expect a uniformity based on biology but are instead rewarded with diverse
cultural biographies for even such obvious actions as walking, swimming
We can continue the instrument/container homology to consider how
these different forms of material culture either grow or fragment the body.
The body provides a surface for inscription as well as a resource that can be
Growth through inscription: e.g. tattoos, cicatrices, body-painting.
â€¢ Fragmentation through abridgement: e.g. tooth evulsion, trephina-
tion, circumcision, shaving, clipping nails, cutting hair.
Growth can also occur through the addition of jewellery or clothes to the
body. The position of ornaments also divides the body into sections, while
jewellery can be broken up and distributed by taking the string away from
the pearls in a necklace. At every turn in this entangled exercise we see how
Bodies, instruments and containers 109
the concept of the body-whole is re-affirmed through hybrid networks of
bodies, objects and things.
The interesting case of heads and jewellery
You will have noticed in Table 4.4 that jewellery can be both a container
(necklace) and an instrument (pin). This is also the case with heads.
They are containers for many of the senses and the mind but they can also
head footballs and rub noses and are therefore instruments. Heads
and jewellery emphasise the overlapping character of relational net-
works constructed from material culture and corporal culture, and conse-
quently dispel any thoughts that containers and instruments is just another
Jewellery and body ornament points to the homology in material culture
and the following outcomes.
Those items of jewellery which enclose or encircle parts of the body:
e.g. bracelets, rings, necklaces, penis sheaths. These are homologous
â€¢ Those items which pierce: e.g. earrings, labrets, nose and lip plugs
which are homologous to instruments.
Piercing your navel or putting a metal stud in your tongue shows how
instruments cross-cut, as I would expect, the categorisation of the body into
instrument (limbs and head) and container (trunk and head). Therefore no
single position on the body determines an absolute material response.
Summary: the human body as a metaphor for changing identity
Behind my discussion of metaphors, and the re-orientation they provide for
many of the concepts used in human evolution and Palaeolithic archae-
ology, is a simple proposition: that any study of change has to acknowledge
the material basis of human identity. I showed in Chapters 1 and 2 that the
so-called revolutionary changes of hunter to farmer or nomad to villager are
not conveniently reflected in what people made, used and left behind.
There are no simple material proxies for these general, historical identities
although many have been put forward; among them ground stone for
farmers, tents for nomads and stone-tipped spears for hunters. Neither
are there easy correlations between items of material culture and more
nuanced identities subsumed by age, gender and sexuality (Meskell 1999;
Sofaer Deverenski 2000).
110 Origins and Revolutions
In this chapter I have set out the case for grounding our rhetorical devices
(metaphor, metonymy and analogy) in the body to produce an alternative
analytical structure (Table 4.3). This scheme is relational in its standpoint
and can be contrasted to the rational framework of change that I discussed
in Part I (Table 3.4). The differences in the two approaches are clear. In a
relational approach people construct rather than receive their identities.
As discussed in the Prologue, the production of identity therefore depends
on context and human agency (Dobres and Robb 2000). But agency, most
readily understood as the capacity to relate, does not change. That is
dependent upon interpretations by social agents of the relationships
between people and things in the world of human experience. My task
in the next two chapters is to explore two different metaphors for social
practice, accumulation and enchainment (Chapter 5), and then assess
social actions through fragmentation and consumption (Chapter 6).
Consider the alternative rational approach as enshrined in the two
revolutions. For the Human Revolution a key change to our identity was
language, irrespective of when it appeared. For the Neolithic Revolution
it is the enriched symbolic world of sedentism when human creative
potential was, after a long gestation, finally realised. Accordingly both
language and sedentism broke with the past and meaning was created. The
approach I have taken here to that same material evidence is already
suggesting a different scenario.
Instruments and containers have great antiquity and have always been
referenced to the body. Therefore, cultural meaning has no origin point
among the hominins. Material metaphors that understand the world in
terms of experience have always been a consequence of hominin bodies
inhabiting space and time. Moreover, we know that material proxies for the
containers and instruments of the body pre-date their linguistic utterance.
It is therefore time to investigate those past inner identities that I believe can
be accessed by archaeologists through material proxies.
The accumulation and enchainment
One can draw an analogy between the way
societies construct individuals and the way they
Igor Kopytoff The cultural biography of things 1986
Art forms, body forms and hidden identities
Archaeologists give the impression they are ashamed of their bodies.
Not, I must hasten to say, in any personal sense where, honed by the
physical demands of excavation and fieldwork, they represent a golden
mien among the academic profession. Rather in the curious absence of
bodies in the photographic record of ancient remains. By popular con-
vention monuments and landscapes, even artefacts, are photographed
without anyone present. At best somebody appears as a scale, standing like a
rigid metric pillar in a trench or next to a wall and, as Marcia-Anne Dobres
(2000:Figure 1.2) has pointed out, disembodied hands holding an artefact.
The effect is disconcerting, the message clear. The past is remote because it
is un-peopled and definitely un-gendered. Allowing â€˜modernâ€™ people into
the photographs changes the significance of the monuments. Stonehenge,
for example, ceases to be an icon of remote time and instead becomes
a contested space for many conflicting ideologies. While this convention
may contribute to the continuing mystery of Neolithic Britain (Edmonds
1999) and the haunting affect of Stonehenge (Manley 1989:plate 2) it directs
the archaeological gaze at external objects and the body is shamed by its
When bodies do appear they are the product of interpretations governed
by scientific accuracy and the principle of authenticity. These are the
112 Origins and Revolutions
conventions that structure the work of artists who reconstruct scenes
from prehistoric life: for example, a hominin family making the Laetoli
footprint trail, hirsute hunters slaying rhinos and knapping handaxes
or people who look like us holding flickering lamps to paint animals
on cave walls. These images are informed by the details of discovery and
are often produced in association with archaeologists. Particular attention
and a meticulous understanding of facial anatomy is applied to the look of
the hominins (Gerasimov 1971). The result is a highly technical, but
ultimately sterile exercise in forensic reconstruction. The faces that are
re-created as objects do not provide, as often claimed, a snap-shot of the past
but instead form a poignant example of our part-for-whole appreciation
of people: a case of â€˜your face fitsâ€™ even though it may be 10,000 years
old (Chapter 3).
The social contexts and historical traditions of these representations of
the deep past have been well discussed (Gifford-Gonzalez 1993; Hurcombe
1995; Moser 1998; Moser and Gamble 1997). These visual images are
theoretical propositions drawing on the iconography of Western art to tell
the story of Originsland that I outlined in Chapter 3. The frequency
with which they are re-cycled (Moser 1992) is indicative of their power
in controlling origins research (Figure 3.3).
Design by numbers
But archaeologists are not alone in their shame about the body, as
geographer Rob Imrie (2003) found during extensive interviews with
architects. It might be supposed that architects would be concerned with
notions of embodiment in our spatial relationships; in short a phenomeno-
logical approach to inhabiting the world (Chapter 4). However, Imrie
discovered the opposite. The dominant model of the body was just that,
a set of modular metrics enshrined in the industry bible (Adler 1999) and
around which buildings are designed. The notion that peopleâ€™s experience
of space derives from their bodies was something that most practising
architects had just not considered let alone been taught. Consequently,
architectural drawings are â€˜peopledâ€™ by a de-sensitised, schematically
drawn modular-man, while in a further striking parallel with archaeology,
architecture journalism is full of pictures of buildings with no one in them.
Interviewer: Thereâ€™s a lovely quote I found from an architect that said
that some architects think of bodies as impure and
The accumulation and enchainment of identity 113
Architect [laughs] Impure and degenerate? Well judging by the way
respondent: that architects depopulate their buildings when they
photograph them that probably isnâ€™t far wide of the mark.
Look at those photographs behind you, thereâ€™s not a single
person in them, they must have waited ages to exclude
everybody (Imrie 2003:60).
â€˜The darkness of the bodyâ€™
The shame felt by both archaeologists and architects stems ultimately
from a desire to treat bodies as neutral objects, yardsticks to be dropped
into the spaces among the artefacts of the past (Gamble and Porr 2005a)
or used to determine the optimum width of a lift-shaft.
Artists do not share that rational shame. Indeed their own body is
often the source for establishing relationships to the world, as is strikingly
the case with sculptor Antony Gormley, whose working principle is: why
make a body when you already have one? It is just such an approach to the
embodied object that begins to draw together the strands of metaphor
and material culture that I have discussed at length in earlier chapters. Most
importantly, metaphors of the body are central to understanding a study
of change as an aspect of the material basis of human identity. However,
what follows is not an exploration of art and archaeology (Renfrew 2003;
Renfrew et al. 2004) but rather an examination of the metaphors of accu-
mulation and enchainment in the construction of identity centred within
and around the body. In that sense the archaeological process of exposing
the unknown by digging through accumulated, well stratified layers,
is rather similar to artistic enquiry where, in Gormleyâ€™s (2004a) phrase,
the â€˜darkness of the bodyâ€™ is revealed through â€˜the other side of appearances
(Gormley 2004a:134)â€™, and where:
I am very aware as I speak to you now that where I am is behind my face;
my face and my body in some way belong more to you than they do to me,
and vice versa.
Identity is more than skin deep and it cannot be uncovered by just
scratching the surface a little. It is instead made up of many layers as well as
the relationships that link together the various containers, such as masks,
kinship and houses that I discussed in Chapter 4.
Our faces, as part of corporal culture, are therefore mask-like for all
of us and in this regard are another example of the surface of a container.
This layering of mask, face and inwards into the â€˜darkness of the bodyâ€™ is
114 Origins and Revolutions
table 5.1. The ground rules of identity that emerge by collapsing familiar
Cartesian dualisms in order to understand how we create ourselves and how
this act is implicated with the material world of objects and things. No. 4 is
of particular significance for the argument presented here about hybrid culture
(after Toren 1999:4)
1. We are individually social and socially individual
2. We are biologically cultural and culturally biological
3. Mind is embodied and the body manifests mind
4. Our understanding of what is material is always mediated by our relations with
others and likewise
5. Our subjective and objective perspectives guarantee each other
6. Structure and process are aspects of one another
a characteristic experience that we can all appreciate in the construction of
identity dependent on a feeling of self and personhood. The boundaries
between the layers are not clear cut in terms of any precise role or meaning
they might individually possess but the sense of accumulation and the
enchainment, or linking, to other experiences is palpable. In that sense
all material culture is mask-like in that it allows expression of that darkness
so that not only can others see who we are but we can realise and experience
our own identity.
Such reflexivity means we are not especially endowed to become
who-we-are, but instead are self-creating and self-producing, auto-poietic
in Torenâ€™s (1999:6) terms. It is from such creative negotiation that we
fashion our identity.
The ground rules in this construction of identity are simple once the
rational, Cartesian, approach to the same question is collapsed (Table 5.1).
I will argue that a material basis of identity is common to both hominins
and humans. Without a doubt, at some time in our evolutionary history
language gave us fresh ways to discuss these central concerns, but material
culture has always provided hominins with the means of casting a little light
on the central mystery of identity contained in the darkness of the body.
Boiling eggs: or how to construct identity through agency
Archaeologists have however developed a dislike for the hidden. As a result,
concepts such as intention and desire are largely written out of rational
accounts of human prehistory. Choice is instead determined by the
organisational properties of systems (Binford 1972) rather than people,
The accumulation and enchainment of identity 115
and adherence to the rules guarantees everyday survival and reproductive
success. There is little place in such social and ecological systems for the
actions of the individual (Clark 1992a; Flannery 1967) and none for
such rationally fuzzy concepts as motivation. The terminology in these
accounts is instead about goals, budgets and strategies, nicely summarised
in the analogy of hunting societies as a well run corner-shop (Chapter 3).
What is at issue here is the distinction, drawn by Gell (1998:127), between
externalised and internalised conceptions of the mind and hence the inner
self. His point is that sociologists, as opposed to psychologists, have to be
externalists. The reason is straightforward. A theory of how the mind works
which only relates actions to inner, prior intentions, is inadequate because
what we intend does not always happen. Gell illustrates the distinction by
asking how eggs get boiled. A scientific explanation is that they are heated in
boiling water until hard. The laws of physics can be invoked to show how
this is possible and the experiment repeated daily in every kitchen where
eggs are served. However, the explanation he favours is that someone, an
agent, intended that eggs be boiled. Put that person with that intention in
the vicinity of an egg, a saucepan and a stove and that egg will get boiled.
Physics is necessary but it is not the explanation. Without an agent with the
desire for boiled eggs there will be none. The lack of boiled eggs at Olduvai
Gorge two million years ago is not because Boyleâ€™s law had yet to be
invented or because the fashioning of an egg cup was beyond hominin
capabilities of the time. It is rather that Zinjanthropus didnâ€™t want boiled
eggs for his breakfast.
Now the reason why the natural inclination of sociologists and archaeo-
logists is to be externalists is straightforward. Those boiled eggs I intended to
eat do not always materialise simply because sometimes the stove wonâ€™t
light. The prior intention by people at the hunting village of Gonnersdorf in
Germany 15,000 years ago (Bosinski 1979) might have been to catch rein-
deer. However, excavations reveal that only horse was consumed (Poplin
1976). I can think of no way to explore their intention to eat reindeer.
However, the intention to eat something has left a durable trace of the social
agent involved. The same applies to Zinj and his boiled eggs. That he inten-
ded to eat something is as far as we can probe his inner self on this matter.
Accumulation, enchainment and identity
Those missing, shameful bodies among both the monuments of the past
and modern buildings are eloquent testimony to a non-metaphorical
approach to the material world. Standing stones and shopping malls
116 Origins and Revolutions
table 5.2. Two metaphors of social practice and their definitions (after
Chapman 2000; Gamble 2004:Table 8.2)
Social practice Accumulation Enchainment
Provides the authority Relations achieved by A chain of social relations
for action and production and achieved through
interaction reproduction exchange
are presented as independent of people, external to their existence, as
revealed in the phrase â€˜the built environmentâ€™. If bodies are excluded then
the symbolic force, the experiential basis for framing and understanding
concepts, goes un-noticed, and rational design is sufficient explanation.
The idea of solid, material metaphors, comparable in sensitivity and
nuance to their linguistic counterparts, would not cross our field of view.
The body is indeed shamed by its invisibility and with it disappear the
categories of identity, self and personhood.
Accumulation and enchainment are two concepts that both correct
and celebrate an alternative, visible body, through material metaphors
(Table 5.2). Accumulation and enchainment are social practices that result
from bodily activity as well as providing metaphors for identity (Table 4.3).
They are social practices because human beings are always implicated
in networks of materiality (Gell 1998; Knappett 2006). It is through the
inter-linked practices of accumulation and enchainment that relationships
are enacted. Anthropologist Marilyn Strathern (1998:135), in her study
of Melanesian societies, stresses that â€˜social relations make artefacts out
of personsâ€™, although she acknowledges they are a different type of artefact.
In her opinion social relationships work because people recognise
the presence and intentions of others as capable of action like themselves.
The way that they compute such concepts as interior and exterior to
themselves is by enrolling others in their social projects.
Constructing identity is one project hominins have always been
concerned with. Metaphors are needed to identify with those hidden
interiors of both ourselves and others. Accumulation and enchainment,
involved in all social projects, provide the conceptual access route.
The two terms are not exclusive but complementary. To accumulate
is also to enchain and vice versa. Moreover, these terms are not hidden
in the sense that intentions and desire are. They have a visible material
The accumulation and enchainment of identity 117
John Chapmanâ€™s (2000) study of material culture and social change in
the Neolithic of South-East Europe provides an example. His main
argument is that social practice oscillates between the authority of
enchainment and accumulation as individuals and communities construct
their identities. These practices are always inseparable. People are always
enchained (linked) through networks of variable commitment and
duration. Individuals spin and are spun as social agents within such
networks. While there may be social practices which fragment the sense of
the individual and distribute them in time and space, there are equal and
complementary practices that always accumulate and construct identities
at particular locales and across larger social landscapes. The result is the
construction of specific historical identities.
It is necessary to excavate the darkness of the body to explore those concepts
of inner and outer that, as others are enrolled in our projects, make the
system of social relations work (Damasio 2000; Hollis 1985:227; Strathern
1998). This brings us to the territory of the self and personhood, regarded as
universal aspects of human identity (Sokefeld 1999); concepts that hover
over the merger of interests between sociology and psychology. For
example, Collins (1985:73Ã€4) makes the philosophical point that the
body is a necessary but not sufficient condition of personhood. That can
only be achieved with a psychological identity that depends on social
If some social completion of identity is a necessary part of personhood, but
no particular social identity is in itself necessary, then there will always be at
least a potential gap between private consciousness and public character.
I would suggest that what we find in the gap between the psychological
and social is corporal and material culture (Figure 4.1). These act as
a metaphorical bridge using the gestures and rhythms of bodily experience
to make apparent what could otherwise not be understood. Instruments
and containers are the visible material proxies (Table 4.4) for embodiment
and it is around and within them that identities are accumulated.
Performance and emotion
One example is provided by sociologist Erwin Goffman (1959; 1963).
He used a dramaturgical metaphor for social identity when he wrote
118 Origins and Revolutions
of territories of the self that are made visible through markers that
include signals and objects. Individuals, Goffman argued (1967:5), present
a face, a front and back, while acting out a line in social situations
and gatherings. However, he was sceptical either that we possess an
underlying personality or identity that we carry with us from one social
setting to the next or that such concepts have common currency. Social life,
for Goffman, relies upon the capacity of individuals to establish their
territories of self by reading the markers at each gathering (Turner 1991:466).
When face-to-face interaction occurs there is a rich flow of information
between individuals due to the embodied character of words, frowns
and gestures. But information for presenting the face and the line is also
disembodied, generally being conveyed through letters, tracks and objects.
The territory of the self is therefore not re-created at every gathering
between people but has accumulated as a result of many previous
gatherings and interactions.
A rather different standpoint is taken by neurologist Antonio Damasio
(2000), although he might agree with Goffman on the richness of inter-