Settlements, sediments and space: A practice approach to community organization in the Late Neolithic of the Great Hungarian Plain
Salisbury, Roderick B.
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This dissertation develops a conceptual and methodological model for studying the spatial organization of small agrarian settlements during the Late Neolithic and Early Copper Age (c. 5000-4500 BC) in the Berettyó-Körös basin of eastern Hungary. Methodologically, I examined and compared Late Neolithic and Early Copper Age settlements at two scales: at intra-site level I used geochemistry and the textural and visual qualities of sediments to characterize use of space at seven farmsteads. The patterning of chemicals and other soil characteristics show clear evidence of activity areas. At the regional scale I examined the distribution of these settlements in relation to palaeohydrology, soil characteristics and other settlements. I interpreted these combined data sets in light of how landscape both structured and is constructed by human society, developing the concept of soil as material culture as a way to understand how changes in soils brought about through habitation and agriculture—that is the development of cultural soilscapes—could influence people’s perceptions of their place in the world. The concepts of practice, relationism and soil as material culture allowed me to develop understandings of how Neolithic people engaged in a dialogue with the materiality of soil in the formation of communities. The model enables the identification of three general areas within a household cluster or hamlet; open spaces, intensively used pits and activity areas, and household and/or communal refuse locations. Results indicate that people maintained traditions of activity and house location within small farmsteads during both the Late Neolithic and Early Copper Age, as seen through patterns of chemical enrichment and sediments in household clusters. These patterns also indicate that small farmsteads from both periods share a different spatial organisation from large, nucleated Late Neolithic villages. I argue that this continuity in one aspect of life reflects deep-running beliefs about community and place, beliefs that are related to intimate connection with the soil and are not necessarily reflected in ceramic decorations. Through these, the relations between different scales of communities and variability in regional settlement patterns, exchange and mortuary customs can be seen as variability partially enabled through the continuity afforded by cultural soilscapes.