Session 11 – Life on the move: The movement of people and things in prehistoric contexts

Timetable: Saturday morning 0930-1300 in the Janet Spector Zoom Room.

Format: Standard

Organisers: Jess Bates​ ​and Andy Needham


Movement is ubiquitous in life and so an important consideration in archaeology, whether in regards to the movement of people through landscapes, exchange and circulating of artefacts, or the gestures of the body in action. In prehistory, the insights that these movements provide enable interpretations of otherwise invisible interactions between individuals and groups, humans and objects. The varying scales of movement can provide further nuance to our understanding of life in prehistory, from the transport of tools across sites, or the socio-technical gestures of the body enacted in the production of those tools, scaling to the analysis of exchange networks or relationships with landscape through movement, or repeated visitation and the formation of persistent places.
The subject of movement in prehistory is an interdisciplinary one, which relies upon the use of a range of different theoretical and methodological approaches. This session aims to bring together and explore a diverse array of approaches to movement in all its forms, scales, and contexts. We welcome papers that contribute theory-led case studies which focus on the exploration and understanding of movement in any of its applications in prehistory. Case studies with a sensitivity to both theoretical and methodological considerations and their integrations are welcomed. This might include but, is not limited to: object biography; chaîne opératoire; ethnography; bioarchaeological methods (isotope analysis, ancient DNA analysis, osteology, zooarchaeology); technological and/or functional analysis (refitting, microwear analysis, residue analysis, SEM analysis); spatial analysis (GIS); computational approaches (agent based modeling). 


0930 – Introduction

0935 – Hidden Depths: A view on ancestry change and genetic kinship in Chalcolithic to Early Bronze Age Britain

Tom Booth, Francis Crick Institute; Joanna Bruck, University College Dublin; Selina Brace, Natural History Museum; Ian Barnes, Natural History Museum.

With some notable exceptions, archaeogenetic studies of prehistoric Europe have tended to operate at low temporal and spatial resolutions. Some of these studies have found evidence of ancestry change indicative of substantial movements of people, but without finer-scale information it has been difficult to resolve these changes with local archaeologies and theorise the potential social mechanisms involved. However, hidden within the supplementary materials of these ostensibly low-resolution studies, is finer-scale information ripe for theorisation. Here we discuss details of ancestry change and genetic relatedness in Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age samples from Britain reported in the supplementary materials of Olalde et al. (2018). These results suggest that the large-scale (>90%) shift in ancestry we see in Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age Britain did involve movements of communities of people into Britain, but that the overall shift in ancestry is likely to have taken place fairly gradually, over as many as 17 generations. Probable bias in the funerary record obscures the persistence of groups largely related to the Neolithic populations of Britain over this period of time. The way genetically closely-related individuals as well as genetically unrelated people are referenced within and between cemeteries hints at significant variability in how biological relationships were given social meaning.

0950 – Mapping paths in the sea. Coastal navigation systems in the Balearic Islands during the Late Bronze Age 

Manuel Calvo Trias, University of the Balearic Islands and Alejandra Galmés Alba, University of the Balearic Islands

Navigation is a complex form of mobility, that needs a whole range of technologies, and knowledge to be achieved with success. It is best understood as a practice within a wider assemblage connecting practices, communities, objects, landscapes, technologies, ideas, winds, and currents. Studying navigation is also not a simple process as it usually leaves only indirect testimonies of the interactions that it enables. So, how can we map this movement?

We will focus on the Late Bronze Age in the Balearic Islands (c. 1400-1000 BC). This period is characterised by increasing interaction between the islands of the archipelago, which we can trace through examining pottery and metallurgy. However, we focus here on coastal sites, and are able to demonstrate that they formed an integral part of a navigation system enabling maritime connections along the coastline. Through a GIS analysis, we will show how these sites became visual reference points for coastal navigation, creating a network along the coastline that aided it, and acted as a hinge between land and the sea. These places allow us to reflect upon how this communities connected and created a shared assemblage that encompassed the entire archipelago. 

1005 – The Neolithic across borders: breaking boundaries and bringing bracelets together

Emma Baysal, Ankara University; Francisco Martínez-Sevilla, Universidad de Alcalá; Roberto Micheli, Soprintendenza Archeologia; Fotis Ifantidis, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.

Ring-shaped stone objects, mostly used as bracelets, are characteristic of early farming communities from southwest Asia to western Europe from the 10th – 6th millennia BCE. Uncanny material, technological and formal resemblances between artefacts at the two spatially and temporally distant extremes of this geographical range led us to question the role of material culture in the structuring of identity during the Neolithic transformation. Transgressing the academic borders drawn by politics, research priorities and theoretical paradigms, we gathered data on chronology, typology, raw materials and manufacturing processes, use-wear, repair, and alteration practices from countries bordering the northern shores of the Mediterranean. This allowed us to produce a biography of the human-bracelet relationship on a temporally and spatially enormous scale, tracing the technological knowledge and social identities that were carried across a continent. Using these results, we are beginning to build a picture of the previously unrecorded role of the movement of identities and technologies as a fundamental part of the Neolithic way of life.

In this paper we look at the challenges of amalgamating data from countries with very different archaeological, and particularly theoretical traditions, considering the randomness that might derive from both the agents involved and their epistemological differences. The apparent ability of certain (archaeologically visible) objects to characterise a way of life underlines for the first time the close relationship of an object with the human body during the Neolithization process. Archaeological taxonomies centred on this relationship, and the attempt to place dots in space and time, highlight the dynamics of the study of material culture. We consider how paths to understanding human movement through the landscape and long-term relationships with it, expressed through materials, gestures and even aesthetic preferences can be sought in the light of these findings. 

1020 – Questions and discussion

1030 – Barriers or Passages? Reinterpreting movement, time and linear earthworks in Iron Age Britain

Nicky Garland, Durham University

In Iron Age Britain, the construction of large-scale linear earthworks transformed the prehistoric landscape. These monumental building projects altered the perspectives and experiences of place for Iron Age people by creating physical and social barriers in previously open areas. To fully recognize this impact, we need to examine how these earthworks changed patterns of movement. Recent studies have analysed how Iron Age earthworks channelled movement through the landscape (Fioccoprile 2015), defined areas of assembly and choreographed new forms of power (Moore 2012, 2017, Garland 2017). However, there has been little comparative investigation about how patterns of movement changed over time, shifting from previously open terrain to increasingly divided areas. Each physical alteration to the landscape dramatically affected the experiences of people moving through the landscape. By understanding these variations, we can better appreciate Iron Age societal transformations including power relationships and community cohesion.

This paper will combine a theoretical appreciation of place, procession and performance (DeMarrais 2014, Johnston et al. 2014) with computational and spatial approaches (i.e. least cost path, viewshed analysis) to examine temporal changes in movement across the prehistoric landscape. This research utilizes data from the Leverhulme funded ‘Monumentality and Landscape: Linear Earthwork in Britain’ project, which is creating the first national characterization of Iron Age and early medieval earthworks across Britain. Utilizing LIDAR and other spatial datasets, movement will be studied in relation to the natural environment (hills, rivers), resource centres (pasture, water sources) and patterns of settlement to better understand this shift in social organisation. 

DeMarrais, E., 2014. Introduction: the archaeology of performance. World Archaeology, 46 (2), 155–163.

Fioccoprile, E., 2015. Lines Across the Land: A Biography of the Linear Earthwork Landscapes of the Later Prehistoric Yorkshire Wolds. PhD Thesis. University of Bradford, Bradford, UK.

Garland, N., 2017. Territorial Oppida and the transformation of landscape and society in south-eastern Britain from BC 300 to 100 AD. PhD Thesis. UCL, London.

Johnston, S., Crabtree, P., and Campana, D., 2014. Performance, place and power at Dún Ailinne, a ceremonial site of the Irish Iron Age. World Archaeology, 46 (2), 206–223.

Moore, T., 2012. Beyond the Oppida: Polyfocal Complexes and Late Iron Age Societies in Southern Britain. Oxford Journal of Archaeology, 31 (4), 391–417.

Moore, T., 2017. Alternatives to Urbanism? Reconsidering Oppida and the Urban Question in Late Iron Age Europe. Journal of World Prehistory, 30 (3), 281–300.

1050 – Becoming Equestrian: Emergent Terrains of the European Bronze Age

Katherine S. Kanne, University of Exeter

People and horse became equestrian in the European Bronze Age; it was the birth of the equestrian world (Kanne In Press). In this cyborg assemblage of human-animal-material culture, a highly mobile way of being in, moving, and experiencing, the world emerged. In this paper, I explore an embodied approach to becoming equestrian, drawing from Aldred (2020), and the scientific methodologies of movement (stable isotopes, aDNA) of people horses, and their material culture, to investigate how novel equestrian physical and cognitive geographies expanded in this period fundamentally altering interaction and connectivity as equestrian infrastructures developed. This is complemented by the bioarchaeology of equestrianism that illustrates how the individual movements of connected bodies reciprocally affected each participant (human-horse-bit) as flows on landscapes and travel routes became repeatedly trodden by hoofprints. Ultimately, harnessing the equestrian moves us between the micro- and macro- scale of individual, local, regional, and supra-regional travel, tying large scale movement and social change to local processes as these new terrains were traversed.

Aldred, O. 2020. The Archaeology of Movement. London: Routledge.

Kanne, K.S. In Press. Riding, Ruling, and Resistance: People and Horses in Bronze

Age Hungary. Current Anthropology.

1105 – Break

1125 – To live is to fly: architecture as movement in Neolithic Turkey

Kevin Kay, University of Leicester

Archaeologies of domestic architecture have traditionally focused on stability in place, rather than movement. Concepts like place-making, the household, dwelling and the habitus have served to load domestic spaces with conservative force: houses anchor us in place and help us put down roots. Particularly in studies of early settled communities, where the contrast with forager lifeways looms large, this has produced an overly-static understanding of ‘sedentism’.

I argue that houses never simply attach people to places—they always also incorporate modes of detaching people and setting them in motion. Drawing on the dynamics of neighbourhoods in several Neolithic settlements in southwest Asia, I show how seemingly-still structures can reveal regimes of mobility that structured past societies more broadly, and highlight generative differences between communities. Archaeologies of dwelling are overdue for a less stead-bound approach, and a focus on architecture’s baked-in displacements can open new insights at the intersection of place and motion.

1140 – Questions and Discussion

1155 – Walking with trees. Encounters with plant movement in the European Mesolithic

Barry Taylor, University of Chester

For a form of life that is often characterised as being static, plants are surprisingly mobile. Through various means of propagation, plants can expand over new areas, colonising bodies of water and areas of bare ground, or replacing the existing plant communities growing around them. These plant movements are also surprisingly fast; seedlings can appear seemingly overnight, and plants can cover new ground in the course of a year. As such, the movement of plants occurs within a timescale that is easily perceptible by humans, and forms one way in which humans encountered the potential agency of plants. This paper explores the way that humans would have understood plant movement in the past. Drawing on recent research in multi species ethnography, and using case studies from the European Mesolithic, it illustrates ways in which humans were entangled in the movements of different plant species, and how concepts and understandings of human-plant relations arose from them.

1210 – From coast to carr to costume: plotting provenancing, production, and use of shale beads at Star Carr

Andy Needham, University of York; Jess Bates, University of York; Chantal Conneller, University of Newcastle; Nicky Milner, University of York; Aimée Little, University of York.

The Early Mesolithic (9300-8500 cal BC) site of Star Carr, UK, is home to a diverse collection of personal ornaments, including 33 shale beads. This presentation explores the beads through the lens of movement. The transportation of shale material from source (coast) to site (Star Carr), the bodily gestures and movements associated with methods of production, the use of the shale beads linked to their possible attachment to garments, and their eventual transport to the lake where they were intentionally deposited are all permeated by movement and gestures at different scales. Movement and performance appear entwined in the biography of shale beads from Star Carr with collection, processing, and deposition linked to the probable use of beads in performance. Movement and performance are suggested to be important aspects in the formation and negotiation of identities at Star Carr and in the ontological negotiation of humans and other-than-humans agents, including animals and perhaps even landscapes features. It is argued that in the case of shale beads, they were used to mediate relationships between humans and fish at the site. When attached to clothing, shale beads may have acted to mimic attributes of fish, enhanced through movement in performance while wearing garments to which beads were attached, and perhaps conceptually reinforced by wider landscape movements between water bodies at the coast and at the site itself in collection, use, and deposition of shale.

1225 – Plants, fibre-makers and action! Dance as a metaphor for the plant-fibre technology of ancient South America

Camila Alday, University of Cambridge

This paper aims to investigate the plant-fibre technology of early marine foragers of South America. Through archaeobotanical and structural analysis, I study a unique assemblage of yarns dated to ca.12,000 BP as well as fragments of nets, lines, clothes and mats dated to between 7,000 and 3,500 BP. In doing so, I aim to explain how plant processing and fibre production entailed choreographic movements across the Pacific littoral. 

In this metaphor, marine foragers are analogous to dancers. The premise of this metaphor is that the fabrication of plant-fibre artefacts, which is underpinned by the repetition of manual gestures, created a set of choreographic movements across the coastal landscape. In addition, the rhythm of the seasons and the ecology of the wetland plants, dictated the itinerary of the artisans’ movements.  Furthermore, I propose that the temporality and spatial dimensions of the plant-fibre technology turned the Pacific littoral into a social, ecological and technological landscape of animate actions. 

I also argue that the fabrication of plant-fibre artefacts was a critical part in the schedule of marine foraging tasks. This is to say that plant-fibre technology dances operated in conjunction with other foraging dances. Finally, I conclude that ancient marine foragers were not moving randomly across the coastal scenario. Communities of marine foragers instead occupied the landscape in the same way that dancers move on stage. 

1240 – Questions and discussion

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