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the instruments and containers it is possible to see how this person was
extended beyond the boundaries of her own body or the narrow confines
of a rockshelter. Just as the single stone tool or the individual deer canine
refers metonymically either to complete animals or blocks of stones so
the woman is a part of a distributed social network. Around both her and
the objects found with her there must have been a wealth of associations:
a net cast over large distances and lengthy time periods.
Therefore the burial at Saint-Germain-la-Riviere was not an event given
character either by who she was or how she died. She was not singled out
for special treatment because of her parents or the charismatic force of
Consuming and fragmenting people and things 149

her personality. In a hybrid network of people and objects she was the
project by which the construction of identity, that hidden mask-like
experience, was metaphorically understood.
But we need to lift our eyes from the grave. This project 19,000 years ago
was not primarily the burial of a body but the performance of identities
inspired by those primary metaphors of the-giving-environment and
growing-the-body. The social practices of accumulation and enchainment
and the actions of fragmentation and consumption resulted in her body
forming a set with its associated materials (Table 6.5). Moreover, her
identity was simultaneously a part of a whole with the mourners and their
material networks.
Neither did this project finish with her death but continued after the
stone slab had been placed over her corpse. What we find at Saint-
Germain-la-Riviere and those other rare ˜rich™ late Palaeolithic burials in
France, such as the infant burial at the rockshelter of La Madeleine
(Vanhaeren and D™Errico 2001), is that moment when the music stopped
and the circle was broken. The networks were cut not necessarily because
she died and had to be buried but because by burying her with these
extended sets such fragmentation was turned into an act of consumption,
the circle restored and the ˜dance™ continued. Relations were confirmed.
The rational view sees it differently. According to this, the woman
belongs to the category of complex hunter-gatherer (Owens and Hayden
1997; Price and Brown 1985; Vanhaeren and d™Errico 2003; Woodburn
1991). What she wore is interpreted as reflecting her special status within
society. She was symbolically charged because of who she was, her position
and status. Moreover, since these burials are rare, the find points, in the
authors™ opinion (Vanhaeren and d™Errico 2005), to hereditary ranking
systems in a society based on inequality. But this assessment ignores the
dominant burial rite in Lateglacial France (23À11,000 years ago) that was
not internment in a container, as at Saint-Germain-la-Riviere, but instead
the fragmentation of bodies and their distribution through time and space
(Table 6.6). The evidence comes from sixty-four rockshelters and only one
open site (Le Mort and Gambier 1992). The bones of adults dominate
(Table 6.7).
At present it is not possible to say if these human bones also came from far
afield, analogous to the deer canines from Saint-Germain-la-Riviere.
However, I would not be surprised at such a result once stable isotope
analysis is applied so that geographical sourcing can be established. The
human material may also have been in circulation for some time, further
evidence for the temporally as well as spatially distributed character of
150 Origins and Revolutions

table 6.6. The fragmentary character of human bodies in the French
Lateglacial (Gambier 1992; Le Mort and Gambier 1992)

Number %
Inhumations 13 6
Dismembered often with traces of cut marks 94 40
Bits and pieces 125 54

table 6.7. The population structure of human remains in Lateglacial France
(Gambier 1992; Le Mort and Gambier 1992)

Number %
Adults 166 72
Children 66 28

personhood that invariably is counterbalanced by accumulation at
particular places. It is in this way that sets and nets stand as the proxies
for relationships that are more subtle, personal and provocative than the
search for a complex society of hunter-gatherers.

Discussion: running with the social sets
Chapman™s methodology is immensely helpful for a relational approach
to archaeological evidence. However, his definition of a set as integrally
related elements does raise some problems. The fact that elements in a
set can be similar or heterogeneous, functionally or symbolically related,
seems to cover too many possibilities. It suggests that whenever two or
more objects are gathered together they naturally form a set. Neither
does quantity seem very important. Emphasis is placed on the context
to determine if we are dealing with a set or not. But since the set is integral
to our understanding of the context how can it then be used to classify
itself? Therefore, all we are presented with is a statement about the
nature of archaeological contexts and their contents. Contexts contain sets
because sets relate contexts to people, seems to be the conclusion. Simple
associations are all that is needed to make a set, but what analytical value
does that have? Chapman™s definition is therefore too broad to be useful
precisely because it is too focused on the origins of metallurgy.
Consuming and fragmenting people and things 151

Chapman™s methodology is valuable but needs revision in two regards.
In the first place, we should forget origins because they bring too many
conceptual problems (Chapter 3) and recognise instead that the value of his
methodology lies in the links between material culture and a relational,
rather than essential, identity. However, as discussed above, Chapman uses
enchainment and fragmentation interchangeably, which leads to confu-
sion, while in accepting accumulation and metallurgy as his end point
he seems to suggest that those rounded dividual/individual persons (Busby
1997; LiPuma 1998) did not exist until the Bronze Age. The implication
is that human identity was for much of prehistory, and certainly the
Palaeolithic, distributed and enchained. Alienation of the symbol from its
source was an event, post-agriculture, and foreshadowed the origins of
modernity (Friedman 1994:143; Thomas 2004). If this was the case then our
understanding of change is very similar to earlier notions such as the rise of
barbarism, the Neolithic Revolution and the sapient paradox.
And second, Chapman™s fragmentation theory misses an obvious target
of archaeological enquiry: the notion of the complete object. We have been
trained to identify complete objects and our archaeological classifications,
not to mention museum displays, reflect this education. However, this is
another example of what Iain Davidson and William Noble (1993:365) have
rightly termed the ˜fallacy of the finished artefact™. We cannot assume that
the shape we have in front of us was intended. In Chapter 4 I mentioned
Alfred Gell™s (1998:257) description of the Maori meeting house as a
material project which brings together a rich array of material culture and
what he calls indexes of agency (1998:253).
These indexes are inferences about cultural meaning achieved not by
induction or deduction but by abduction, that leap of faith from the data to
its explanation (Levinson 1995), an intellectual short-cut to understanding
and often the first strand in the cable of interpretation. Neither are the
meeting houses simply symbols of either the community or the craftsmen
who built them. They are in Gell™s analysis vehicles of that collectivity™s
power. And because the collective has to socially re-produce itself, so these
meeting houses are never finished. The house being built or used now is
a project, that index of agency, for houses in the future (Gell 1998:253). It is
an example of personhood distributed in space and time and, at his
suggestion, could be applied to tombs, shrines and, I would add, the
accumulation of elements into sets. All of these examples ˜have to do with
the extension of personhood beyond the confines of biological life via the
indexes distributed in the milieu (Gell 1998:223)™. Projects as foci for
individual and collective action are never finished. Sets, like houses, are
152 Origins and Revolutions

always available for expansion. Even the simplest tools such as handaxes or
wooden digging sticks are unfinished when we assess them as relational
rather than rationally constructed artefacts. The handaxe is the vehicle for
an individual™s power, that symbolic force constituted through materiality.
Therefore the handaxe left behind, apparently carelessly, while still to
our eyes serviceable, is part of the project of the next handaxe that will
commence in minutes, days or years. In the same way the biological death
of an individual is never the finishing point. Not only is that individual™s
index of agency part of the fabric of material culture but the distribution of
artefacts including body parts ensures that relations extend beyond the
grave. There can never be a complete artefact set since the concept of
expansion always allows for growth. So too there can never be a complete
artefact since it only exists in relation to other elements in the network of
material culture and those relations are subject to growth and decay,
reduction and addition. The young woman buried at Saint-Germain-la-
Riviere was not the finished article either in terms of her personhood or her
special status. Social life is never finished. It is a continual dance around
others, around a flickering fire with tourists looking on.
summary to part ii

Raising the bar

Throughout the past three chapters I have drawn down concepts and
developed methods to examine my basic proposition; that a study of change
must address the material basis of hominin identity. Change is not about
revolutions and origins but rather the shifting patterns of authority in our
understanding of the reality of the vast array of social projects: an authority
that I have shown is based on the experiences of the body as a source for
To this end I have provided a framework that builds on earlier models
of a social technology (Gamble 1999) and charts in more detail the link
between social practices and actions and the material proxies that allow us
to investigate such concepts. In Chapter 3 I discussed analogy and
homology and remarked on Alison Wylie™s (1985:107) call to raise their
credibility as inferences within archaeology. In this section I have put the
case for a much larger group of rhetorical devices that can be grouped
under metaphor. As several archaeologists (Gosden and Marshall 1999;
Meskell 2004; Tilley 1999) are now pointing out, such metaphors should
not be conceived as simply linguistic. Instead the ability to understand
something in terms of something else depends on all the senses of the body
and most importantly relates to material culture rather than the spoken
But if we are to raise the bar for material metaphors, and so elevate their
discussion in archaeology, I am well aware that we meet head-on a major
obstacle. This takes the form of another authority tussle, this time between
the competing claims of reason and emotion as satisfactory explanations.
Archaeologists have predominantly favoured the former, casting their
subject as a science. Emotion and bodily experience are accorded a lowly
place, if any. But while the advances of such an approach have been
considerable in the last forty years there is a real sense that the bar needs

154 Origins and Revolutions

re-setting if archaeologists are to make any contribution to the study of
material culture (Hamilakis et al. 2002b; Tarlow 2000). As Carl Knappett
(2005:167) has pointed out, the crux of the matter is that we work with
nothing but objects but currently set ourselves the goal of investigating past
attitudes and ideas that are conceived of as non-material. ˜Aspiring to
mentalism but condemned to materialism, it is hardly surprising that many
archaeologists have given up the former altogether (Knappett 2005:168)™,
and among those who accord a place for phenomenology what remains
undeveloped are the methodologies to give the senses and emotion
authority in the place of reason.
Hence the long discussion in this section about terms and methods.
I have concentrated on metaphor (Tilley 1999) rather than semiotics
(Knappett 2005) because of the broad narratives that I want to examine in
Part III. The terms I have discussed are intended to stimulate the discussion
of the material past as a set of metaphors concerning identity. It is the ways
in which those metaphorical relations are connected that is of interest and I
have addressed this through a framework that proposes accumulation and
enchainment as metaphors for social practice (Tables 6.1 and 6.2), and
traced them through material proxies (Table 4.4) that are in turn dependent
on actions such as consumption and fragmentation that implicate the body
in the material world. Examples have been given of how such concepts as
the distributed person can be understood through material culture and
each chapter in Part II has been illustrated by those most metaphorical, and
usually to archaeologists most mysterious, of hominin qualities: language,
art and music. Certainly there are many further meanings here that a
semiotics approach could tease out. But my concern is with a structure that
pulls the history of the hominins together rather than shatters it along the
lines of prior expectation. Let us now start the narrative.
part iii

Interpreting change
chapter 7

A prehistory of human technology: 3 million
to 5,000 years ago

Sadly, we are about to witness the premature death of Concorde, an
aircraft whose structure still has no finite life. . . . For the first time in
evolution, humankind is about to go slower.
Brian Christley, Ex-chief Concorde instructor,
Guardian letters 20 October 2003

Highways to the future
I have often thought that the Age of Enlightenment would be better
described as an Era of Entanglement. In their search for a tipping point
for the origins of the modern world, historians motor up and down between
the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries, identifying changes in attitudes
to society, politics and knowledge (Hampson 1968:15). Such a broad
carriageway is strewn with the crashes that resulted from speeding
revolutions, and although the road is initially bumpy the surface improves
as the journey progresses. Technology is an inescapable element in the
narrative. Indeed, the Scottish engineer John Loudon MacAdam, after
whom tarmacadam, or tarmac is named, was born in 1756 at the heart
of the Enlightenment with the Industrial Revolution getting into full
swing. It was his idea to use broken stone ˜which shall unite by its own
angles so as to form a hard surface (™,
while later hot tar was employed as a bond to keep the surface together
and reduce dust.
Where would the modern world be without tarmacadam pavements?
Caught in the ruts of history no doubt, but more to the point entangled in
other different strands of change. The oldest asphalt street, from the
Greek asphaltos meaning secure, is currently a processional way built

158 Origins and Revolutions

in Babylon in the seventh century BC. This was hardly a motor-way system
but the Romans, for example, never used asphalt to surface the impressive
roads that served their empire.
A technological advance such as road building does not so much
slip the ties of history, as revolution implies (Chapters 1 and 2), as
entangle the process of change even further. The greatest entangle-
ment of that long Enlightenment carriageway was the discovery and
annexation of the New World. When European countries went global
they were as much agents of change as changed by their imperial and
colonial experiences. They were entangled, if not enlightened, in the
process by their experiences of the customs and societies of diverse
peoples as well as by vast natural resources, such as the asphalt lakes
of Trinidad and Venezuela that one day would pave the United States
with MacAdam™s idea.
The history of technology, those bright ideas which light our lives
and heat our homes, is pre-eminently a narrative about human identity.
These identities involve complex interactions between people and
objects, cultures and landscapes that are aptly described by anthropol-
ogist Nicholas Thomas (1991) through Darwin™s metaphor of the tangled
vegetation on a bank, that famously appears on the last page of The origin
of species. The result, as we have seen in earlier chapters, is the hybrid
character of human culture where objects as well as people have
This might suggest that an overview of prehistoric artefacts would be
better phrased in terms of material culture, described earlier (Chapter 3),
and where I drew a parallel with corporal culture as one of the axes
by which symbolic force can be generated (Figure 4.1). However, I have
chosen technology not because it is a synonym for material culture,
which it certainly isn™t, but because from its derivation (Greek tekhne)
it addresses concepts of skill and knowledge as well as tools and
equipment. Technology provides the long view and has been the subject
of many studies that chart its development from throwing sticks to
supersonic aircraft, drawing conclusions about the pace of progress
and, as the Chief Instructor of Concorde implies in my opening quote,
noting the need to keep moving ever faster, higher, deeper; the desire
of modernity.
But there is another reason to use technology as the framework
for a study of change. While philosophers have for a long time examined
science as one of their primary concerns there has, by contrast, been little
interest in technology other than as applied knowledge (Tiles 2001:483).
A prehistory of human technology: 3 million to 5,000 years ago 159

However, that view needs to change. As philosopher Steven Woolgar
points out:
Discussions about technology À its capacity, what it can and cannot do,
what it should and should not do À are the reverse side of the coin to
debates on the capacity, ability and moral entitlements of humans.
(Woolgar 1987:312)

MacAdam used broken stones, but so did hominins 500,000 years
ago. The former, by re-arranging them, constructed an identity that is the
epitome of the Enlightenment. He fragmented in order to accumulate and
through such actions spun a network of technology along which people
walked, drove and later cycled, motored and skateboarded. As a result
armies could move faster while cities could be provisioned from further
afield. The blacktop became a road to freedom, a human right, and as
this material metaphor shrank time and distance for individuals and
communities, so a space for the performance of identity was created
structured by age, gender and technology.
Hominins 500,000 years ago also used their skills and knowledge to
construct identities. They fragmented and accumulated stone at specific
places and performed identities that danced to comparable tunes. However,
Homo erectus or the Neanderthals have never been considered as living in
an Enlightenment like John MacAdam because their skill in breaking stone
is considered inferior.
It is because I want to address these issues of skills and identities that
technology rather than material culture is the proper theme. As archae-
ologist Andy Jones (2002:90) puts it, ˜technologies weave together the
material, social and symbolic dimensions of human life™. Since the begin-
ning of the discipline archaeologists have been entangled in the history
of technology and how it came to calibrate human identity, past and
present. But rather than recount again the Three Age System of stone À
bronze À iron (Chapter 1) as though it were an archaeologist™s tarmacadam
pavement, let us dive right into the tangled bank of historical relationships
from which it came.

The value of materials
Here we find that the roots reach down to the development of a com-
parative ethnology that arose from the Spaniards™ encounter with
indigenous Americans. As expertly laid out by historian Anthony Pagden
(1986), the response of sixteenth-century Spanish theologians tasked to
160 Origins and Revolutions

explain New World societies was to start with Aristotle™s notion of natural
slavery that had served the Ancient world well. Francisco di Vitoria,
author of the influential De indis published in 1539, set out to understand
the indigenous Americans using Aristotle™s body/soul dichotomy which
underpinned the principle that the rich govern and the poor labour.
However, when applied to the Americans there was a problem since
Aristotle also adhered to a hierarchy of occupations valorised by materials.
The harder you worked the more splendid would be the material culture
that surrounded you. In this hierarchy stone was more noble than wood
which in turn had greater value than mud brick (Pagden 1986:72À3).
The pyramids of Central America and the stone-built cities of Peru
indicated an unexpectedly advanced level of achievement and therefore
a dilemma for an imperial power looking for a clear mandate for rule by
right as well as force.
The solution was to devise an explanation for the paradox of material
value and social insignificance. Vitoria, and the Salamanca School of
sixteenth-century Spain, proposed that the indigenous American was
socially a peasant and psychologically a child. They were therefore outside
the web of affiliation of civilised men, being only half-reasoning, passion-
dominated beings (Pagden 1986:104À5). As a result they were not a different
species but rather some form of fully grown child, useful as slaves
and labourers to mine the asphalt in Lake Trinidad and pave the way
for the Enlightenment.
The fate of the indigenous Americans was therefore entangled
with Classical philosophy, technological metaphors and real-politick
(Pagden 1986:106). There is an irony that the Classical sequence of
change, mud À wood À stone, based on the relative skills of the artisan
and the inherent value of materials should, when translated by archae-
ologists in the nineteenth century, be reversed. The value of skilled
stone working was nothing compared to metallurgy, while a single
mud-brick village with agriculture was worth all the chipped stone of
the Palaeolithic.
And the same technological values persist. The entanglement rather
than enlightenment continues with archaeologist Colin Renfrew™s (1996)
sapient paradox, where he claims that for 30,000 years people possessed
the modern mental capacity to use symbols, but either could or did not
want to, until a sedentary, farming life allowed them to realise their
full potential and assume a modern identity (Chapter 1).
A prehistory of human technology: 3 million to 5,000 years ago 161

table 7.1. Two readings of Marxism applicable to changes in technology
(after Rowlands 2004; Tiles 2001:489)

Historically determinist
Changes in technology and society occur in a Devices (instrumental)
historically determined sequence and are largely

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