Not so much a truth, more a possibility….

Yesterday lunchtime I went to a brilliant talk given by Gareth Beale, who is using computer modelling to test different hypotheses relating to Roman Sculptural Polychromy. Essentially he is modelling a Roman sculpure in various different scenarios and according to different polychromal techniques. His aim is not to show ‘what the sculpture would have looked like’ but to test and whittle down the current archaeological hypotheses and interpretations. For more information, visit: http://twitter.com/#!/GCBeale

 

Gareth’s interesting and refreshingly honest talk led me to think about the nature of my own research, and whether or not the search for the archaeological ‘truth’ is actually a futile endeavor. Perhaps we as archaeologists need to start questioning that which we consider as fact, and begin accepting that we are not and never will be an objective discipline.

 

Speaking directly about the Bronze Age, many European prehistoric authors saturate their work with stock phrases that denote a sense of finality to what they are saying. This is particularly true of Central Europe and the Balkans, with authors still grasping at the cosmological significance of material culture and burial rites. Often, it sounds like they are just making it up!

 

Prehistorians need to embrace the limitations of their own subject and not hide behind statements that try to persuade the reader that their interpretation is the only interpretation. There should be nothing wrong with saying something along the lines of:  ‘we don’t know exactly how it was done, but we now know that it didn’t happen like this.’ With my own research, it is pretty clear that I will not be able to pinpoint the creative abilities of one select individual, and nor should I wish to. My research is rooted in possibility and what I aim to do however is to access whether or not creativity is a useful concept for archaeologists through implementation of a methodology, and also see if it can shed a little bit more light on the Bronze Age in Pannonia.

 

Conceptualising Creativity: Three Weeks On

Three weeks into data analysis I am (finally) making some headway and there is now a pinprick of light visible at the end of the PhD tunnel. Discussions with several colleagues directed me towards a much needed Eureka moment; how I am going to assess and demonstrate the bounds of creativity has since become a lot clearer.

In a previous post, I argued that creativity is bound up with conceptual spaces. For a craftsperson, these conceptual ideas are embodied in the ways in which things are done. For a potter this is wrapped up with how to prepare the clay, how to form the pot, how to decorate the vessel and which surface finish to use. Creativity within craft is therefore linked with the agency of an individual, or to put it in better terms, human action.

Previous archaeological approaches to ceramic stylistic variation have often neglected the simple truth that people make pots. Although in more recent years researchers have seen style as active, the focus on communicative qualities and stylistic meaning has meant that the individual and community’s role in manipulating and changing style has been in many studies overlooked and under theorised.

My methodology for exploring creativity is rooted in investigating how you make and decorate an urn, rather than what you decorate it with. In order to demonstrate the how rather than why, I have begun to produce pot maps. These are visual representations of the conceptual entities embodied within the potting process. So rather than getting bogged down in the details of motif variation, the emphasis is on how such motifs were used by the potter. In order to demonstrate this I have included photos of two vessels which are stylistically different, yet typical of Belegiš material.

Vessel 20750

Vessel 20890

When analysed schematically however, we can see that they are conceptually very similar.

Vessel 20750

Vessel 20890

If we were going to classify these two in a traditional manner, they would most likely be placed into two separate categories, primarily according to the difference in motif design. However, the pot maps demonstrate to some extent that they are both made up of similar conceptual entities and as such show that the potters who made these vessels thought about their craft in the same way.

Linking back into creativity, what I want to know is what are the principles by which creativity operates? Does creativity occur within conceptual spaces and therefore is mediated by stylistic rules? Or is it a change of these rules? I’ll let you know!