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Houses as bodies
The house is a material metaphor that all agree upon.
The house is a body for the body. Houses are bodies because they are
containers which, like the body, have entrances and exits. Houses are
cavities filled with living contents. Houses are bodies because they have
strong bones and armoured shells, because they have gaudy mesmerizing
skins which beguile and terrify; and because they have organs of sense and
expression À eyes which peer out through windows and spyholes, voices
which reverberate through the night. To enter a house is to enter a mind, a
sensibility.
(Gell 1998:252À3)

The house is the ultimate container of people, livestock, tools and
memories. Houses are carved, wall-papered, added-to and repaired. They
are quintessential biographical objects, growing, changing and eventu-
ally dying. They are culturally relative. One person™s Golden Hall is
another™s thatched barn. And almost coincidentally, they keep out the wind
and rain.
Their construction, as is the case with a Maori communal meeting
house, is a social project that in Gell™s terms is not so much a symbol of the
people who built it but instead an index of their collective agency, an idea
that is ancestral and political in tone (Gell 1998:253). But houses are also
maps of social relations (Figure 4.2) (Carsten and Hugh-Jones 1995; Denyer
1978; Morgan 1881; Wilson 1988). In societies as diverse as the Dogon
of Mali (Griaule 1965) and the English aristocracy (West 1999) the layout
Bodies, instruments and containers 99

of houses has been analysed in terms of embodiment, lifecycles, cosmology
and social organisation. Houses are containers of successive human
bodies and houses are people, an extension of the person and the self
(West 1999:105À6).
Houses are one material metaphor that archaeologists have explored,
either as a general concept of social and political change such as the domus
(Hodder 1990), (see Chapter 3), or in Trevor Watkins™ work among the
earliest villages of Southwest Asia. One of Watkins™ articles has the
evocative title ˜Building houses, framing concepts, constructing worlds™
(2004b) that refers to his favoured co-evolution of human cognition and
material culture into ˜theatres of memory™ (Watkins 2004b) during the
Neolithic Revolution. Furthermore, the houses of the dead are as much
explored for their ritual and metaphorical structure as those of the living
(Bradley 2002; Rainbird 1999; Thomas 1996; Tilley 1996; Whittle 1996;
2003).


Masks and faces
Masks are also containers, face-houses if you like. Mauss used the example
of the mask (Hollis 1985), common in all cultures, to illustrate the concept
and category of self and person (Chapter 5), the material impersonation of
the identities within. Masks have attracted much attention from anthro-
pologists precisely because of the inner structure they allude to and the
social collective they represent, as in the elaborate Kwakiutl shutter masks
(Isaac 1990:124À5) that contain a mask within a mask. Mauss (1979a) used
these to illustrate how totems were personified by the wearer. The collective
embodiment is expressed by Edward Carpenter:
Eskimo are conventional role-players, faithful mask-wearers. Wearing a
mask means to divest, not express, oneself. A mask or role is not an
extension of its wearer so much as a putting on of the collective powers of
the audience. The speaker assumes the collective mask of the image he
presents. He manifests a corporate attitude toward life.
(Carpenter 1973:198)

In archaeology masks, when they occur, are regarded as particularly
valuable. In prehistory they are often used as part-for-whole interpretations,
allowing us to meet head-on the person as in a portrait or a photograph of
a face. During his excavations at Mycenae that began in 1874 Heinrich
Schliemann believed he had found the face of Agamemnon. This golden
mask justified, at least for him, the use of Homeric myths as historical facts.
100 Origins and Revolutions

However, if his famous telegram had read, ˜I have gazed on Agamemnon™s
boot™, rather than his face, his discoveries would have attracted less
attention.
Masks are biographical as well as ritual objects and according to Ronald
Grimes (1992:62) can be distinguished by seven phases; making, wearing,
encountering, removing, exchanging, displaying and destroying. The point,
however, is not that face masks are a material route to the inner self. They
are not an external expression of that universal sense of self or of the wider
concept of a social self. Why should face masks or animal masks be any
different to, say, antique portraiture which superficially seems to flesh out
the character of Roman matriarchs? The fact that masks often take on the
shape of faces is immaterial. Hoods and hats can serve just as well and like
masks they derive their symbolic force from the highly charged corporal
culture of the head, at once both instrument and container. Moreover,
many other forms of material culture, such as clothes and houses, contain
the body.
Therefore masks are not a special category of material culture, a point
Mauss was well aware of in his discussion of personhood as was Gell (1998)
in his consideration of the agency of art. Instead much of material culture is
mask-like. Not in the simple sense that it reflects our inner self in an
external fashion, or that our roles are inherent in material culture so that
if we don Zorro™s mask we become Zorro. It is instead the hybrid networks,
composed of people, things and objects, by which we constitute our social
lives and fathom our inner selves which produce the masks. When worn,
the mask is the person. When taken off the person is the mask. Distin-
guishing between the two is neither practical nor possible. Our skin is as
much a container as our clothes. The pen is as much an instrument as our
fingers.


Kinship networks
Kinship is the cultural categorisation of relatedness. This might be decided
by biological closeness À mothers and daughters, father™s brothers À or, as
is often the case, it may be an entirely fictive category, such as an ˜aunty™
who is only a friend of the family and where no biological relationship
exists. A network is a common model to describe the differences and
ramifications of such elementary schemes. Both provide examples of the
body as a metaphor to construct relatedness between people.
For example, anthropologist Wendy James (2003:158) reminds us that
Old Anglo-Saxon kinship mapped relationships via proliferating segments
Bodies, instruments and containers 101

of the body; head (father and mother), neck (sibs), shoulder, elbow, wrist,
fingers and nails (cousins of increasing remoteness). These form a cognitive
technology (Enfield 2005) and it is common to find, when people are
talking about kin, that they use a range of hand gestures to emphasise social
distance; for example pointing with an outstretched arm to indicate distant
relatives. As a result, the categories of social distance are understood in an
entirely experiential way. Such reckoning is often formalised in the equally
experiential layout of settlements that might vary from the ephemeral
camps of the Ju/huaonsi in the Kalahari (Johnson 1978; Whitelaw 1994;
Yellen 1977) to pastoral and horticultural villages (Cribb 1991; Strathern
1998) in many parts of the world.
Network is another of those words, like revolution (Chapter 1), that
changed its meaning as rational approaches gained ground following the
lead of Descartes in the seventeenth century. Its original usage was to
´
describe thread in the French silk trade (Fr. reseau; Eng. net-work was spun
from the same trade term) but by the early nineteenth century it had come
to describe the spatial form of a communication system. Armand Mattelart
(1999) has traced the strands that over two centuries transformed its
meaning. The change began with anatomists and ended with the first social
scientists, while along the way military engineers played a role. The anat-
omists co-opted the word network to describe, for the first time, the circu-
lation of blood in the body and the dendritic, tree-like structures of our
arteries and nerves. They regarded the body as the archetype of rationality
and related each part to the functioning of the whole. The social scientists,
and in particular Claude Henri de Saint Simon, took this metaphor of the
living body to portray the political economy. The body politic was an
organic network where changes in one organ or institution would affect the
health of the nation. Along the way, as Mattelart (1999:170À4) shows, the
development in military engineering, particularly siege warfare, produced
the network of trenches, lines of communications and ultimately border
fortifications that again defined, like a protective skin, the outer limits of the
body of the state.
A network is a container. Along its channels flow information,
individuals and goods. It connects people and objects and establishes
spatial patterns of relatedness between cultural categories that are often
very different. One example is provided by that most anthropological of
all concepts, a kinship network.
Kinship systems are highly technical in many societies (Fox 1967) and
appear unduly complicated to Western eyes where knowing who your
significant relatives are is comparatively simple. However, whatever the
102 Origins and Revolutions




figure 4.3. Tetradic kinship structure. For purposes of illustration Ego is represented
by the black triangle. All Ego™s sibs (circles sisters, female cousins; triangles brothers, male
cousins) are also in C and they all marry in D. Their father™s generation is in A (uncles
and aunts) and their mother™s (aunts and uncles) in B. The dotted lines show how the
offspring of one generation is recruited into the next culturally recognised generation
(Allen 1995; 1998). I have added the heavy lines to emphasise the compartmentalised
structure. Tetradic kinship structures are commonly known as section systems and found
throughout Australia and many other parts of the world.



complexity there is an underlying, container-based logic (Figure 4.3)
that separates culturally significant categories and most importantly who
you can and cannot marry. Anthropologist Nick Allen (1995; 1998) has
described this as a tetradic model that combines the horizontal axis of the
category generation with the vertical one of descent. The rules are then very
´
simple (see also Levi-Strauss 1969). Someone in Box C can only marry
somebody in Box D and in an earlier generation their mothers and fathers
followed the same rule by marrying between Boxes A and B. The children
of marriages in C and D are recruited into the next cultural generation and
so on as society is produced and re-produced. The names and associations
that are given to these four boxes in any particular society all boil down
to their function as containers of bodies and a metaphor for reproduction
and relatedness.


The body-whole as an inspiration for a social technology
These three examples point to the relatedness between people and material
culture. They also illustrate why I favour an embodied cognition where
Bodies, instruments and containers 103

meanings and symbols are not just an intellectual endeavour of our minds.
Our mobility, as Merleau-Ponty (1962:139) ringingly reminds us ˜is not,
as it were, a handmaid of consciousness, transporting the body to that
point in space of which we have formed a representation beforehand™.
But how often in accounts of human evolution (Table 3.3) do we find
that the appearance of bipedalism advances the interests of the brain to
confront new challenges (e.g. Lovejoy 1981), or that manual dexterity
merely mechanically follows a mental template of what should be made
(e.g. Schick and Toth 1993), like ˜playing™ a pianola?
The alternative is to reject such rational models and reassert the
relationships that come from considering the body-whole. Brains do not
tell the feet what to do. Indeed our toes are as en-minded as our brains are
em-bodied. Parts of our anatomy have different functions but they do not
have essential properties as implied in the Cartesian master and servant
relationship of intellect and action. Our body does not impose instincts
upon us from birth, but it does give our lives a common structure
by developing our personal acts into ˜stable dispositional tendencies™
(Merleau-Ponty 1962:146) that can be termed habitus. What we understand
by meaning cannot be just a mental activity but needs to incorporate the
body-whole as well as the world it inhabits. Now, to understand this world
we need those metaphors that establish the links between concepts based
on the experience of the body.
We have therefore arrived at the crux of the matter. How do artefacts,
and material culture generally, acquire symbolic force within a social
technology? My answer does not take the semiotics route since, as we have
seen, meaning is largely arbitrary. Instead the reply is made by categorising
the actions of the body into two basic forms; instruments and containers.
These are the proxies that move us from material to corporal culture
(Figure 4.1), by resisting some interpretations and inviting others.
The distinction I draw is a simple one. It is based on the metaphorical
projection of the body to understand how corporeality leads to materiality
through the intermediaries of corporal and material culture as shown in
Figure 4.4.
Our limbs are primarily engaged in corporal culture as instruments while
the trunk of our body is a container. Instruments, in the form of hands and
feet, inscribe. They make marks. Containers, the trunk, are frequently the
surfaces for such inscription including tattoos, body painting and incisions.
The trunk is also a literal container for embodiment as in eating and child-
bearing. But the homology of the body-whole is never forgotten. The limbs
also provide surfaces for inscription and of course they contain bone, blood
104 Origins and Revolutions




figure 4.4. The metaphorical structure of corporal and material culture.



and muscle beneath the skin just as the trunk contains heart, lungs and
liver. In the same way the trunk, and most importantly the head, can also be
used as an instrument.


The material proxies of the body: instruments and containers
A wide range of corporal culture in the form of body techniques and routine
rhythms results from agency, the act of doing. Moreover, at the same time as
this variety is created material culture is also produced. Agency arises
because human identity is always implicated in networks of materiality. As
a result we can begin to see from this basic network (Figure 4.1) how
artefacts and objects acquire symbolic force through their reference to the
instruments and containers of the body-whole. For the archaeologist these
artefacts are material proxies for the body and its agency in the construction
of identity. From our perspective we can recover the material proxies but
the rest remains hidden rather like the identity of the self, as we shall see in
Chapter 5.


Material proxies and the limitations of analogy
These material proxies are arrived at by analogy. We know from ethnog-
raphy and our own experience that the same generic forms of artefacts,
with very similar functions, can be made from very different resources
Bodies, instruments and containers 105




figure 4.5. Analogy and homology applied to a set of different shaped arrowheads.



rather than share a common origin. For example, bowls are made from
stone, wood, glass, cardboard, bone, plastic, fibre, metal, skin and ceramic
materials; knives from bamboo, bone, metal, stone, glass, wood, plastic and
ceramic materials. But of course, as an inspection of your cutlery drawer
and crockery collection will reveal, the same raw material can provide
many dissimilar homologues in artefact shape and form even though their
function may be comparable.
But analogy can be confused with homology when trying to account
for variation among the artefacts and cultures of the past precisely because
these entities are expected to behave biologically (Table 3.2). The confusion
lies in deciding on the origin, or ancestor, of the material outcome. That
origin might be traced to a particular hominin species that made three
distinctive types of arrowhead (Figure 4.5). But the origin of each arrowhead
type might also be linked to three contemporary but separate archaeological
cultures even though they were all made by the same biological species.
The biological analogy would apply to the cultures (different origin) so long
as the functions of the arrowheads were regarded as similar. Conversely, the
biological homology would apply to the hominin species (common origin)
so long as the outcome of the arrowheads, in this case their shapes, were
regarded as dissimilar.
This is an important point so let me provide another artefact example
to illustrate the differences. This time it will be wooden bowls and pottery
bowls which, although made of different materials, have the same func-
tion, to hold soup (Figure 4.6). However, their origin from lumps of wood
and clay is dissimilar. This starting point means that their method of
106 Origins and Revolutions




figure 4.6. Similar outcomes from either dissimilar (raw material and technique) or
similar (the artisan) origins.


manufacture will also differ. The wooden bowl was made by revealing
a form within a piece of wood, rather like a sculptor carving a statue. In
contrast to such a sequence of reduction the potter builds up the shape of
the bowl from the clay.
If we take the point of origin as the raw material the artefacts were made
from, then the difference between wood and clay makes any interpretation
of the bowls analogous (Table 3.2). But what if the point of origin is shifted
to the agent, the carver and potter who might conceivably even be the same
person? Even if not they would very definitely be members of the same
biological species, Homo sapiens. According to Table 3.2 this would make it
an interpretation by homology.
But what about a situation where everything seems to be homologous
with respect to origin? This would be achieved if we stuck with one origin,
clay, and contrasted pottery plates and bowls. Both forms are made from
clay and both are built up rather than reduced. However their functions are
different. So, what accounts for such variation? Is it internal, the decision
of the potter or external, driven by market forces, use and social dictates?
Deciding which will never be simple or easy.
Now this is all very well but a moment™s reflection reveals it to be
extremely limited. What the archaeologist wants to know is not that plates
and bowls are homologous or analogous but rather why there should be so
many varieties of each functional category, what determined the choice
Bodies, instruments and containers 107

table 4.3. A metaphorical basis for the study of archaeological change

Concept of change Identity
Metaphor Chapter 3 The body
Chapter 5 Accumulation and enchainment

Metonymy Limbs as Trunk and head as
corporal instruments corporal containers

Analogy/homology Chapter 3 Cognitive, Biological, Social

Measurement Chapter 6 Fragmentation and consumption
˜currency™

Material proxies Chapter 7 Instruments Containers

Material projects Chapter 8 Sets and nets
The highlighted terms are those discussed in this chapter. Further concepts will be
developed in later chapters and the central issue of identity will be more fully explored in
Chapter 5.



of wood or clay and, most importantly, will it ever be possible to decide why
the choices were made (Gosselain 1999)? And it is at this stage that the
biological metaphor which initiated the process of comparison starts to
implode under its assumption that culture is under the same selective
pressures as the structure of the hand of bats and humans. The people we
need to return to are those potters and carvers and not the cultural identities
we assign them on account of the materials they work with. What exactly
are these bowls and knives proxies for?


Material proxies of the body
The answer is that bowls and knives are material proxies for the containers
and instruments of corporal culture, the trunk and limbs of the body itself.
The relationships of the various terms are set out in Table 4.3. Deciding
on which category an item of material culture belongs to takes into account
the surfaces of containers (the head and trunk) and the inscription wrought
by instruments (the limbs). As I showed with the examples of networks,
houses and masks the metaphorical links are commonly drawn between
bodies and distinctive forms of material culture. But where ethnographers
rely on conversations with the makers and users of artefacts to establish their
108 Origins and Revolutions

table 4.4. Examples of the material proxies of the body

Instruments: knives, sticks, pestles, spears, ploughs, arrows, drills, chisels, axes,
shuttles, looms, needles, chop-sticks, jewellery, brushes, pens, wheels, long-bones
Containers: bowls, pits, houses, barns, caves, pots, baskets, bags, quivers, mortars,
blowpipes, rifles, clothes, moulds, jewellery, graves, tombs, masks, skulls


metaphorical connections to the body (e.g. Enfield 2005; Gosselain 1999),
archaeologists cannot, and hence the need for material proxies.
Bowls, knives and arrowheads are just three examples. Instruments and
containers abound in material culture. Table 4.4 lists a few examples of
the generic, analogous forms. Several of those listed are to be found in
the check-lists of both the Human and Neolithic Revolutions (Chapters 1
and 2) and are fully discussed in Chapter 7.
This basic classification allows us to understand the difference between
material and corporal culture. The former abounds with analogies because
involvement with objects, as in the example of the many kinds of materials
used in the manufacture of bowls and knives, can be infinitely varied as the
cultures of the world, past and present, so amply demonstrate. Bodies,
viewed as materials, are however less varied. Of course they can be elab-
orated through inscription, mutilation and adornment but the material
basis remains the same, hence the homological references. But less
material variety does not make understanding corporal culture any easier.
As Mauss ((1936)1979:98) first pointed out, this is precisely because we

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