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doche and analogy can be expressed materially as well as linguistically. The
idea that only with language did previously mute objects and well-trodden
landscapes acquire symbolic meaning and cultural significance is therefore
misplaced. Language embellished and enhanced. It made possible the
richly textured world of myth. But it did not break apart the social worlds of
hominins into those who could and could not speak. They remained
connected in webs of shared understanding and common experience by
material metaphors. In the beginning was the artefact.

Our bodies as a source of metaphor
Metaphor establishes a common understanding between things that are
as alien as chalk and cheese. It is the capacity of metaphor to establish
conceptual connections between very different categories that makes it
so creative in social life. In addition, that power to relate is based on our
everyday experience, those facts of personal observation and experience,
and is achieved by virtue of our body and its senses.
Take for example the symbolic expression of what goes on inside us.
As Martin Hollis (1985:227) put it from a philosopher™s perspective, we need
Bodies, instruments and containers 89

metaphors to analyse this hidden, inner being that makes the whole system
of human relations run and which involves concepts such as the individual,
the self and the person that comprise our distinctively human identity
(Chapter 5). How do we look into someone™s soul except through their
eyes that in turn we regard as similar to windows? Combining a meto-
nymical citation (eyes) for the body-whole with an architectural analogy
(windows) shows we understand metaphorically not only where those
mysterious inner states are contained, but also how they may be accessed
in others.
However, while the body is the natural starting point for the linguist and
the philosopher concerned with how we think outside our bodies, why
should it also be for the archaeologist studying the remote past?
I can see two compelling reasons. First, starting with the body places an
emphasis on continuity rather than revolution. After all, hominins have
always had a physical presence (Gamble and Porr 2005b) even if they made
no tools and had no spoken language. Furthermore, these bodies produced
many varied outcomes, since as Ingold has commented ˜the human body
is not made for anything (2000:376)™. These outcomes are translated
through rhythms based on gestures, sounds, smells, taste, touch and
sight, commonly described as a series of ˜scapes™; bodyscapes, soundscapes,
mindscapes, taskscapes, landscapes and sensescapes (Gibson 1979; Ingold
1993b), to which I will add another, the childscape, in Chapter 8. These
unite, rather than separate the body from the surrounding world, so that
instead of being in space and time, our body inhabits space and time
(Merleau-Ponty 1962).
The second reason to emphasise the body as the basis for understanding
the conventions of social life is its identification as the source of social
agency (Hamilakis et al. 2002b) because it is simultaneously a biological
and cultural object. Agency carries a variety of meanings for archaeologists
(Dobres 2000; Dobres and Robb 2000). It has however been succinctly
defined by sociologist Anthony Giddens as ˜the act of doing™ (1984:10),
and here I use it to refer to the skills of making relationships into material
and conceptual categories.
As a result, at all times and places, the present included, the body has
combined biology and culture. The two elements cannot be sensibly prised
apart to be analysed in isolation and then re-assembled. Instead, they must
be considered together like strands in a cable, threads in an argument.
By starting with the body rather than the mind, and with actions rather
than thoughts, we need neither the Human and Neolithic Revolutions nor
an origin point for the ˜cultural™ or the ˜symbolic™.
90 Origins and Revolutions

Symbolic force and a social technology of the body
Anthropologist Michael Rowlands (2004:198) identifies two closely linked
strategies that produce changing identities. Materiality attributes agency
to subjects and objects and works back from a particular effect to an
original cause. In such an approach, he writes, ˜we start from the premise
that things have some a priori existence™ (Rowlands 2004), even though
people and things are encountered in a mutually constitutive sense. This
anthropological and phenomenological approach finds its champions in
Marcel Mauss and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. The second strategy, materi-
alism, is associated with Karl Marx, where the question of identity is posed
in terms of formation and how the actions of making and doing constitute,
as a process, both consciousness and things.
The distinctions are important when it comes to the study of change. As
Rowlands (2004:197) points out, materialism sees radical breaks in history
while materiality stresses continuity between different power structures in
the modern world. Archaeologists, myself included, borrow from both
traditions and as we saw in Part I revolution and continuity both have their
supporters with regard to the major tipping points in prehistory. Where
I believe a bigger division comes is between those who see semiology as
the way to both chart and explain change either in the Human Revolution
(Deacon 1997; Lewis-Williams 2003; Marshack 1990), the Neolithic
Revolution (Cauvin 2000; Renfrew 2001; Watkins 2004a,b), or in the
later power plays of state polities (Knappett 2005), and those who are less
concerned with signs and symbols but instead with establishing metaphor-
ical connections (Boivin and Owoc 2004; Jones 2002; Parker-Pearson
and Ramilisonina 1998; Thomas 1996; Tilley 1999). The latter have been
criticised (Knappett 2005:102) for not incorporating semiotic theory and its
variable pathways through icon, index and symbol into an understanding
of how material culture comes to be meaningful. Metaphor, it seems,
is overprivileged as a device for creating meaning.
However, I do not necessarily see meaning as the central issue but
rather the demonstration of relationships between people and things.
To that extent semiotics is a later and more finely grained stage in the
process of understanding change through the material basis of identity,
and perhaps one better suited to archaeological periods where the
possession of language, so central to semiotics, is not an issue. As
archaeologists Michael Parker-Pearson and Ramilisonina (1998:310) point
out in their reappraisal of Stonehenge using analogies from Madagascar,
the meaning of things is arbitrary but the physical properties (e.g. hard,
Bodies, instruments and containers 91

figure 4.1. The hybrid network of bodies and artefacts that constitutes symbolic force.
The thickness of the arrow indicates the dominant relationship in the two recursive
triangles. The outcome is a social technology rather than just a set of functional
techniques. (Gamble 2004:Figure 8.1.)

soft, smooth, rough) of materials, such as stone and wood, resist some
interpretations and invite others. It is this materiality of the tangible
world that may be a significant element in how metaphorical associa-
tions come to be made and where the non-tangible basis of semiotics
obscures insight.
At issue for the metaphorical approach I favour is how the body becomes
something else À in this instance a material thing? Such transformations
are part of a wider process where objects become symbols with widely
shared meanings that co-ordinate human action.
Elsewhere I have looked at this question using the concept of symbolic
By symbolic force I mean that mainspring for action where we are both
engaged with, and constituted by, the world of objects, artefacts and
ecofacts distributed across landscapes and in locales.
(Gamble 2004:85)

The point of reference, where the symbols are grounded-out in the
experience of the real world (Anderson 2003:92), is the body. This relation-
ship is expressed in Figure 4.1 as a network of relationships. Here I have
added some complementary terms, corporeality and corporal culture,
to those that are most commonly encountered, materiality and material
The network expresses the transformation from corporeality to materi-
ality and provides an answer to the question À how do objects acquire
92 Origins and Revolutions

symbolic force? À through experiences and sensations that are embodied.
However, although corporeality is not an origin point, in the sense
discussed in the previous chapter, it is the source for the kind of comparative
phenomenology an archaeologist requires in order to tackle issues of
change. The outcome, as described by anthropologist Pierre Lemonnier
(1993) is a social technology:
As soon as we consider that techniques are not something to which some
meaning is simply added, but a complex phenomenon in which wide
symbolic considerations are involved from the start, it becomes tricky to
separate the ˜technical™ from the ˜social™.

Corporeality is not a traditional origin point for the reason that we never
proceed directly from there to materiality in a simple act of transformation.
That would imply a sort of transubstantiation, a laying-on-of-hands to
imbue artefacts with the power to act on our behalf. Instead both material
culture, the active world of objects, and corporal culture, orchestrate the
I start with corporeality because as anthropologist Marcel Mauss
(1979:104) pointed out in 1935, ˜the body is man™s first and most natural
instrument. Or more accurately . . . man™s first and most natural
technical object, and at the same time technical means, is his body™.
The direction in the diagram is therefore from bodies to artefacts
because without corporeality there can be no material culture, and
without corporal culture there can be no symbolic force or materiality.
Symbolic force is therefore not inherent in bodies, objects or things.
Neither is it something to be found or even identified. Importantly in
the context of this book, it has no point of origin. Symbolic force is
instead an emergent property of the necessary relationships of human
social life because that life flows in a hybrid rather than a pure network
(see below).
The relationship between these four terms is also clearly understood.
Corporeality is the source of the metaphorical relationships that involve
how we act (corporal culture) and what we act with (material culture).
In order for the relationship to create sense the path is from corporeality
to material culture, then to corporal culture and lastly to materiality.
The process is iterative in that materiality plays on material culture but
the essential point is that materiality is the product of action, not an
inherent property of action. It is in this way that any charge of essentialism is
Bodies, instruments and containers 93

Time for habitus
Corporal culture consists of those habitual techniques, skills and memories
that are dependent on the properties of the body and its social and cultural
context. This is what Mauss ((1936) 1979:101) called the habitus. He chose
the term to emphasise the social importance of bodily techniques which
might be regarded as rather mundane À swimming, digging, digesting,
marching À except that they structure much of our lives.
The concept of habitus is better known from Pierre Bourdieu™s (1977:53)
description as practices laid down by repeated action and everyday routines
over days, months and years in a person™s lifetime, rather like the sediment
in a river. These practices are made up of durable dispositions towards
particular perceptions and practices; for example the sexual division of
labour, morality, tastes and many others (Jones 1997:88). With the concept
of habitus the recurrent patterns of artefacts in time and space that give a
distinctive form to the past (Childe 1929:vÀvi), can be re-interpreted as the
actions of social agents instead of the imperatives of an innate ethnicity
(Jones 1997).
Habitus, as archaeologist Chris Gosden describes it, is our ˜second
nature™, what Bourdieu calls a ˜feel for the game™: ˜People produce thought,
perception and action without thinking about how they are doing so, but in
a manner which has its own inherent logic™ (Gosden 1999:125À6).
Maurice Merleau-Ponty puts the phenomenological case as follows:
The body is our general medium for having a world. Sometimes it is
restricted to the actions necessary for the conservation of life, and
accordingly it posits around us a biological world; at other times,
elaborating upon these primary actions and moving from their literal to
a figurative meaning, it manifests through them a core of new significance;
this is true of motor habits such as dancing. Sometimes, finally, the
meaning aimed at cannot be achieved by the body™s natural means; it must
then build itself an instrument, and it projects thereby around itself a
cultural world. At all levels it performs the same function which is to
endow the instantaneous expressions of spontaneity with ˜a little renew-
able action and independent existence™. Habit is merely a form of this
fundamental power. We say that the body has understood, and habit
acquired when it has absorbed a new meaning, and assimilated a fresh
core of significance.
(Merleau-Ponty 1962:146)

The routines which contribute to habitus are part of our practical,
rather than discursive, consciousness (Giddens 1984; Leroi-Gourhan 1993);
94 Origins and Revolutions

the things we largely do without thinking, referred to by Gosden in an
archaeological context as a landscape of habit (Gamble 1999:81, Chapter 3;
1994). Indeed, archaeologists have been particularly interested in the
concept of the habitus (e.g. Dobres and Robb 2000; Hamilakis et al. 2002a)
because through materiality the body becomes just another artefact.
But habitus is so much more than a set of muscle memories or a suite of
gestures in a visual body language. As art historian Joaneath Spicer, in her
study of the attitudes struck by people in Renaissance art, puts it:
Written references [late 15th to 17th centuries] to gestures associated with
the elbow are largely limited to admonitions to restrain them, and
thus they fit more easily under the controversial heading of ˜natural™ as
˜opposed to ˜taught™. . . They are for that no less expressive of ˜the motions
of the mind™; nor no less rewarding to decode than those long identified
from the canon of ritual or rhetoric.
(Spicer 1991: 84)

Being ˜given the elbow™, or finding ˜elbow room™ are uses of embodied
experience to express personal relationships in a familiar context. Elbows
are therefore material metaphors for a range of emotions from aggression to
submission that far transcends the anatomical structure that combines
distal humerus and proximal radius-ulna. Elbows are cultural objects,
whose use as metaphors have changed in the past and vary between cultures
today. It is through such cultural comparison that the ˜feel for the game™
becomes apparent and where the durability and embodied character of
silent action is revealed. And if the elbow is a metaphorical statement then
why not artefacts such as pots that are known to embody beliefs (Sterner
1989:458) but where elbows are nowhere to be seen?

Symbolic force and culture
My network diagram (Figure 4.1) examines how objects and artefacts
acquire meaning through the generation of symbolic force grounded-out
in the body. To do so I have also emphasised the importance of metaphor
in connecting different categories so that they become intelligible through
bodily experience. However, there is a further step to take that dissolves
the rational Cartesian distinction between a world of people and one of
objects and things. What emerges are balanced relationships between
living and inanimate categories. But why should artefacts be treated in
particular ways À with respect, love, contempt, desire À as though they
were people?
Bodies, instruments and containers 95

table 4.1. A pure relationship

People Objects and things
People Yes No

Pure culture
At issue here is the difference between what might be termed a pure as
opposed to a hybrid view of culture. In a rational approach categories such
as animate:inanimate cannot be mixed when it comes to establishing
relationships of meaning. Why? Because ˜it stands to reason™ that sheep are
not people and stones cannot speak.
Consequently there is no relation to the world other than through flesh
and blood people. It is only the relation of people to people that pro-
duces a social relationship, indicated by the ˜Yes™ in the matrix (Table 4.1).
In other words you can use objects and things but you don™t relate to
them. Only the non-Cartesian, so-called ˜primitive™, mind could believe
in animism and so literally talk to the trees as if they were alive (Bird-David
I have difficulty in believing that such a situation ever existed (see also
Latour 1993:380; Toren 1999:4). During hominin evolution objects have
played a central role in the construction and mediation of social life. The
contexts might have differed but artefacts when animated, held in the hand
and worn on the body, would always have acted in a relational way to the
agent. While in close proximity such objects would have become exten-
sions of the individual, changing the boundaries of their bodies, as happens
for example when clothes are put on. Denying relationships between
people, objects and things is not possible. The pure social relation, as
described here, never existed.
Alfred Gell provides a typically robust anthropological rebuttal to the
rational standpoint:
˜Social agents™ can be drawn from categories which are as different as
chalk and cheese . . . because ˜social agency™ is not defined in terms of
˜basic™ biological attributes (such as inanimate thing vs. incarnate person)
but is relational À it does not matter, in ascribing ˜social agent™ status, what
a thing (or person) ˜is™ in itself; what matters is where it stands in a network
of social relations.
(Gell 1998:123, my emphasis)
96 Origins and Revolutions

table 4.2. A hybrid relationship

People Objects and things
People Yes Yes
Objects and things Yes Yes

In other words people, manufactured objects and things such as trees
are not distinct categories based on biology or the possession of life. Rocks,
trees and animals are all examples of material culture and as such can
be part of relational networks (Strathern 1996; 1998), as well as relating to
each other independently of people. For example, a hen-house is built
by people. But the hens that live in it have a relation to those surround-
ings which conditions their actions when the chicken farmer is far away.
Orwell™s political satire Animal Farm depends, once Farmer Jones is
expelled, upon the developing relationship between the pigs and the
farmhouse and the other animals and their barn: a good example of how,
with hybrid culture, the rational distinctions governing relationships
quickly break down. What emerges in turn is a network of relationships
between people, things and objects or, more simply, networks of material

Hybrid culture
Dispensing with pure relationships opens the gates, or at least the
hen-house door, to metaphorical understandings. The mental leap is not
that great if assisted by Cristina Toren™s (1999:12) characterisation of mind as
˜a function of the whole person constituted over time in inter-subjective
relations with others in the environing world™. A view that regards cog-
nition as a metaphorical process of seeing something as something
(Tilley 1999:34).
But who exactly are these ˜others™ that Toren talks about once the
mind:body distinction has been junked? Here the concept of hybrid culture
(Gosden 1999) is particularly useful because it combines people and objects
and accords agency to both (Table 4.2). Consequently there are no ˜others™.
They are all implicated in our developmental process (Ingold 2000:390),
growing as we grow. As a result, artefacts in hybrid culture have biographies
(Chapter 5). The artefacts we make and the things we interact with such
as trees, animals, rocks and hills are not, as a Cartesian perspective implies,
Bodies, instruments and containers 97

simply passive while flesh and blood people alone are active agents.
The core of hybrid culture is that relations are formed, as archaeologist
Carl Knappett (2006) points out, with objects and things because we
are engaged with the world in a relational rather than a detached way
(see Rowlands 2004). Such a view is initially hard to accept precisely
because most of us have been raised and trained to think in terms of those
key oppositions such as mind and matter, subject and object. As a result we
know that a carved statue is not alive so how can it have agency in the way
that you and I as living beings can?
Gell (1998:96) provided an answer for one category of material culture,
art. He argued that, for an anthropologist, art must be treated as person-like
because it represents both sources of and targets for agency. Now, what
applies to art also relates to our hand-crafted bodies, to the bespoke objects
and artefacts that we make, as well as to things that we find in the world.
Consequently artefacts and things draw their symbolic force from associ-
ation with agents and in particular with the relationships they have with
our bodies.
It is also misleading to present these relationships as lopsided. Viewed
rationally, the respect:hate relationship I have with my computer should be
a one-way process in a simple network of domination between subject and
object. However as Knappett (2006:241) puts it,
Neither is it the case that people have the upper hand in these networks,
merely manipulating materials as they see fit; agency is distributed
between humans and nonhumans such that we have to tackle
them symmetrically rather than assume from the outset an unbalanced

Hybrid culture takes our cognitive ability to see something as something,
the basis of metaphorical understanding, and logically concludes that in
terms of materiality, something is somebody.

Material metaphors of the body; some examples of a social technology
The following three examples will help to clarify the power of material
metaphors. They are drawn from ethnography and deal with houses, masks
and kinship networks. In all cases the body, and in particular its ability to
contain, is used as the source of the metaphor. In so doing connections are
forged among hybrid categories and a pattern of relationships is established
that has evident applications to a study of change on an archaeological
98 Origins and Revolutions

figure 4.2. The tripartite house as an extended metaphor in the Late ˜Ubaid of
Mesopotamia 5000À4300 BC™ (after Wengrow 1998:Figure 3). During this period the
metaphor of the household was extended to administrative, productive and ritual actions
that created, according to David Wengrow, a new work ethic and greater overall output.

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