Monday, 16 May 2011

Prehistoric Cave Art Discovered in Basque Country

According the National Geographic, Prehistoric cave art has been discovered in Basque Country dating back some 25,000 years.

The UK government published a Draft Heritage Protection Bill in April

Write an essay which critically assesses the main changes proposed in the document. How will these proposals impact on England’s heritage? What has been the response and involvement of lead bodies such as English Heritage, IFA, CBA, CPRE, ect?

Grade 2:1

The Draft Heritage Protection Bill was published in 2008 for England and Wales as a way of consolidating the many Acts passed by the government to protect the historic environment of England & Wales. The Heritage Protection Bill proposes a complete revision of the existing laws that protect the historic environment. It was an attempt to reform the following acts that professionals have become accustomed to over the years.

  • ·         The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 – for Scheduled Monument and Archaeological Areas.
  • ·         The Planning (Listed Building and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 – for Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas.
  • ·         The Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Act 1953 – for grant and acquisition powers.
  • ·         The Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 – for historic marine wrecks.

It will attempt to be a plan for a more simplified and assessable way of protecting the heritage of England and Wales. This is a positive step forward as it will make the protection measures more easily accessible for the public to understand and therefore attract interest for more people to be concerned about what happens to our heritage (DCMS 2008).

The Bill is however only a draft which was created for pre legislative scrutiny by anyone concerned with the protection, conservation and presentation of the historic environment. Many archaeological organisations will be affected by the by the new measures proposed in the Bill and have voiced their opinions as a result. Namely the institute for Field Archaeologist (IFA), the Council for British Archaeology (CBA), the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and perhaps most importantly English Heritage whom it will directly affect.

Overview of the main changes proposed

The Bill is made up of six major parts all of which will be summarised here. One of the most major changes to the laws governing the heritage protection of England and Wales is the responsibility for heritage assets in England will be transferred from the Secretary of State English Heritage. This will effectively put all powers over heritage in England and Wales out of the government’s hands and into the organisation English Heritage which owns and manages thousands of sites (English Heritage 2008).

In Wales however the process is different as they have their own equivalent called cadw which is a body of the Welsh Government. Therefore when the Bill becomes law it will be followed through by them and not their counterparts (CADW 2008).

The Bill will endeavour to elucidate on the existing laws which have in the past made identifying and designating heritage in England and Wales a complicated labyrinth of legislation which needed to be applied to all situations where the historic environment was concerned. For example Stonehenge is protected by The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979, but it is also a world Heritage site protected by English Heritage. This makes the laws governing the site a convolution of restricted access and extra administration.

One of the first outlines listed for change in the Heritage Protection Bill is the need for a public archive of the sites under protection of English Heritage and cadw. Part 1, chapter 1 of the bill states that

‘English Heritage must compile up to date registers of heritage assets.’ (DCMS 2008)

This is to be called the heritage register for England and Wales and will be made available online. A heritage asset is defined as:

  • Heritage structures,
  • Heritage open spaces,
  • World Heritage sites,
  • Marine heritage sites (could also be a world heritage site).

Lists of ‘assets’ will be easily available to the public along with their details, making this a very accessible and engaging way of presenting the information to amateurs and professionals alike. The list will also be an attempt to consolidate the existing system of Listed Buildings and Scheduled Ancient Monuments.

English Heritage and Cadw will also be required to consult the landowner when considering a site for designation. The land owner will also have the right to appeal against the decision to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. Therefore the owners have the right to legal protection whilst their case is being considered.

Local authorities will also be given extra power to grant historic assets consent taking away the responsibility from the government who currently grant Scheduled Monuments consent. English heritage will be available for advice if this becomes the case (English Heritage 2008).

There will be new laws governing the use of metal detectors making it an offence to remove from a site that affects it’s special interest. Because of the Bill’s consolidation of the existing legislation, the laws governing metal detectors will cover all areas regarded as heritage open spaces Taylor p 46 2008).

A new marine heritage license would give a procedure for making activities on marine heritage sites.

One change proposed has been particularly anticipated by archaeologist which are the Historic Environment records. Local authorities would be duty bound to create and maintain these. The records will be made publically available again making the information easily accessible unlike the existing methods of requesting for HER’s at your local authority. The HER’s will be known as registered heritage assets and will be free (ibib).
The main aim proposed in the Bill is to simplify the current system to engage the public in how our heritage is protected and why it is so important to do so. By doing this it will make the laws governing heritage assets much easier to process.

‘Creating a single Historic Asset Consent to replace existing separate forms of consent...this will alleviate the current conservation bottleneck which can slow down the planning process cases.’ (English Heritage 2008)


The Draft Heritage Protection Bill has been very much anticipated before its publication April 2008. Because of its immediate effect to archaeological remains and sites, leading bodies such as the IFA (Institute for Field Archaeologist) and CBA (Council for British Archaeology) have published their response to the changes proposed.

‘IFA was involved s a consultee during the drafting of the Bill...and has written to DCMS to congratulate on its progress so far.’ (Taylor 2008, 47)

The IFA’s broad development in archaeology would mean the changes proposed in the Bill would affect the way they practise. Therefore it was important that they give their own feedback as the IFA’s response will have influence over the new legislation and there may be some vital areas of failures which need to be pointed out. For the most part the changes are welcomed by the organisation however there were some key areas where archaeologist are concerned where details need to be considered.

There were considerations to be made on a number of points, namely that registered heritage assets may continue to be damaged by ploughing therefore it seems the Bill will not affect the existing laws to the degree that was anticipated. There was also concern over Work Heritage sites having no additional protection. As outlined, places like Stonehenge currently have a multitude of legislation to protect them and questions will need to be asked whether the proposed Bill will be capable of protecting important sites, which are not just of interest to people in England and Wales, but the world, as they currently are. Other issues pointed out by the IFA are the amount of funding needed to generate the changes put forward.

‘English Heritage has secured only half the £11 million it estimates that it will require.’ (Taylor 2008, 47)

It is suggested by Taylor (2008) that this would lead to overstretching of local authorities which can only lead to the detriment of the heritage concerned. For Wales however the story is better as the changes would lead to little rise in cost.

The Council for British Archaeology also published their response to the Bill in 2008. Their feedback on the whole was a positive one believing the changes will make for a stronger and more effective system. The CBA do however have some issues regarding the heritage asset consent process which requires permission for any works affecting the ‘assets’ special interest. This will take over the existing scheduled monument consent whereby permission is sought for any works. The newer system is therefore not as defined as the older one and relies on a lot more judgement. This point highlights the fact that some areas will require more guidance when the Bill becomes new legislation (CBA 2008).

The Bill also outlines ‘the duty to have regard’ which in current legislation refers to registered heritage structures and open spaces. The new system does not extend ‘the duty to have regard’ to nationally important sites of archaeological interest which are not registered therefore they will not be protected in the same way.

The IFA and CBA is a national amenity site which if the changes are put forward would need to work closely with English Heritage. It is therefore in their best interest to propose ways of protecting our heritage when it comes to archaeological remains as this is where they are most concerned.


The Campaign to Protect Rural England published a short response to the Bill on their website. They ask that the new Bill will offer the same protection that the existing legislation does.

‘We will be seeking safeguards to ensure that new arrangements maintain and do not erode Conservation Area status as a result of merging conservation area consent with planning consent.’ (CPRE 2008)

The concerns here are the same as others that the CPRE do not want the proposal of merging the legislation to affect how the heritage is currently protected. They do stress that the systems willonly work if it can be resourced properly, meaning that the new online system would have to work in order for the changes to have been worth it.


The English National Parks Authorities association represents all the national parks in England and they welcome the reform believing it to be long overdue. However some of the terminology has been scrutinised as the changes are meant to make availability to the public easier. They suggest that all encompassing words that people understand are a better way of presenting the information. For example, the word ‘landscape’ to replace ‘heritage structure.’

There is also some concern over the fact that new reforms would not be sufficient enough to replace the current legislation in protecting national parks, suggesting that additional protection may be needed.

Current Archaeology

The monthly publication, Current Archaeology, expressed their views on the draft heritage protection Bill.

There response was a speculative one as the Bill was yet to be published, however they do point out a number of issues to be considered.

‘The secretary of State may grant either general or specific consent for certain damaging works, This attitude has been deeply resented by many academics as it implies that all research is damage.’ (Selkrik 2003, 342)

This view is particularly insulting to practical archaeologists who carry out excavations on important sites as the negative language implies that all intrusive work on a site has no other gain than to destroy it.

It is proposed in the article that a site left to be destroyed by ploughing, dewatering or the passage of time should welcome all the research it can so we can have a better understanding of the site.


The response to the draft heritage protection Bill has been wide and varying as it directly affects the way that leading bodies and organisations in the field will have to work if the Bill becomes law. Most notably is English Heritage as all responsibility will be passed on to them. This is a huge responsibility and it is debatable as to whether they will have the funding to do so.

Most other organisations welcome the changes they do however have some major concerns about how well the reforms will actually be at protecting our heritage when put in to action.

The changes however may prove positive for the historic environment as a whole as making the information more accessible to the public will make the subject more of a concern to the general public and not just to the specialist. This may inevitably generate more funding for the protection of sites that people will have a better understanding of.

The Bill could have an extensive impact on England’s heritage as the protection of sites and monuments will be entirely different. There are a vast number of organisations that work for the historic environment and people will have to be educated and trained in how to effect the changes. It will also affect England’s heritage as most organisations have expressed concern over the new protections being adequate enough, and most people have suggested that better protection will be need to be added to the Bill in order to implement the changes.


Publication of Draft (CADW)
British Archaeology
English Heritage
Selkirk, Current  Archaeology
Taylor, The Archaeologist

How did the Roman Military Occupation of Northern Britain Impact Upon Local British Society and Economy?

Grade: 2:1

The Roman Army was extremely important in explaining the success of the Romans and the expansion of the Roman Empire. The army that invaded Britain in 43AD at the command of Emperor Claudius differed in structure from the one that gradually slipped under local control as the province became independent in the 5th Century.

The army was not completely shut away in permanent camps, and doubtless soldiers had the opportunity to exploit their superior power and status against civilians. Individual soldiers journeyed through a province on official business or as couriers on the public post or on their way to and from leave regularly. Soldiers when on the move and far from their base must have continually helped themselves to the basic needs of life, and the terrified civilians gave in, hoping at least to escape more serious injury. Requisitions of animals and provisions, usually carried out by soldiers were a major source of grievance to the civilian population. When soldiers exceeded their authority and added violent aggression to illegality, the burden became intolerable (J.B. Campbell).

In frontier provinces the army was the main agent for introducing romanisation into the barbarian areas. This was especially necessary in those territories which lacked the native infrastructure to support an urban society (Webster, 1998). Roman societies were further developed by small civilian towns called Vicus, which grew up around the Roman forts. These were inhabited by women, children, craftsmen, traders, and retired soldiers who brought garrisons such as Hadrian’s Wall to life. Military camps ordinarily were planted for strategic reasons, near centers of travel-bridgeheads, crossroads, mountain passes or other natural focuses of trade and traffic; or they appeared in desolate regions where settled life had been impossible before, and now under the protection of legionary walls, could flourish for the first time. The soldiers wanted a variety of food, wine or beer beyond the army ration, women, and a change from army routine. That meant that inns, shops & brothels for immediate needs. The army was also a voracious customer for meat, corn and leather and some traders would be paid above the quotas supplied as a tribute. The army forts and settlements were therefore a lure for men and women who had anything to sell. The army presence in the settlements helped them to prosper and develop economically from the trade that the soldiers were consuming. It may have been true in Britain that some of the tribes in South East under the influence of Roman trade introduced by Caesar had reached the degree of social integration suggested by Professor Cunliffe (1976), but it is very doubtful if this applied to the people of the Midlands and the North (Webster, 1998).

The relationship of the Roman soldier to the civilian was very different. For the most part the armies were stationed in the less developed regions of the empire, and to some degree they could legitimately be considered to be the torchbearers of civilization (Watson, 1969). Roman governors and high ranking officials, military and civil, spread the Roman way of life, not through any sense of duty, but because this was the only acceptable way, and they would fail to understand people who had the means yet rejected the concept. Soldiers always had words to lend, technical or slang. In areas little Romanized, inscriptions became more often Latin, and better Latin, as one approaches a legionary camp from which radiated the chief forces of Romanization (R. MacMullen, 1963).

The coming of the Romans in Northern Britain saw a radical change to the economy. As the Roman army moved further and further outwards from the South-East of Britain, they introduced the standard Roman currency into the tribal areas that they conquered. The Romans brought their own method of taxation which meant each tribe had to pay a levy to a central government based on the yield of crops and consumable items they produced. If a community showed undue reluctance to pay it’s taxes the military may be posted there as an exactor tributorum’s (Special tax collectors) (Webster, 1998). The distribution of silver between between the inner and frontier provinces was never even. Up until the Severan era there was always far more bronze coin lost in Britain than silver, especially in comparison with France and Italy. But then when the army pay raises, the picture on the frontiers radically changed (J.Creighton 1996). More silver coinage was being paid to the army in the North, but appears that the amount of trade to return money back to the provinces to the heart of the empire was no longer sufficient to repatriate a lot of that silver. In the Severan period the picture changed. Hoards near the army in the North all have a far higher proportion of freshly minted coin of the Severan dynasty in comparison to those anywhere else in the country. It may be that the army on the wall had more silver than it could deal with. Soldiers didn’t spend it on luxuries from abroad, or even from Southern Britain, otherwise the coin would have moved. Either they simply had more money than they could spend and they just sat on it, or else locally prices went up to such a degree that the money never left the area. Their large pay increases stimulated Northern Britain, however, didn’t stimulate the economy of Britain, as it didn’t trickle down elsewhere (J.Creighton, 1996).

The Roman complex of Trimontium was built in 79AD in the village of Newstead, one mile east of Melrose in Scotland. Trimontium consists of a large fort, surrounded by four settlements, a military amphitheatre, and a field system. Settlements grew all round the fort to house trading and industrial activities for their workers. In the East annex evidence has been found of the public house end entertainment area for the troops; large residential houses for the stallholders trying to make their fortune on the frontier. The South Annex had both an industrial estate and agricultural buildings attached to the outlying fields. When the Antonine Wall was built in the early 140s AD, Trimontium gave up its role as a forward post and became a support fort in the rear. Military built complexes such as Trimontium, encouraged trade and helped the local settlements economies flourish.

The army was responsible for law and order in the provinces as well as their defense and in effect acted as a police force. Settlements benefited from this law and authority and anarchy and disorder was reduced. The Roman armies went to a large extent in possession of skills and technical expertise which was uncommon in the surrounding population and the application of which in civilian contexts aroused admiration even more than the resentment. It was therefore comparatively easy for them to carry out tasks which would be of immediate practical value to the local community as well as to the empire as a whole. The most obvious of these tasks is road building. The army became more static with the accession of Hadrian, and this encouraged the building of permanent camps and fortifications. When these were completed it was a natural step for the men to turn their building skills upon the provinces with in which they were stationed, both to embellish them with fine buildings and to protect them with fortifications.

The emperor Hadrian came to the imperial throne in 117A.D. He decided that the Empire in Britain needed securing, not expanding and in 122A.D. he gave to order to build a wall across the Northern frontier. Build it they did; eighty miles worth, following the Northern escarpment of the Valleys of the Tyne, Irthing and Eden between Newcastle and Carlisle. The wall seemed to encourage the growth of civilian settlements close to the major legendary forts, to the south of the ditch. These settlements, or vici, sprawled in unplanned confusion, in contrast to the regulation army forts. South of the wall the army cultivated friendships and developed trade to the general benefit of the population, to the north of the wall they applied the cruel strategies of subjugation and domination. At the time of building Hadrian’s Wall the Roman army was perhaps at the peak of it’s efficiency. The native settlements are no nearer than five miles to Hadrian’s Wall on the North, and in the area of the wall itself there is only one, the second century site at Milking gap near housesteads. However, the army seems to have ended forcibly the occupation of this settlement and roads were built for military purposes which also opened up communications (Breeze and Dobson, 1976). In the later years of the Empire, when the wall was allowed to lapse, it appears that some of the civilians moved into the forts. Finds have been made of Women’s rings inside the barracks area.

In 138AD Antonius Pius succeeded Hadrian as Emperor of Rome. To mark the Northernmost extent of Roman territory in Britain he decided to build a wall to rival that of his predecessor. The Antonine Wall spans the narrowest portion of lowland Scotland. Unlike it’s more solid southern counterpart, the Antonine Wall was built of turf fronted by a ditch 12 feet deep. The wall was 10 feet high and 14 feet wide and dotted with 28 small military forts linked by a road. As a defensive barrier the Antonine wall did not fulfill it’s role for long. In 181 the Northern tribes poured over the wall and pushed the Romans back to Hadrian’s wall. The Roman’s finally abandoned any hope of regaining the territory between the two walls in 196 AD.

The Roman military occupation of Northern Britain made a heavy impact on the local British society and economy. The presence and the wealth of the army in small settlements help trade to prosper and to grow. The military also provided protection from invading tribes, Hadrian’s wall for example, which allowed societies to grow and develop their economy and society without the fear of invasion. However, the heavy military presence, especially in the North around Hadrian’s wall, would have prevented the growth of an administrative elite and it’s urban development and associated institutions. As soon as the army withdrew from Britain, all vestiges of ‘Romanization’ went with it (Eck, W, 1999).


Blagg, Thomas. (1990) The Early Roman Empire, Oxbow Books

Breeze, J. and Dobson, B (1976) Hadrians Wall, Penguin Books

Campbell, J.B. (1984) The Emperor and the Roman Army, Clarendon Press

Crieghton, John (1996) Tight-fisted soldiers of Roman Britain, British Archaeology, No.18

De La Bedoyere, Guy. (1999) The Golden Age of Roman Britain, Tempus

Goldsworthy, A.K. (1996) The Roman Army at War, 100BC – AD200, Clarendon Paperbacks

Potter, T.W. (1979) Romans in Northwest England, Titus Wilson and Son ltd.

Watson, G.R. (1969) The Roman Soldier, Thames and Hudson

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The Symposion-Idea and the Import of Luxury Pottery and Metal Vessels in the Hallstatt-Early La-Tene Period

The term ‘symposion’ is used to describe the spirited tradition in which feasting, drinking and celebration takes place. This banqueting tradition had been present in Central Europe for generations, but an influx of Greek symposion linked material introduced by the Greeks in the Sixth & Seventh century BD had a large impact.  But did the new presence of Greek culture just purely enhance the already practiced Celtic traditions, or did it bring forward a whole new banqueting and feasting format? This will be discussed throughout.

The first inhabitants of central Europe made their way into the Greek sphere beyond the Rhone Valley. This can be verified by the first unfired-brick wall from the Heuneburg, which was built around 600BC and was certainly modelled after the Greek fortifications. In the 7th century and in the first half of the 6th century the North of Italy found itself acting as a filter between the two territories, although this did not prevent a lively period of cultural exchanges between the Celtic and Mediterranean world, this contact led to a cultural blossoming (Moscati, 1991, 56). Due to this, small amounts of Mediterranean imports were present, but not on a large scale. The surge of importation from the Mediterranean began when Phoenician Greeks established a colony on the coast in Southern France, which is not modern day Marseille. Luxury goods were exchanged between these two societies, in particular vessels filled with wine, hence pottery and metal containers used to mix, serve and drink the wine followed. These new luxuries and the culture behind them spread throughout the Celtic Princely societies. Evidence for this drinking phenomenon is eminent in the graves and hill-fort sites of the Late Hallstatt to the Early La-Tene period.

These new trade links were the major cause of social and culture change within the Greek world and among the societies with whom they traded. In the Western Hallstatt area contact between Greek and Barbarian was both direct and extensive (Collis, 1984, 84). The importation of goods, primarily luxury pottery and metal vessels was most likely caused by several reasons. Firstly, the foundation of Marseilles near the mouth of the Rhone flourished, and created a perfect trade route straight to the Western Hallstatt area. Secondly, the evolution of a hierarchical society in South-West Germany and Eastern France became the recipient of this trade, exchanging goods for these imports and encouraging commerce.

Three elite sites, the Heuneburg, Asperg and Mont Lassois lie on the rivers leading away from the Rhone-Saone route and the Britzgyberg lies on the gap controlling the route from the Rhone-Doubss onto the upper Rhine. These powerful chiefdoms most probably controlled the redistribution of goods to the South (Cunliffe, 1990, 198).

Significant amounts of imported Mediterranean pottery have been found at Mont Lassois. The nearby tumulus of Vix contains a magnificent range of Mediterranean symposion-linked vessels and imports. The body in the burial is female and was buried with personal items 4 wagon wheels. The grave is accompanied by all of the equipment appropriate to the symposion. A great krater, or wine storage vessel was discovered, which is the largest ancient bronze object that has ever been found. A precious gold torque and jugs, bowls and cups, which were all imported from different parts of the classical world during the last decade of the 6th century were also found. The huge krater that weighed 205kg was unlikely to have been transported whole. The figures that run around the Frieze have Greek letters scratched on them which correspond to the letters on the body of the vessel, which were concealed when the figures were scolded on them. Greek craftsmen were most likely needed to put this vessel together, which would mean trade took place on a direct personal level. The Krater was a one-off design and would have been highly expensive to make, therefore it would have been a special order (Cook, 1979, 153), which signifies the strong trading relationship. The Vix krater and gold torque that were both found within the tumulus would have both been items of diplomatic and royal status. This shows that trade is administered at a high level of administrative centres (Collis, 1985, 84). The nearby burial site called ‘Tumulus de la Garenne’ of Sainte-Colombe also contained superb specimens of symposion artefacts. The remains of a bronze cauldron were found and also the remains of a tripod and wagon. The Bronze cauldron was a magnificent piece with gryphon protomes. According to Hopkins (1957, 335) these cauldrons which are adorned with the protome heads of animals and griffons appear as early as the 7th century from Etruria. They would have been filled with beverages and would have certainly been high prestige items. Therefore in order to invest such wealth towards the symposion signifies the importance and the desire to possess such objects.

The ‘Symposion-Culture’ and Mediterranean imports appear to perform a significant role within the burial customs. The Late Hallstatt graves were more lavishly decorated to their counterparts, in comparison much greater effort was put into the manufacture of goods in graves. The princely burials in Late Hallstatt D show extraordinary evidence for the extensive adoption of the symposion culture. Material culture within the graves reflects the inter-relations of a society and it is a medium through which the participants conceptualise their view of society and through which it is recognisable for other material culture is a contemporary means of expression and communication. Funerary practices are constitutive for the formation of the society (Diepeveen-Jansen, 2001, 86).

The elite systems of the late Hallstatt period are characterised by the appearance of comparatively large quantities of Mediterranean imports found both in the major hill-forts and the Princely burials (Cunliffe, 1999, 115). During the Hallstatt period, the composition of drinking ware in the elite graves does not change. The combination usually consists of a bronze vessel in the form of a bucket or cauldron, a sieve and ladling and drinking ware. At the end of this period towards Hallstatt D3 the tradition of deposition ware in graves changes in several respects. First the drinking services were also given to women, although these are by far the minority. Secondly, indigenous products are replaced by Greek and Etruscan ware (Diepeveen-Jansen, 2001, 45).

The Hochdorf burial contains a spectacle of Mediterranean goods. There was a service set for banquets and drinking ceremonies. 9 drinking horns were hung on the walls of the chamber. On the wagin there were 9 bronze plates with 3 large platters of the same material. This implies that a funeral banquet could have been planned for 9 people. Could this perhaps suggest a feast for the afterlife, which would indicate the importance of the symposion in their everyday lives? Cunliffe (1991, 161) believes that the drinking items at Hochdorf were clearly intended to smooth the way for the deceased and his companions into the world beyond. It has been proposed (Wells, 1998, 18) that the identity of elite individuals, that consist of social leaders and providers within the communities were emphasised by the outfitting graves such as Hochdorf with equipment used in the feasting rituals. The enormous vessels like the krater at Vix would have been filled with wine. It’s immense size indicates the large scale and sumptuousness of some of these banquets. There is such an emphasis on drinking and feasting rituals within these graves that it must have been of fundamental importance within society. Arnold (2001, 215) states that it was a Celtic commonality to believe in a form of existence after death which involved feasting, drinking and differential social relationships corresponding to the world of the living.
These Mediterranean imports were only found at elite centres. The site of Rottenburg near Tubingen, dating to Hallstatt D3, is much smaller and gives an example of a burial on a more local level. It does not contain any imports at all. It has been proposed (Arnold, 2001, 216) that the princely institutions designated that only certain ideas were acceptable within society and burial customs and that burial ritual falls so clearly into an area of group expression that is explicitly public. Therefore, burial was a medium for expressing a wide range of social messages. Therefore the burial of Rottenburg is one of individual choice, not being forced to conform. However, in my opinion, the most obvious reason for this lack of symposion ware and Mediterranean imports is simply due to the fact that these smaller isolated sites cannot afford them.

Artefacts found in funerary sites however, tell us primarily about the assemblage deemed necessary and desirable within a tomb and possible for use in the after-life, it would be naive just to assume that they reflect conditions and usage in life (Diepeveen-Jansen, 2001, 351). Depositing drinking and feasting equipment in graves however, may not be purely due to the introduction of the Greek symposion. The customs of depositing drinking equipment in graves in Central Europe can be traced to a long tradition rooted in an Indo-European body of thought. Even so, by looking at the pre-Late Hallstatt graves, you can see significantly less amount of symposion-related deposits. The culturally defined reformation of these earlier ‘Celtic’ ideas and values in the late Hallstatt period is achieved under the influence of Mediterranean contacts, but it is the historically specific circumstances in the transalpine societies which determine and enable the elite to select exotic elements in their drinking services. The value of imports and their potential as prestige goods is also assessed by what they replace (Diepeveen-Jansen, 2001, 352). During the late Hallstatt to Early La-tene period, it is the material and source of the grave goods that change, the categories of material culture involved (drinking and feasting) does not (Arnold, 2001, 217).
The symposion culture present in Central Europe during the late Hallstatt period was not simply a mirror image of the Greek practice, in fact the two differed substantially. The Greeks recline on elaborate klinai, mix wine in large vessels and hired entertainers such as musicians, acrobats and prostitutes. The religious-philosophical character and it’s secure and frank environment provided a context to intellectual debate, friendly and genial association, and the uninhibited enjoyment of social pleasures (Henderson, 1). Within the Odyssey, Homer writes about social gatherings that seem to take place in the symposion format, although based a bit earlier than the Late Hallstatt D period it is a good source for comparison. For example, when the King speaks to the Phoenicians while entertaining; “Captains and Councillors of the Phoenicians, listen to me. We have eaten together and listened to the lyre that goeswith good food, to our hearts content. Let us go outside now and try skills at various sports, so that when our guest has reached his home he can tell his friends that at boxing, wrestling, jumping and running there is no one that can beat us.”  It is these Ancient authors such as Homer, along with pottery decorated with symposion scenes and the archaeological remains of symposion areas and equipment that help to illustrate the nature of the Greek symposion.

The term ‘trinkfest’ has been applied to the traditional Celtic formality of banqueting. Within the typical Celtic trinkfest men and warriors all feast outdoors in makeshift surroundings. When studying the 5th century BC, none of the accounts we have indicate a corresponding transformation of the ‘Celtic Trinkfest’ into anything resembling the sophistication of the Greek Symposion (Witt, 1997) but simply an adoption of Greek material goods to use within their own trinkfest tradition. There are other differences between these two cultures during this period. The world of the dead and the world of the living are closely situated in Hallstatt culture and in the Mediterranean they separate both widely. Cunliffe (1991, 151) argues that the Celts’ concept of life after death bore little or no relation to the Greek’s somber idea of an underworld where the souls lived on without their shadows, and from looking at the Hallstatt graves it appears that they have some kind of belief in their afterlife. These are large aspects of culture and for the Hallstatt culture not to follow suggests that beyond their choice of Symposion goods and trades, they were not trying to emulate the Greek customs and their way of life.

This new influx of Mediterranean material and culture would have undoubtedly had an effect on the local development within societies. In the Hallstatt culture, social and ceremonial drinking had an important place in the elite lifestyle and they seemed to be familiar with the way in which imported ware was used. Archaeological evidence shows that Symposion-linked artefacts are mainly found at princely centres, which proves it was primarily used by members of the elite. It seems that society was becoming more complex in the Early Iron Age, which required more levels of differentiation to adjust the increasingly complex interactions between individuals and groups. Foreign imports would have been used to form an essential aspect of the identity of the individuals that used them, because it linked them with the larger cosmopolitan outside world (Wells, 1998, 19). It is commonly believed, (Wells, 1996, 4 & Collis, 1984, 94) that through the stimulation of Greek trade, the chiefs gained superior social positions than existed in the dispersed economic and social configurations of the earlier period. The personal acquisition of prestige created a social dynamic: prestige and rank were obtained by means of the importation of goods, especially for use in ceremonial feasts in which everyone would participate according to their social status (Audoze and Buchsenschutz, 1991, 171). The prestige goods model discussed by Gosden (1985, 485) proposes that power is not based directly upon the regulation and exploitation of the production of food and necessities, but rests on the controlled movement of socially important items. The most prized of which are often obtained in external trade with another group organised on different social and economic principles. In the late Hallstatt period, there luxury vessels were at the height of social importance.

The symposion phenomenon and the importation of luxury and pottery vessels would have had effects on wider contexts within settlements. This new wealth, acquired with new Mediterranean trading contacts enabled the princely cultures to trade with other indigenous societies, establish other trade links and secure the resources needed to engage in the importation of metal vessels and other valuable items that were important in local systems of prestige and politics (Harms, 1996). The economic organisation around the late Hallstatt period appears to have shifted from an economy based on the satisfaction of local needs to a centralised one based intimately on the production of surpluses for export to the Greek world (Wells, 1996, 4). Societies would have also required investment and the ability to concentrate a surplus for the preparation of locally made alcoholic drink to cater for the symposion drinks that were not imported. The symposion culture pulled in colossal amounts of expensive goods. Vast contents of these feasting and luxury items were used and disposed of in burial for dead aristocracy. This would have put huge pressure on the economy and it may not have been able to sustain such a high level of consumption. This may have been one of the causes for the disappearance of the Princely cultures around the beginning of the La-Tene period. It is also likely that the Princely cultures of the Hallstatt period would have exchanged things of high value for these imported Greek objects and wine. Wine was also considered to carry a great value of prestige. This constant exchange of goods for wine, which would then be drunk among the elite, may have also been very difficult to maintain.

There are still many questions surrounding the influence of the Greek symposion in Central Europe during the late Hallstatt to early La-Tene period. The main questions surrounding the symposion is whether or not the phenomenon was an imitation of the symposion, which then encouraged the importation of Greek vessels, or whether with the new influx of trade brought it with it the symposion culture, which then caused the symposion culture to blossom. It was in all probability a concoction of the both. The new trade routes were without a doubt the main stimulant, which let this new cultural flood surge into Central Europe. There is much evidence to show that the ceremonial culture of feasting and drinking within the ‘celtic’ world goes far back to the Indo-European influences, and this Greek influence probably just refined this practice into a more savoury light. On the other hand, it has also been noted that not only the Greek goods that appear in settlement and burial contexts are Symposion-related for aristocratic drinking customs and other Greek imports such as jewellery and weapons are a rarity, simply indicating that the ‘celts’ chose these objects purely for their use within the symposion practice. These selected goods were then acquired by the elites in order to reflect an opulent civilisation and high status within the society. The ‘celtic’ princes almost certainly learnt and grasped the tradition of the Greek symposion as a contribution towards their previously established culture and picked Mediterranean goods that appealed to their celtic taste. The adaptation towards these Mediterranean cultures is especially clear in the Early La-Tene period, the celts began to imitate and locally produce Mediterranean style vessels.

Audouze, Francois and Buchsenschutz, Olivier (1991) Towns, Villages and Countryside of Celtic Europe (BCA)
Collis, John (1984) The European Iron Age (Batsford)
Cunliffe, Barry (1979) The Celtic world (The Bodley head)
Diepveen-Jansen, Marian (2001) Peoples, Ideas and Goods (Amsterdam University Press)
Moscati, Sabatino (1991) The Celts (Thames and Hudson)
Wells, Peter.S (1984) Farms, Villages and Cities – Commerce and Urban Origins in Late Prehistoric Europe (Cornell University Press)
Arnold, Bettina (2001) The limits of agency in the analysis of elite Iron Age burials. The journal of social archaeology, volume 1, pp 210-224. 

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Prehistoric Gift Exchange

Grade: 1st

The concept of ‘gift exchange’ has been widely applied in archaeological interpretations, particularly those relating to prehistoric societies. Outline the key types and elements of gift exchange using ethnographic and archaeological examples to illustrate your answer. Briefly comment on the considerations that should accompany the use of ethnographic studies you include.

Marcel Mauss, a French sociologist was the first to come up with and study the idea of gift exchange. In which societies reinforced relationships by the exchange of gifts. However it was not merely as simple as this. The theory of gift exchange occurs mainly in societies which lack a monetary economy. This makes the act of giving much more significant and consequently a bigger process revolves around it. Not only does the act set up social dynamics it also sets an obligation on the receiver of the gift to return the act with another gift. This makes gift exchange a very social process.

By studying current ethnographic societies who still take part in gift exchange as a way of life and by looking at archaeological evidence we can build a picture of the many types of gift exchange and the way in which people would have acted this out. However it is important to factor in the idea of ethnocentrism when looking at how other cultures carried out gift exchange. We cannot judge other cultures from the perspective of our own. Western societies will have preconceived ideas of value and equivalences which cannot be applied to others.

Down the line exchange

Louriston Sharp studied the Australian nomadic tribe called the Yir Yiront who practised a form of down the line exchange. The technology central to their existence was the stone axe. However because of a lack of natural resources they were unable to manufacture their own and instead acquired them through exchange. The value of these objects was measured in their distance from the source of the material to make them and therefore unavailability of the raw material. Because the stone axes were seen as a prized commodity tribal elders alone were allowed to own them however those that would have used the stone axes were manual labourers and therefore not elite enough to own them. This meant that the objects would have to be borrowed within the tribe from fathers and uncles ect. (Williams 2008)

The circulation of early Neolithic pottery and stone axes can be used as an example of down the line exchange. In this case is it not just the artefacts that are moving around from their origin but also the raw materials as well. There are example of flint nodules coming from the south and east of Britain and being moved to western and northern parts of Britain. Certain types of pottery have also been seen to move in this way during the Neolithic. A round based pottery called Hembury ware made out of a distinctive type of clay called gabbroic which is found in the Lizard in Cornwall has also been found in Dorset and Wiltshire showing that materials were being moved from community to community. We can infer from this evidence that if there was a movement of objects and raw materials then also a movement of ideas would have occurred as well (Edmonds 1995 55-56). 

“Many of these dispersal patterns are likely to be the result of hand-to-hand contact rather than bulk trade.” (Edmonds 1995 56)

The quote suggests that from looking at the dispersal evidence that the word trade cannot be applied here. The movement of pottery and stone axes was small scale and most likely only carried out by elite individuals.

“It is useful to consider the role of the gift in non-capitalists societies, where identities are closely tied to the possession and use of things. (Edmonds 1995 56)

Relationships and bonds were created by the act of gift giving in the Neolithic and greatly aided the movement of ideas between communities. Also as the gift is past from person to person it must acquire a history which refers to the social process of the exchange of objects and also to future ties and obligations which must go hand in hand with the act of gift giving in these ancient societies.

Complex Gift exchange

Bronislaw Milinowski made an extensive study of circulating exchange systems of artefacts within the Kula ring in Eastern New Guinea. Exchange here was an expedition which could often be perilous however it was a very integral part of their tribal life.

“It is based primarily upon the circulation of two articles of high value, but of no real use, these are arm shells made of the Conus Millepunctatus, and necklets of red shell-shell discs, both intended for ornaments, but hardly ever used.” (Malinowski 1920 97)

Another aspect of the Kula exchange systems very complex rules is that a lifelong relationship has to have been made by any participant in the Kula whether these are people in their community or overseas communities. These partnerships are called Karayta’u and they are on mutual obligations to exchange with one another. Not only is this partner supposed to also be open to exchange with only those in their partnership but they are also obliged to offer assistance when ever needed of which this act would of course be returned in some way. As we can see there is an intense social process that revolves around the giving and receiving of these objects (Milinowski 1920 98).

However the objects are not always the focus of exchange, Livestock and food can also be part of the process.

“All these trading systems are based upon the exchange of indispensable or highly useful utilities, such as pottery, sago, canoes, dried fish and yams.” (Milinowski 1920 97)

This quote proves that not all objects exchanged as part of the Kula ring have no real use like the necklaces and bracelets. As we can see food and even the canoes were traded?

There is also a very complex system of utilitarian exchanges where the objects never remain in one person’s hands for any lengthy period of time. Thus the armshells and necklets are never really owned by anyone, they are in a constant cycle. What is made very clear by the people that use the Kula ring is the idea of equivalence. Once an object is put forward for an exchange the return gift from the receiving party must at some point return a gift of equivalence. If a new object is found to be particularly prized then the fame of it spreads throughout the Kula tribes and offerings will be made to obtain it, these offerings come in the form of food such as bananas and yams, or even objects of great value are offered such as axes (Milinowski 1920 98).

Because of the social connotations of the people that are allowed to exchange the gift, the very act of being the gift giver can make you the ‘Big Man.’ This can be applied to exchanges during the Neolithic in Britain. 

“The evidence may reflect a social order which has much in common with what anthropologists term ‘Big Man’ systems.” (Edmonds 1995 133-124)

As will be seen later the concept of the ‘Big Man’ can not only be applied to the gift giver but also the main chiefs and elite individuals or communities which lead to the organisation of construction in Neolithic Britain of Causewayed Enclosures which have been termed ‘areans for exchange’ (Thomas 1999 38).
Incremental Gift exchange

An ethnographic example of incremental gift exchange is that of the Moka tribes of Mount Hagen in Papua New Guinea, who exchange items with the neighbouring tribe of Enga Tee. The value of an item here is determined by the amount of time and skill involved in making it, also value may be placed on an item that is seen to have pedigree or a myth behind it associated with its ancestral origin. Their most highly valued gifts of exchange are pigs.

“The antiquity of pigs in the highlands date back to perhaps 9000 or 10,000 years, which suggests their fundamental role in the historical exchange economies of the region.” (Feil 1982 292)

The role of pigs in their exchange systems became vastly important to a persons social standing. The pigs were also used as a source of food so their value as exchange items had to weigh up against their use as valuable sources of protein. Because of the value of pigs they were used to promote someone’s social prestige, for example, to gain wives and compensate enemies. The concept of the ‘Big Man’ is therefore very relevant here. In many ways the Moka exchange system can be compared to that of the Kula ring. However the exchange is not an exchange of equivalence meaning that once you have received a gift you would then have to better the initial gift, this type of exchange can lead to fighting.

“Styles of leadership emphasise the importance of male achievement, the ability to marshal wealth and mobilise supporters, to engage in wars and settle argument.” (Strathern 1979 530) 

Because of the Kula’s exchange of equivalence it never leads to fighting and therefore they are a peaceful society. Whereas the Moka always have to better the initial gift causing fighting and the outbreak of wars. 

Moka use stone symbols of pigs when meeting to exchange gifts this can be compared to Neolithic causewayed enclosures (‘arenas of exchange’ J. Thomas and F. Pryor).


“The concept of reciprocity is one of the fundamental drives to action among the Moari.” (MacCormack 1976 92)

What this means can again be compared to the exchange systems of the Kula ring where importance is placed on equivalent return of a gift. However with the Moari, New Zealand, the idea of compensation is also applied to certain situations. For example, in extreme cases if a person has killed someone in your family then family members would be allowed to take the life of the killer and if not they could even kill a member of his family. When this same concept is applied to gift exchange it becomes important to return a gift of equivalent value. However you are also obliged to give as much as you can afford (MacCormack 1976 92-93)

Potlach is a north American Indian term meaning a variety of things to do with gift exchange including to feed and to consume, to exchange gifts and place of being situated. All of this is carried out at a ceremony or festival.

“Potlach is an example of a total system of giving, each gift is part of a reciprocity in whivh the honour of the giver and the recipient are engaged.” (Mauss 1969 forward xi)

Potlach could be said to encompass all of the many types of gift exchange mentioned here. One example of a society using potlatch is the Kwakiuti tribes studied by Frank Boas 1924. The tribe practise ceremonies at winter which are controlled by noble members of the tribe.

“Only the two head chiefs can become cannibal dancers.” (Boas 1924 331)

Kwakiuti trbes and R. Bradley c. consumption in the Bronze age meaning ritual feasting links to storage and over collection

Briefly comment on the considerations that should accompany the use of ethnographic studies that you include.


BOAS, F., 1924. The social organisation of the tribes of the North Pacific coast. American Anthropologist. 26 (3), 323-332

EDMONDS, M., 1995. Stone tools and society: Working stone in Neolithic and Bronze Age Britain. B T Batsford Ltd. London.

FEIL, D. K., 1982. From Pigs to Pearlshells: The Transformation of a New Guinea Highlands Exchange Economy. American Ethnologist. Vol 9, No 2. Economic and Ecological Processes in Society and Culture. 291 - 306

MACCORMACK, G., 1976. Reciprocity. Man. 20 (1), 89-103

MALINOWSKI, B., 1920. Kula; Circulating exchange of valuables in the Archipelagoes of Eastern New Guinea. Man, 20, 97-105.

MAUSS, M., 1969. The Gift: The form and reasons for exchange in the archaic societies. Translated from French by W. D. Halls. Routledge. London

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF SCOTLAND., Knife of Irish flint. (Photograph). National Museum of Scotland. ?)

STRATHERN, A., 1979. Gender, Ideology and Money in Mount Hagen. Man. 14, (3) 530-548 

SZANO, N., 2005. Armband used in the Kula exchange. (photograph) Unemumerated. (Assessed 16 November 2005) 

THOMAS, J., 1999. Understanding the Neolithic. Routledge Taylor and Francis group. London.

WILLIAMS, M., 2008. Ethics, Information Systems, and a Steel Ax.Available from: (assessed 2008)

ZINKOVA, M., 2000. Kula bracelet with insert. (Photograph) Wikipedia. (Assessed 14th January 2008)