizers Sara Owen and Henry Hurst had done their utmost to create a friendly atmosphere so that the different parties, the historians, classicists and archaeologists, would not confront each other but discuss with each other. As Sara was commenting, some of the earlier meetings on the matter had been much frostier events.

Sadly, I could not attend on Wednesday when the full day was discussing the theme due to having attending an informal prehistoric Central Mediterranean conference on that day and having to do other things the following day. Luckily, I managed to squeeze two entertaining papers to my Friday schedule. Two female scholars kept me interested in merging textual evidence and material culture studies in their very different papers.

Susan Sherratt from Sheffield had a run through the trade and gift references in the Iliad and Odyssey but then went on to discuss the distribution of Middle Eastern faïence and other early Orientalising exotica in Greece. In the end she also discussed the possibility that the northern Aegean distribution of early wine amphorae with concentric circular decorations and that they presented a sign of early trade in the area. The involvement of the Phoenicians naturally is based on literature and circumstantial evidence.

Lin Foxhall from Leicester presented some ideas from the wider Tracing Networks Project and discussed her own research on the indigenous and Greek loom weights in the Megaponto area. This was interesting both as a critique of maintaining strict disciplinary boundaries in the network research and as a presentation of very interesting case study on cultural interaction and the selection of influences according to one's own cultural preferences. It was puzzling to hear that different scholars in archaeology and ancient history ended up writing two books on network analysis without any connection in their actual material and apparently being totally unaware of each other writing on prehistory (Knappett 2011) on one hand and on ancient history (Malkin 2011) on another

Even if these papers partly discussed more abstract topics, trade and female networks, they still had a landscape dimension. Ancient trade involved large areas across the Mediterranean from its part. Weaving is very localised activity but when the weavers were located in neighbouring communities but presented a distinctive material culture the research has its spatial dimension by default.

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