ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
[personal profile] ossamenta
Going to the EAA conference whetted my appetite for conferences as a means to soak the brain in interesting knowledge and meeting interesting people. So at the beginning of November I went to the Craft and people conference in London. The conference aimed at exploring ways to approach the craftspeople behind the objects, studying (for example) status within the community, transferral of skills, and degree of aptitude. It might not be particularly within my work role, but it could mean useful things for the theoretical side of my Ph.D. proposal, and of course, there’s always the possibility for useful connections with other archaeologists.

The talks were very interesting, even if admittedly slightly biased towards Bronze Age and the Ancient Near East, neither a thing I’m that particularly interested in per se. But what I liked was that several of the speakers and poster presenters were skilled craftspersons themselves, for example Barbara Armbruster (goldsmith), Andrew Appleby* (potter), Katarina Botwid (potter) and Giovanna Fregni (bronze smith). It’s so easy to dabble in a craft (or several) which gives you a fair bit of knowledge, but usually not enough to realise just how little you know.

There is a publication planned, so if you are interested, keep an eye out for it (hopefully next year).

*: The only one, iirc, who wasn’t an archaeologist himself.


What came up in several talks were different skill levels of craftsmen. The terms specialist and specialisation are often used in archaeology as an economic focus: the specialist supports themselves on their craft, rather than having the craft as part-time activity and income. However, when we’re discussing skill levels, specialist often means someone who has mastered a craft. Both Deborah Olausson (Scandinavian Bronze Age** flint daggers) and Maikel Kuipers (Bronze Age axes) talked about three different types of craftmen: 1) amateur/apprentice (learning by imitating, following instructions, poor work), 2) craftperson (knows the material, high quality work but not striving for perfection), 3) master crafter (very talented and skilled, takes greater risks in developing techniques). While archaeology often focusses on master craftsmen’s work, the majority of the actual finds assemblage would have been made by craftspersons.

These three types are of course not alway separate. A master crafter could have spent most of his/her time making basic work, which was what the customers wanted, and doing the occasional high quality object when there was demand for this. For example, the spectacular Bronze Age** type IV flint daggers from Scandinavia were made in a comparatively short time period, and compared to the number of daggers found, only a small number were made each year. It was not possible for a specialist flint knapper to have been focussed on only making this type of dagger.

**: Bronze Age in Scandinavia, late Neolithic in Britain/continental Europe

Kate Verhooijen spoke about faience beads in Bronze Age Britain. Faience is relatively easy to make, requiring silica (sand or crushed quartz or flint), flux (potash), a bit of water to bind them and heat. A metal oxide for colur is optional. However, there are few beads found in Britain, suggesting that they were made by itinerant craftsmen who kepts their craft secrets close. Some of the beads found are poorly made, possibly the work of apprentices, or someone trying to replicate the technology.

Andrew Appleby discussed grooved ware pottery from the Orkney islands, which he has made several reconstructions of (the pottery, not the islands :-)) . While the early neolithic pottery were made by good quality clay, grooved ware pots (from the late Neolithic/early Bronze Age) were made by really poor clay, and he suggested that rising sea levels may have rendered the good clay sites inaccessible during the later period. The clay is so rough with stone inclusions (and if you discard all stone inclusions, you will have nothing left to make your pot with!) that it removed the outer layer of skin from the potters’ fingers within a week. The presence of finger prints on archaeological sherds would indicate that it wasn’t the average potter who did the final work and/or decoration of the pots.

Sophie Bergenbrandt followed up on her talk at EAA on textile making, with examples from the Bronze Age up to the Saxon period. It’s easy to speak of textiles in the abstract, but once you go into the practicalities, you realise their relative worth. For example, it took the wool from five sheep to make the fabric for a Bronze Age cloak (not sure if she referred to one of the Danish bog finds, or the Swedish Gerum cloak, the latter previously thought to be Bronze Age, but radiocarbon dated to 360-100 BC, i.e. what in Scandinavia is the Pre-Roman Iron Age). If you wanted fine wool only, you would need 20 sheep. Likewise, a 100 square metre flax field would yield 8 kg flax seed (for oil), 3 kg good yarn and 3.1 kg coarser yarn of lesser quality. From the good yarn, you could make 6 Roman tunics. It can be difficult to estimate the time it took to spin the yarn used for warp and weft and for sewing the garments, as spinning speed comes with practice. Very few people in our industrial society spin regularly and extensively from a young age. However, it is well established that spinning was an important activity for most - if not all - women (I’ve no idea to what extent men were involved in spinning, and I guess it might be culturally dependent). Bergenbrandt mentioned that in Saxon village West Stow, in England, spindle whorls were found all over the place, whereas loom weights were only found in a few houses. She thinks this means that weaving was a specialised activity for a few women, but that spinning was carried out by most or all women in West Stow. A similar pattern for spindle whorls and loom weights is common in many settlements. My last weaving note concerns the practicalities of weaving: Preserved Bronze Age textiles from Hallstatt and Scandinavia show weft crossings, indicating that more than one person was involved in the weaving. Two weavers at the same loom can also be seen in Greek vase paintings and on the rock carvings at Val Camonica (Italy).



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Selection of Orkney grooved ware replica pots, with a pile of crappy Orkney clay in front.


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Replica pot, with smart handle tie. This way it's difficult to tip out what's in the pot.


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Faience beads in crucible, pre-firing.


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Selection of fired faience beads. The ones up on top was one of the first tries, before realising that using a metal rod would cause the whole thing to fuse. Now she's using reeds.


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Markus Bingeli (Switzerland) brought some replica bronze axes and jewellery. Very shiny! (literally!)
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ossamenta

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