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'Through a glass darkly': Obsidian and society in the southern Aegean Early Bronze Age

Carter, T.B.; (1998) 'Through a glass darkly': Obsidian and society in the southern Aegean Early Bronze Age. Doctoral thesis, University of London. Green open access

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Abstract

This thesis considers the social context of Southern Aegean lithic technology during the fourth - third millennia B.C., focusing on the socio-political significance accorded the production and consumption of obsidian blades from the later Neolithic - Early Bronze Age. In Section One (Chapters One-Five) past work on Aegean obsidian is examined critically. Through drawing on data generated by recent surveys and excavations in the southern mainland, the Cyclades and Crete, it is argued that from the later Neolithic - EBII, the working of obsidian shifted from a community-wide basis to being located within a restricted number of settlements. These latter sites, due to their size and associated material culture, are suggested regional centres, acting as loci for skilled knappers and the dissemination of their products. This ability to influence or directly control such individuals is claimed to have played a role in the development of social inequality. The central part of the thesis, Section Two (Chapters Six-Nine) discusses the appearance of fine obsidian blades within the EBI Cycladic burial record, arguing that this new mode of consumption provides a context where one can see the reconceptualisation and political appropriation of lithic technology. The regular association of obsidian blades with materials associated with body modification and personal display suggest their use in depilation and scarification: the physical manifestation of an individual's political identity. This role, however, has to be seen as largely symbolic, as microwear analysis shows that these blades were generally interred unused and in such fresh state to suggest that most were produced specifically for burial. Finally, it is considered that the pan-Southern Aegean adoption of this funerary habit, from the late EBI onwards, was largely the result of social processes, namely the long-distance voyaging that formed such an important factor in forging and articulating ideology and cosmology in the Early Cycladic world. The appearance of this burial practice beyond the Cyclades is investigated in the context of contemporary socialrelations and a number of other variables that may have affected the act's meaning in regions such as the Mesara of Southern Crete. Section Three (Chapters Ten-Twelve) deals with those sites where notably higher concentrations of 'Cycladica' have led to suggestions that something above and beyond trade and exchange was responsible for creating the archaeological record: that of physical movement and colonisation. Through my studies it has been recognised that a number of subtly different techniques were employed to produce the fine pressureflaked blades from both domestic and mortuary contexts, some of which have quite specific temporal and spatial distributions. The chipped stone from the three cemeteries central to this controversy: Aghia Photia, Archanes and Manika, were analysed in the context of their relationship to contemporary lithic technology in the Cyclades. Detailed, holistic, contextual analyses have produced remarkably positive results, implying the presence of an immigrant population at the former site, whilst the material from the latter two communities can be largely explained through the adoption and manipulation of exotic social practices. As with every aspect of this thesis' work, these results are then discussed in the light of broader southern Aegean political issues.

Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Title:'Through a glass darkly': Obsidian and society in the southern Aegean Early Bronze Age
Open access status:An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language:English
Additional information:Thesis digitised by British Library EThOS
UCL classification:UCL > School of Arts and Social Sciences > Faculty of Social and Historical Sciences > Institute of Archaeology

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