Toubert et al. Francovich and G. Hundsbichler, G. Jaritz and Th. Neue Wege zur Analyse mittelalterlicher Sachkultur.

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Although no systematic reflection exists to date about ethnicity, the topic has dominated the field, primarily because of new claims especially among German scholars that ethnicity in the medieval past is beyond the conceptual reach of archaeologists interested in the Middle Ages. The recent contributions are however building upon theories of ethnicity developed in anthropology and sociology to approach the problem from an angle differ- ent from both the primordialist and the instrumentalist agendas.

Issues of private vs. As ethnicity increasingly becomes the politicization of culture, a decision people take to depict themselves or others symbolically as bearers of a certain cultural identity,1 the old controversy over the role of ethnic interpretations in medieval archaeology refuses to die.

Once in action, however, an ethnic group operates as a type of status group, the existence of which is represented through primordial attachments. But the ethnic group is not made up of the symbols used to mark it as distinct from others.

The boundary markers depend upon the capacity of symbols to encompass and condense a range of meanings. Material culture with symbolic meaning is therefore an integral part of power relations, as symbols of ethnic identity appear pri- marily in collective rituals and other social activities aimed at group mobilization.

One is reminded of the symbolist approach developed by Abner Cohen and Teun van Dijk, who were concerned with the analysis and interpretation of symbols, and the ideologies and discourses used by political groups and elites to sway mass support as well as to cap- ture the public imagination in order to generate social action.

What symbols are chosen at what moment, and by whom, is always a matter of power relations. Material culture cannot therefore be treated as a passive reflection of ethnic identity, but as an active element in its negotia- tion. As an intrinsic or adjunct function of artifacts, the isochrestic variation was to be found in all aspects of social and cultural life.

In short, it was the attribute of material culture through which members of a group expressed their mutual identity, coordinated their actions, and bound themselves together. Since they are typically used to mark and maintain boundaries of group membership, they should therefore be easy to distinguish archaeologically.

Emblemic styles are typically associated with attempts to mobilize members of a group in a situation of competition for resources with other groups.

For example, Michael Graves has demon- strated that Kalinga potters in the Philippines use style pottery decoration to signal their community affiliation and to mark boundaries against other communities.

Such signaling typically occurs when resources are scarce and the competition with potters from other communities increases. His conclusion is that both artifact categories were used to mark regional boundaries at a time of considerable social and political turmoil. According to him, this may indicate that the technological choice of temper served as a symbol of identity and regional belonging. Some archaeologists have been too quick to dismiss the connection between material culture and ethnicity.

It is particularly that repetition, without which the material culture variation supposed to communicate about group identity cannot become an emblemic style, that is of crucial importance for archaeologists interested in ethnicity, especially for those working on medieval sites. To judge from those ceramic assem- blages, a relatively large number of potters came to Lund from eastern England in the aftermath of the breakup of the North Sea empire after A similar phenomenon is attested in Sigtuna, where a sudden change in pottery clay recipes fine or medium clay with crushed granite as a temper and elements of grog from ca.

It is the pattern created by such repetition that lends itself for interpretation by archaeolo- gists studying ethnicity. There are of course different ways to interpret that pattern, and the degree to which the context of social practice can be reconstructed varies consider- ably. However, to deny the possibility that ethnicity can explain such a pattern is at best an exaggeration and at worst evidence of theoretical malaise.

More than a decade ago, while studying the distribution of weapons, pottery, and glass vessels on either side of the early medieval frontier between Franks and Alamans, Frank Siegmund pointed to the importance for the construction of ethnic boundaries of daily activities and of what Irene Greverus once called Alltagswelt. Within that area, most, if not all vessels deposited in graves were either wheel-made pots or glass beakers, while half of all pots deposited in graves in the Alamannic zone were handmade.

He con- cluded from that that despite considerable variation within each category of artifacts, an ethnic boundary existed between the Franks and the Alamans from the fifth to the sev- enth century.

Nonetheless, the distributions of weap- ons, pottery, or glassware in the area studied by Siegmund appears to coincide quite well with the expectations concerning the general location and the extent of both Franks and Alamans.

Somebody buried with an axe in a cemetery in the Frankish zone or with a handmade pot in the Alamannic zone may not at all have been a Frank or an Alaman, respectively. Those were items that symbolized events in the life of the deceased, and were used by mourners as a means of memory and remembrance.

Such was most likely the pottery with prick-like comb punch decoration Kammstich found in Avar-age graves. During the Avar age ca. Nonetheless, finds of pots with prick-like comb decoration cluster in the northwestern region, next to the present-day border between Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, and the Czech Republic. There is no reason for which such attributes could not have been adopted by communi- ties elsewhere in the Carpathian Basin.

Since both also appear in post-Avar assemblages in the region associated with the rise of Great Moravia in the ninth century, Peter Stadler has suggested that such features contributed to the invention of a new ethnic identity out of the bits and pieces left in place in the northwestern region after the collapse of the Avar qaganate. Ethnicity in the past has frequently mobilized and divided scholarly opinion. Few are the topics in medieval archaeology that have created more debate in recent years than ethnicity.

Despite a phase of devastating postwar and more recent critique, and the reticence on the part of archae- ologists, as well as some historians as to whether ethnicity existed at all in the Middle Ages, the topic witnessed a remarkable comeback in recent years. This may be in part because scholars can now distinguish between the archaeological study of ethnicity in the past and the historiographic study of the uses and abuses of medieval ethnicity in more recent times.

While much has been written on the influence of nationalist ideologies on the development of the discipline, there has been comparatively less preoccupation with how archaeologists participate in the production of the nationalist discourse.

Nonetheless, ethnic differences definitely play a role in the organization of the Viking festival in Wolin Poland , as Polish participants insist they are Slavs, not Vikings, while Lithuanians claim to play the part of the Curonians. Those conclusions are partic- ularly important for the analysis of gender representation through burial ritual, as ethnicity remains a topic more firmly attached to the archaeology of cemeteries than to the archae- ology of settlement sites.

For example, several recent studies have independently sug- gested a general concern throughout early medieval Europe with the representation of the age of marriage in the early medieval burial ceremony. In prin- ciple, if emblemic styles may be identified on the basis of their repetitive nature at the level of a cemetery site, this can only mean that anomalies may equally be interpreted as stylistic variation in sharp contrast to the uniform background of the majority.

The fact that the two brooches were found on the shoulders strongly suggests that the woman was buried in a peplos-like dress, which at the time late fifth or early sixth century was common in Scandinavia, but not in southern Germany. Medieval archaeol- ogy for the moment lacks a systematic reflection on the problem of ethnicity.

Judging by the most recent publications, some consensus has begun to form around a few fundamen- tal ideas, which will most likely direct research in the years to come. Ethnicity was socially and culturally constructed, a form of social mobilization used in order to reach certain political goals. However, ethnicity was also a matter of daily social practice, and as such it involved the manipulation of material culture.

Since material culture embodies practices, emblemic style was the way of communicating by non-verbal means about rela- tive identity. Because it carried a distinct message, it is theoretically possible that it was used to mark and maintain ethnic boundaries. Ethnicity was also a function of power relations. Emblemic styles became relevant particularly in contexts of changing power relations, which impelled displays of group identity. His most recent book is The Edinburgh History of the Greeks, c.

Email: fcurta history. See S. Haugaard eds. Burmeister and N. Grundbegriffe der reinen Soziologie, 2nd edn. Berlin: K.

Curtius, Weber, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft. An Outline of Interpretive Sociology, transl. Fischoff et al. See V. Jones, The Archaeology of Ethnicity. Kos ed. Hardt, C. Schorkowitz eds. Lucy eds. Fusek ed. The idea has been first put forward by H. See also F. Siegmund, review of S.

Brather, Ethnische Interpretationen, in Historische Zeitschrift, : Eder, B. Giesen, O. Schmidtke, and D. Tambiani, Collective Identities in Action. Pohl and H. Reimitz eds. Cohen, Two-Dimensional Man. Cohen, The Politics of Elite Culture. Berameni, R.

Maiz, and X. In his Ethnicity and Nationalism. Hodder, Reading the Past. Chilton ed. Conkey and C. Hastorf eds. See also J. Reycraft ed. Longacre and J. Skibo eds. Engevik, Bucket-Shaped Pots. Barndon, A. Engevik, and I.


Florin Curta



Florin Curta






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