Imitation: the sincerest form of flattery?

"The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources."

Albert Einstein once famously quoted that ‘the secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.’ Psychologists and sociologists have since proven this to be the case; they argue that creativity is the linking up of existing knowledge in an original way. In that sense, novel combinations are a result of various social interactions in which knowledge and ideas are adopted and transformed by the individual. Being creative is thus very much a social mechanism. Arguably, an unravelling of past creativity has the potential to reveal its origins and therefore aid in the investigation of past social relations and interactions.


The Bronze Age in Europe was a patchwork of different social and cultural practices which we are amidst trying to disentangle through analysis of the material culture these people left behind. Just as countries in modern day Europe have obvious differences in cultural traditions, Bronze Age material culture also displays dissimilarities and similarities. What were the reasons for such similarities and differences? Why would one community favour a decorative motif or technique over another one? Similarly, why would a social group adopt a particular motif from a neighbouring community and incorporate with their existing ornamentation and techniques?


Too often decorative ‘influences’ and the spread of ideas are explained in terms of diffusionism and mechanisms of social mobility where cultural groups migrate, taking their culture with them. Although there is evidence that proves individuals in the Bronze Age did travel to acquire knowledge (think Otzi and the Amesbury Archer), diffusionist approaches to Bronze Age Europe negate the role of the individual in imitation and transformation of material culture. Individual craftspeople were intentionally or unconsciously adopting and transforming motifs and techniques from a variety of sources indicative of various social interactions. What was the nature of these interactions? Were they peaceful or a result of conflict? Were they within or between communities? What was the social function of such imitation and transformation? With so many questions to answer, it seems we have only begun to scratch the surface when it comes to really understanding social relations in the Bronze Age.


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