The Archaeology of Power and Politics in Eurasia
Mundane Objects and Complex Political Life in the Late Bronze Age South Caucasus
Edited by Charles W. Hartley
Edited by G. Bike Yazicioğlu
Edited by Adam T. Smith
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print Publication Year: 2012
Online Publication Date:December 2012
Chapter DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139061186.019
What ceramic analysis can and cannot contribute to broader issues in archaeology has been a topic of vigorous debate in the archaeological literature over the last quarter century (Adams 1979; Deetz 1968; Dietler and Herbich 1998; Hill 1977; Neupert 2000; Peacock 1982; Plog 1978; Stark, Bishop, and Miksa 2000). Among these highly varied accounts, ceramic studies oriented toward political life are especially rare – some notable exceptions not withstanding (e.g., Graff 2006; Jordan and Schrire 2002; Leone 1999; Palumbi 2003) – and follow a few common interpretative threads. This dearth of exposure in the literature is partly because pottery’s dominantly utilitarian purpose directs most archaeologists to more provocative and enigmatic materials when they attempt to explore politics in the past. While it is certainly true that much pottery is mundane and utilitarian, it is exactly this attribute that can enable a unique and effective perspective on political life (Costin 1991, 2001; Peacock 1982; van der Leeuw 1977). In this essay, I explore and analyze some of the traditional approaches that link craft industries like pottery and the political machinations between subjects and authorities essential to complex societies. In doing so, I offer a new perspective on how pottery specifically may have mediated politics in the past.
First, I describe some of the current approaches to the interpretation of pottery data and to the analysis of craft production more generally. Second, I discuss how “Social Lives of Objects” research (cf. Appadurai 1986a; Gosden and Marshall 1999; Kopytoff 1986a; Peers 1999) has the potential to vastly expand the interpretive potential of ceramic analysis with its emphasis on social context and holistic object “biographies.” This theoretical imperative demands specifically tailored analytical methods – in this case, techniques of descriptive and archaeometric ceramic analysis that can expose particular foci and flows of the pottery economy. I introduce reflected light microscopy and radiography as helpful instrumental techniques in this endeavor. Finally, I show how the coupling of theoretical framework and analytical regimen is bringing about a better understanding of the sociopolitical relationships on Armenia’s Late Bronze Age (LBA) Tsaghkahovit Plain.
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