Family space and communal areas – Mesolithic sites as social context

A three year project financed by the Swedish research Council (Vetenskapsrådet)

Docent Kjel Knutsson
PhD student Pierre Vogel

The project focuses on three main subject related to both archaeological practice in the present and the construction of knowledge about the past; that is interpretation of archaeological sites as representations of prehistoric sociality. One focus, a sort of Meta theory that transcends both fields of investigation, is a discussion of culture, with a focus on material culture, as a disciplinary technology.

One important base for the project is the notion that hunter gather life ways must be moved out of the “romantic” realm of timelessness and thus their implicit relation to human origins, a a construction of the 18th century. The concept hunter gatherer is in itself focussing our attention to economic strategies of survival rather than social processes of meaning. Tightly bound the concept hunter gatherer is further ideas of egalitarian social relations, comprehended as ahistorical notions of a primordial sociality. We criticise that and assume that egalitarian social relations, obviously part of many hunter gatherer life ways, are ideological constructions and therefore actively pursued. The fundamental question is thus- and this has never been seriously discussed in archaeology- can egalitarian social relations be discussed in terms of the communicative qualities of material culture and if so, can the analysis of archaeological prehistoric hunter gatherer sites be investigated in terms of these social relations?
Based on an investigation of archaeological praxis over 150 years, we discuss the construction of the archaeological hunter gatherer from the viewpoint of disciplinary technology. Archaeological praxis, disciplined by excavation methods, storage of finds, cultural traditions of reporting etc, has created an archaeological praxis steered by conventions. As a matter of fact, nothing has changed during 150 years of archaeological excavation. Theories of how culture functions and epistemological strategies has changed, but the notion of the egalitarian hunter gatherer has never been formulated as a research strategy. The ethnographic standard picture of the hunter gatherer is thus used to tell the story about the excavated site rather than confronting explict theories of social relations and the material. In a way then, this may have more to do with the disciplinary praxis of archaeological excavation, reporting and storage, than with the critical questions posed.
Based on this “deconstruction” of archaeological praxis as a disciplinary context, the project discuss culture from a more sociological, practice oriented point of view, trying to formulate a possible dialogue between the contexts of prehistoric attempts to follow cultural rules and how material culture in those situations possibly functioned as a disciplinary technology.
The project will be published as a monograph that will be Pierre Vogel’s PhD dissertation.


Picture 1. Excavations of one of the projects hunter gatherer sites in Swedish Lapland. A hut foundation from 4000 cal BCRensning

Picture 2. Pierre Vogel


Picture 3. Kjel Knutsson