Technology, identity, and time: Studies in the archaeology and historical anthropology of the eastern Alpine region from Late Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages
Fazioli, Kirk Patrick
MetadataShow full item record
This dissertation explores aspects of the Late Antique and Early Medieval periods in the eastern Alpine and northern Adriatic region of Central Europe by integrating archaeological, anthropological, and historical approaches to the past. The themes of technology, identity, and temporality crosscut the three major parts of the thesis: (1) examining continuity and change from Late Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages (c. AD 300 – 900), (2) exploring the complex interplay of social identity, material culture, and embodied practice, and (3) considering the role of the medieval past in contemporary political and historical ideologies. Part One investigates aspects of historical change and continuity in the centuries following the collapse of Roman political authority in Central Europe. These patterns are examined at both the regional and local levels through a variety of archaeological methods. Chapter 2 outlines the historical and archaeological frameworks, assessing aspects of continuity in this region (settlement, demographic, social, etc.), along with processes of 'culture contact' and Christianization. Chapter 3 addresses the question of continuity versus change from the perspective of ceramic technology, utilizing macroscopic and microscopic analyses to examine the manufacture of pottery at four settlements in this region that bridge the Late Antique – Early Medieval transition. Results from the petrographic investigation indicate that coarse-ware ceramics exhibit a high degree of compositional variability across the southeastern Alpine and northern Adriatic region. Chapter 4 constitutes a scalar shift in the examination of change and continuity, providing greater temporal depth in a more localized geographical region. Past human landscapes were reconstructed along sections of the middle Mura river valley in southeastern Austria using a battery of interdisciplinary methods (pedestrian surface collection, soil chemical sampling, and documentary research). The results from the surveys suggest that major demographic changes occurred during the Early Iron Age and High/Late Middle Ages, with comparatively little surviving material traces from Roman and Early Medieval periods. The landscape reconstruction also revealed important long term spatial patterns in terms of settlement, land-use, and human activity beyond individual sites. Part Two situates the historical and archaeological issues outlined in the previous chapters within a broader theoretical framework that considers the relationship between social identity, embodied practice, and material culture. Chapter 5 provides a brief history of anthropological and archaeological conceptualizations of this complex relationship, from the 19 th century through current approaches, focusing on the 'materiality' perspectives that have recently gained favor across the social sciences. Chapter 6 builds upon these emerging perspectives by sketching the possibilities for a 'monstrous archaeology', which combines elements of materiality, relational ontology, and complexity theory. It reveals how traditional means of exploring the agent/ structure paradox rely on a problematic understanding of human society and culture that is ultimately divorced from the material world; a more 'symmetrical' approach is forwarded that blurs the ontological divide between humans and nonhumans. Finally, Chapter 7 provides an empirical case study for this new approach, through a detailed investigation of 'barbarian ethnicity' in early medieval history and archaeology. The ceramic data presented in Chapter 3 is revisited in order to examine aspects of technological choice through the chaîne opératoire perspective. Embodied practice, which mediates the co-construction of people and things, is argued to be a more sophisticated alternative to traditional 'ethnic' interpretations of early medieval social identity. Finally, Part Three is comprised of three chapters, each of which explores aspects of the 'power of the past' along thematic axes of social identity, colonialism, and temporality. Chapter 8 situates eastern Alpine early medieval archaeology in the first decades of the 20 th century within the context of European colonial ideologies by illustrating how the indigenous Slavic-speaking populations (in both the present and medieval past) were constructed as a 'colonial Other' by Germanic imperial social science. Chapter 9 builds upon such uncanny intersections of the medieval and modern, exposing the implicit temporal logic of the discipline of anthropology. It traces how a primitivized medieval 'Other' was created alongside its non-Western counterpart in the course of the modernist project. Although anthropologists have long recognized their discipline's complicity in the creation of the latter, the existence of the former remains largely overlooked. Finally, Chapter 10 explores the different means by which archaeological, anthropological, and historical research have broached the key issue of time , and proposes an alternative approach to temporality – based on the aforementioned relational ontology – that avoids the pitfalls of traditional linear and uniform models. Dissolving the ontological boundary between the past and present (as well as between people and things) opens up these disciplines to a more sophisticated and efficacious means of studying human societies in and through time.