SPIRITools: Ontologies and Material Culture among Hunting Societies
Workshop, May 2nd-3rd, 2019
Claire Houmard, Ulla Odgaard, Ella Assaf and Ran Barkai org.
- Abstracts -
The elephant in the handaxes: A matter of fat and Ontology.
Prof. Ran Barkai
Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures
Tel-Aviv University, Israel
Humans and Proboscideans have shared habitats across the Old World during the past two million years, starting with the appearance of the Genus Homo in Africa and following the dispersals of humans to other continents. Proboscideans were included in the human diet starting from the Lower Paleolithic and continued until the final stages of the Pleistocene, providing humans with both meat and, especially, fat. Meat eating, large-game hunting and food-sharing appeared in Africa some two million years ago, and these practices and patterns were accompanied by growing social complexity and cooperation. This argument emphasizes the dependency of early humans on calories derived from mega-herbivores through the hunting of large and medium-sized animals as a fundamental and very early adaptation mode of Paleolithic humans, and the possible emergence of social and behavioral mechanisms that appeared at these early times. Moreover, elephants and mammoths also had cosmologic and ontological significance for humans, as their bones were used to produce artifacts depicting the iconic Lower Paleolithic stone handaxe, in addition to their representations in Upper Paleolithic "art". Rituals and spirit plays accompanying elephant hunting among contemporary hunter-gatherers, aimed at regulating the hunt and ensuring its success, and the sharing of the carcass among group members, are also of note. I will highlight the unique contribution of fat to the human diet, the central role of mega-herbivores in Paleolithic human adaptation and the central role these animals played in human subsistence and ontology, with a special emphasis on the meaning of handaxes made of elephant bones.
Tools, design and soul. Insights from Inuit and Pre-Inuit contexts.
Dr. Ulla Odgaard and Dr. Claire Houmard
National Museum of Denmark
In the pre-modern circumpolar world, animals were the key resources both for food, clothing and tool kits. Animals were also active partners, assisting the hunter in getting supplies and also in communicating with the spiritual world. Based on ethnographic analogies, this paper will present tools, amulets and figurines from the Inuit and Pre-Inuit cultures, which we will argue refer to the concept of “Inua” in the past.
In the Inuit language ”Inua” can mean “the spirit in the object”. Traditionally this concept in the daily life was used in hunting, as a way of communication with the prey and a guarantee for success. Tools for hunting must have special physical abilities to be suitable for killing the animals, but functionality was not only dependent on material and design. Attributes could be schematic or exact reproductions of animal parts, which would make the hunted prey able to “recognize” the weapon as a friend. Beautifully made hunting tools were considered to show respect for the game and to be most effective.
Also the use of amulets can be understood in the light of Inua, when animal attributes could spiritually give their strength and abilities to humans. Inua played an active part in the shaping and design of objects, and we suggest that this way of thinking is not confined to the Inuit world, but could inspire the study of other prehistoric materials.
Human-horse interactions in the Paleolithic period from an ontological perspective: Stories in the round
Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures
Tel-Aviv University, Israel
The significant role of horses (Equus) in Paleolithic diet and culture is well reflected by the presence of horse skeletal remains at Paleolithic sites, as well as by tools made of horse bones and by the multiple representations of horses in depictions and imagery items. It is plausible that early humans perceived horses both as an essential element in their adaptation, as well as non-human-persons and habitat companions. In my talk I will suggest that the roots of human-horse interactions go back to the Lower Paleolithic period, and that these special relations are embodied in a particular implement, which was produced and used by humans for over two million years – Shaped Stone Balls (hereinafter SSBs).
The presence of horses in Lower Paleolithic sites demonstrates their significance in human diet, since horsemeat, and especially horse marrow, has unique positive nutritional characteristics, significantly superior to those of most other ungulates (Badiani et al. 1997; Guil-Guerrero et al. 2013; Lorenzo 2013;Outram & Rowley-Conwy 1998).
Findings from Qesem Cave, Israel, (420-200 ka bp) support this notion; implying horses, and mostly horse mandibles, were routinely brought to the cave and consumed on-site. An unusual number of 57 horse teeth (4 individuals) were found in a specific location of 4 square meters, in association with ten SSBs. New results of use wear and residue analyses suggest that at Qesem, SSBs were used in thrusting percussion activities of crushing fresh bones to access the marrow. The spatial association between the two - horse teeth and SSBs - and the results of a functional analysis of the SSBs, might imply a special relation between these two elements.
Data from several other Levantine and African Paleolithic sites point to a similar spatial association between SSBs and horse bones. It suggests a possible link between the in-tandem disappearances of large horses and SSBs from the Levantine landscape, and the reliance of early humans on SSBs in extracting calories from their habitat-sharing allies, the horses.
I suggest that SSBs might have had an active role in the social, cosmological and epistemological realms of Lower Paleolithic ontology. It is a part of a wider world view; in which every element of the natural world - rocks, plants, water and non-human animals had personhood and special relationship with humans and the other non-human entities. Presumably, this was also the case with horses. These relations are also embodied in the tools used, as they are perceived as a bridge, or a reflection of these relationships. Some tools, if so, may reflect particular interactions with specific non-human animals.
In my talk, I will suggest that this approach can be demonstrated through archaeological findings such as SSBs and horse faunal remains. These may serve as an example for this kind of interactions in the Lower Paleolithic period, revealing some of the ontological worldviews of humans living some 400,000 years ago in Qesem Cave.
Renowned Hunters and Revitalized Spears and Hides
Dr. Kathryn Weedman Arthur
Associate Professor Anthropology Program
Research: Community Heritage & Material Studies, Gender, Africa
University of South Florida St. Petersburg
St. Petersburg, Florida 33701
Prior to 1980, the agricultural Boreda of southern Ethiopia hunted wild animals in the lowland Rift Valley adjacent to their highland homes. Hunting was an annual ritualized activity that transformed the lead male hunter and his prey. According to the Boreda Indigenous ontology, Etta Woga
, all matter in the world had the potential for infinite life through reproduction, which may be through biology, earthly interaction, or ritual. The hunter, the spear, and his prey engaged in a process of rebirth (yella
), purification through cutting or fire (katsara
), household/forest seclusion (dume
), private activity/incorporation (bullacha
), and public reincorporation (sofe
When a man publically announced his position as lead hunter he instigated his rebirth (yella
) and his potential to transform into a new state of being—one of immense prestige as Shanka. He and his iron spear were purified (katsara
) in a ritual at the edge of the forest. Then he and the other hunters secluded (dume
) themselves in the lowland forests for a week searching for prey. On return to the community the lead hunter was ushered in with praise songs and a great feast at his home marking his private incorporation (bullacha
) followed by a public incorporation feast in the market place (sofe
) as a man with hunting prestige, Shanka.
In concert with the hunter, the iron spear and prey were revitalized through the technological ritual of processings the iron and the hide. Only animal hides of the most prestigous of animals (bayira
), lions and leopards proceeded through a process of revitalization; the removal of the hide was rebirth (yella
), its scraping as cutting or purifying (katsara
), its storage or seculsion in the household (dume
), its use in the household (bullacha
), and its discard in sacred forest (sofe
). The most prestigious of iron tools was the tora or spear, which was used to hunt wild animals, in defense of people, and in rituals as a symbol of elite status. The iron ore was removed from the earthly womb of the earth in birth (yella
). When the metal turned red in the hearth, it was ready to be hammered to remove the impurities refered to as katsara
. When the iron spear came together with its haft, it was considered to be married and celebrating in the house (bullacha
) and its reincorporation into a new tool form was sofe
. Spears used in hunting and conflict were transformed again into more prestigious items; a spear is re-purifed in a fire before hunting (katsara
), secluded in the forest with the hunter (dume
), came together in active use when it pierced the prey in the forest (bullacha
), and was reincorporated as a spear of status to be associated with human rituals of status (sofe
According to the Boreda Indigenous ontology, humans, iron spears, and wild animal hides had the potential to transform together through ritualized hunting to new states of being with immense status. A person’s constellation of knowledge regarding their relationship between themselves and technology constitutes materials, implements, techniques, and desired endpoints, and significantly a person’s way of knowing and perceiving the world.
Watercraft as Hybrid Assemblages in the Western Arctic
Dr. Erica Hill
Associate Professor of Anthropology
University of Alaska Southeast
Book Review Editor, Alaska Journal of Anthropology
University of Alaska Southeast
Juneau, AK 99801
Watercraft, like amulets and harpoons, were critical components of the maritime Arctic toolkit. Two forms of skin-covered watercraft were in use across the Western Arctic: the umiaq
, a large open boat, and the smaller, decked kayak. Comprised of driftwood and animal skins and constructed through the complementary labor of men and women, watercraft mediated the realms of land, ice, and water, operating as liminal agents between human and animal worlds.
This presentation explores watercraft of the Western Arctic coast as hybrid assemblages of raw materials that were themselves implicated in relational networks. Inspired by McNiven’s (2018) view of Torres Strait canoes as ‘object-beings,’ I consider the evidence of the Late Thule and early contact period in Alaska and the islands of the Bering Sea (c. AD 1400–1850). Routine watercraft construction and maintenance, from this perspective, become complex social processes that transform, renew, and connect humans, animals, and materials (driftwood, seal skins) with their own agential properties.
I also reference ethnohistoric accounts from the Eastern Arctic, including Greenland, which suggest that some perspectives on the constitution of watercraft were generally shared across the Thule world. Input from other participants is welcomed on broader questions of how watercraft were perceived in other world regions, and what makes watercraft such powerful material objects in hunting societies.
McNiven, Ian J. 2018. Torres Strait Canoes as Social and Predatory Object-Beings. In E. Harrison-Buck and J.A. Hendon (eds.), Relational Identities and Other-Than-Human Agency in Archaeology, pp. 167–196. University Press of Colorado, Boulder.
Good to hunt, good to think: on the use -or non-use- of large game remains by prehistoric hunters in the Old and the New World
Dr. Marie-Anne Julien et al.
, L. Bement2
, K. Carlson3
, L. Demay1
, K. Kitagawa1
, M. Laznickova-Galetova1,5,6
, S. Péan1
, M. Patou-Mathis1
UMR 7194 CNRS - Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle, Paris, France
University of Oklahoma, United States
Augustana University, United States
University of Tübingen, Germany
University of Western Bohemia, Pilzen, Czech Republic
Moravian Museum, Brno, Czech Republic
In the East European Plain large game (particularly mammoth and bison) were key in the daily subsistence of Upper Paleolithic hunters. In the Great Plains of North America, prehistoric populations largely depended on mammoth/mastodon and then on bison for their subsistence. These two archaeological ‘eras’ that shared quite similar environmental settings have often been compared (for example Soffer and Praslov, 1993; Brugal et al., 1999; Julien, 2009), but rarely on a non-subsistence perspective. Noticeably both are greatly devoid of painted or engraved rock-shelters and caves, and the main part of the ‘spiritual’ aspect of the relation between humans and other animals can be investigated through shared peculiar large-scale hunting practices and the different uses of animal remains.
Here we propose to present examples from the Old and the New World archaeological and ethno-historical records, with a focus on bison-related cultures, bison sites, the use -or absence of use- of bison remains, and bison representations. Without aiming to be an overarching review, we will discuss how we can potentially approach past hunting societies world views through their relations to this emblematic animal. Finally, we hope that the workshop will provide broader comparisons and build on bridges, allowing a better understanding of the sometimes ‘incongruous’ (at least from our western cultural perspective) archaeological records.
Brugal, J.P., David, F., Enloe, J., Jaubert, J., 1999. Le Bison, gibier et moyen de subsistance des hommes du Paléolithique aux Paléoindiens des grandes plaines. APDCA Editions, Antibes.
Julien, M.-A., 2009. Chasseurs de bisons - Apports de l’archéozoologie et de la biogéochimie isotopique à l’étude palethnographique et paléoéthologique du gisement épigravettien d’Amvrosievka (Ukraine). Dpt of Anthropology, University of Montreal, Montreal (Canada) / Dpt. of Prehistory, National Museum of Natural History, Paris (France).
Soffer, O., Praslov, N., 1993. From Kostenki to Clovis. Upper Palaeolithic - Paleo-Indian Adaptations. Plenum Press, New-York and London, p. 334.
Gift from the Ancestors: Selection and Collection of Fully Patinated Blanks for the Making of items at Qesem Cave, Israel
Bar Efrati*, Avi Gopher and Ran Barkai
The Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology
Tel-Aviv University, Israel.
Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near-East Cultures
Tel-Aviv University, Israel.
*Corresponding Author: email@example.com
Ethnographic and archaeological research provides some hints regarding the awareness of indigenous groups towards the presence of earlier human groups in the landscape. In some cases, it was demonstrated that indigenous groups were also aware of old objects made by man available in the landscape, and in particular cases, such objects were collected and brought home. There are cases where the “old” items seem to be used with or without further modifications, while in others, evidence of any kind of use is not clear.
Here we present the case of recycled flint items made on “old”, fully patinated, man-made flaked items from the Acheulo-Yabrudian site of Qesem Cave, Israel (420-200 kyr). Recycled items made on fully patinated flaked items are items that were made by past human groups, abandoned, covered in patina and later collected and modified again by later groups. New modifications are sometimes minor; aimed at giving the object its new function without changing much the general morphological characteristics of the collected item, which were probably wished to be kept. This manner of modification almost fully preserves the morphology of the original item, leaving the varying colors, textures and patterns of the patina, as well as the previous modifications made by past humans, visible and dominant.
Flaked Flint items bearing patina are present in all lithic assemblages at Qesem Cave (n=4,552 for the current study). These items are also noticeable for their exceptional colors, textures and patterns, which attracts our eye at present, and probably had a similar effect in the past.
It will be claimed that the Paleolithic case presented here may be considered a very early example of a concept similar to the modern, present day term readymade; a term known from the world of present day modern art that describes art created from fully formed, often modified, objects that are not normally considered materials from which art is made, usually because they already have a non-art function. We propose that the selection of fully patinated discarded flaked items, their collection and modification for the making of new useable pieces (in the spirit of readymade objects) was clearly aimed at achieving a functional tool yet being “old” and colorful, they might have had cosmological-ontological significance too.
In our opinion, the selection and recycling of patinated flaked items in this manner represents appreciation of, and fascination with man-made object’s biographies, and their incorporation as memories related to the acts of previous humans. As such, flint items and tools made in that manner are agents mediating human’s past and present actions, objects, and the functional sphere. This subject will be discussed based on the archaeological and anthropological evidence, readymade art theories, and sociological-anthropological theories about objects’ agency.
A tangible generator of time itself? A story about the life and death of a Hadza clay doll
Dr. Thea Skaanes
Anthropologist and curator
The UNESCO Collections
Moesgaard Museum, Denmark
The Tanzanian Hadza are known to have one of the simplest material cultures in the world (cf. Marlowe 2010) and this implicates Hadza symbolic life (cf. Woodburn 1982, Barnard & Woodburn 1988). This paper contributes with ethnography on symbolic relations to non-human agents that adds more richness to the understanding of religion, both as it manifests in cosmology and performative ritual. Through the examination of a ritual and symbolic doll, a clay doll that was named Masako, we find ideas of extended personhood, material kinship relations, ego's anchor in names, and how this is all played out in ritual performances. Masako was 'born' and given to me as part of the material collection that we co-curated during fieldwork. As part of giving me her, her genealogy and the significance of her name was explained to me and I was instructed to bury her if she was to die. As part of her material lifecycle, the day came when I experienced the troubling burden of holding a dead doll and needing to keep my promise that Masako, the doll, should be put to rest. The life and death of Masako is a narrative of how she embodies kinship relations, a tangible access-point to women's spiritual power, and a concrete promise of futurity.
Identities, interaction, and worldview: A social archaeology of late Dorset material culture from the Foxe Basin region
Groningen University, The Netherlands
My broader PhD project will involve an investigation of a diverse range of organic material culture assemblages from excavated Dorset sites in Arctic and sub-Arctic Canada. The main methodology employed will be microwear analysis in a series of targeted case-studies to understand how diversity in the practice of crafting traditions was linked to perceptions of value, social (and childhood) learning, negotiation of identities, and wider interaction networks. The final stages of the project will engage with local First Nation communities to share the results of the analysis and explore factors that influence tool design and technological practice in northern landscapes.
In regards to the SPIRITools workshop, I am particularly interested in how the discussion will relate to my third planned case study, which will investigate the symbolic associations of decorated or ‘art’ artefacts in Dorset society. Through microwear analysis (focusing on the organic artefact assemblage), it is possible to determine whether an object was used, and if so, in what way, based on the observed usewear traces. This analysis can then lead to investigations of artefact symbolism and perceived value. For example, were decorated objects used in the same way as undecorated ones? If they were, how can we interpret this in terms of why certain objects or typologies were decorated and others were not? If they were not used in the same way, can this be linked to the perceived functionality or status of an object or group of objects? In this way, comparing the manufacture and use of decorated tools and art pieces can contribute a greater understanding of past perceptions of value within Dorset society.
Gatherer-Hunter Material Ontologies in the Levant Between 14,500 – 8,500 BP
Dr. Tobias Richter
Associate Professor, Prehistory of Western Asia
University of Copenhagen
Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies
Centre for the Study of Early Agricultural Societies
2300 København S, Denmark
Between 14,500 – 8,500 years ago gatherer-hunter communities in the Levantine part of southwest Asia enacted and experienced significant changes in settlement patterns, material culture, subsistence practices and ritual life. Cultivation of legumes, cereals and potentially other plants, and later on animals, began to gradually affect how these communities went about their daily lives. Tools made of stone and bone also underwent processes of change, reflecting these transformations in daily routines and practices. Based on my own experiences of working with late Epipalaeolithic and early Neolithic material from northeast Jordan I aim to reflect on some of these transformations in terms of material expression, landscape, subsistence practices, ritual and everyday life. I argue that it is important to be mindful of not phrasing and conceptualising these changes as retroactive, i.e.
we must be mindful of not thinking of the gatherer-hunter groups of the late Pleistocene and early Holocene as on some kind of evolutionary path towards agriculture and the Neolithic, but to consider their material ontologies in their own right.
Materiality and ontology among the Penan of Sarawak, Borneo: How a physical device encompasses an entire worldview
Dr. Mikael Rothstein
Associate Professor/Senior Lecturer, Comparative Religion
Section for the study of Religions, Department of History
University of Southern Denmark (SDU)
The Penan of Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo, are currently abandoning their traditional way of life. A mixture of deforestation, so called modernization efforts, and Christian missionary work has undermined their society, and the last nomadic hunter-gatherers are fighting for cultural survival. For the past 14 years I have been visiting the Penan at least once a year (in toto
around 20 times), in order to learn as much as possible about their pre-colonial and pre-Christian way of life. I presented my findings in the monograph Regnskovens
religion. Forestillinger og ritualer blandt Borenos sidste jæger-samlere
(The Religion of the Rainforest. Beliefs and Rituals among Borneo’s Last Hunter-Gatherers) (U Press, 2016, 512 p.). One of the topics I have considered is the meaning and functioning of amulets (sihap
); physical objects used for a range of purposes, and therefore physical objects that, from a strategic point of view, may be approached as a kind of ontological hub. In essence I shall try to unfold the cosmology of the Penan by departing for an analysis of the sihap
which initially may seem to be a simple item, but which in fact is a rather complicated device which encompasses concepts such as materiality, time, classification, narrativity, space, body and much more. Apart from contributing to the understanding of how a (very nearly) contemporary hunting-gathering society works in terms of religion, I hope to make use of the same examples when applying my findings to archaeological sources in a project of “ethnographic analogy” which I hope to be able to undertake in collaboration with archaeologists (I’ll explain a bit more about this in my presentation). Please note that I work within the field of comparative religion which, although closely related to anthropology in many ways, is a subject in its own right (and certainly not theology!).
Shapes of another world: the Ipiutak culture (Alaska)
Marie Lenander Pedersen, Ulla Odgaard and Claire Houmard
National Museum of Denmark
The Ipiutak culture and its many elaborate ivory carvings have captured the imagination of archaeologists for decades. This talk gives an introduction to the Ipiutak collection at the National Museum of Denmark, excavated in the 1930s by Dr. Helge Larsen and Froelich Rainey, addressing questions of stylistic provenience, motives and choices of material. Ipiutak openwork carvings feature a puzzling fusion of practical and the unpractical elements, transcending the realms of reality with abstract shapes and schematic line decoration. The representation of animals such as birds and bears are examined in the light of ethnographic parallels, shedding light on the spiritual world of the Ipiutak people, and their enigmatic ways of dealing with the dead.
Titled after the book “Gift from the Ancestors: Ancient Ivories of Bering Strait” by Fitzhugh W.W., Hollowell J. and Crowell A.L. (eds.).