Bronze Age Metalcraft

Picture: Nørgaard 2014, Craftsmanship and Metalwork in the Nordic Bronze Age, figure 1.001

In archaeology it has long been a common assumption that stylistic similarity is equal to technical similarity and, thus, that the dissemination area of typological groups can be related to workshops. With the understanding that formal similarities can actually arise independently of their production, and that they should, therefore, be considered separately, it was noted that workshops can only be detected by the exact knowledge of all objects of a formal group and then only by technical comparison. This statement can be restricted even more: a determination of a prehistoric workshop is only possible if the production traces, metal compositions and other production-related properties of the object match.

The foundation for a successful identification of workshops is based on the knowledge that each craftsman’s intuition leaves its mark, like fingerprints. The choice of the tool, the way in which a decorative element is introduced and combined, and the various techniques used, are individual decisions that make the object of a craftsman unique and allow us to assign artefacts to specific individuals.

To explore more of the theoretical background I reccomend to read Part 2, chapter 2 of my book “Bronze Age Metalwork”. Always worth reading are, Marcel Mauss “Techniques of the Body“; Erwin Panofsky´s “Gothic architecture and scholasticism” and Pierre Bourdieu´s “Outline of a Theory of Practice“.

Technique and Technology

(from Nørgaard 2018, Bronze Age Metalwork, Archaeopress, p.2-5)

Technique and technology should be considered as two independent concepts. Yet their meanings have undergone change over the centuries, with the result that both terms are interpreted in a modern perspective in a very different way than contained in the origin of the word (Ingold 2000: 312ff.).

Regardless of modern views (see Ingold 2000: 312-313), technique as well as technology should (in the study of prehistoric communities) be understood through a return to the roots of the respective terms. Thus the word technology originates from the Greek tekhnē and logos. Tekhnē is the pictorial representation of an inseparable combination of art, skill, craft, law, as well as knowledge, attitudes, understanding and awareness (see Phillips et al. 2010; Dobres 2000: 50-59; Ingold 2000: 316). Logos in its original meaning is not only reason, the structure of reality, but also language and accountability. Interestingly, the term technikos in its original meaning includes the ability, the art and practicality, and thus all things tekhnē means (see Dobres 2000: 52).

According to the state of the art in the humanities, technology can be considered as an embodied form of social practice (Dobres 1999a; 1999b: 126; Mauss 1973; Lemonnier 1993: 3; Ingold 2000: 314) and is in this not just limited to craft activities, because technologies are the driving forces in material, as well as in social change, and serve as a medium through which views are expressed (see Dobres 1999b: 128; Berg 2007: 234; Zagal-Mach 2008: 197; Coupaye 2009: 434). Technologies are thus man-made processes that offer a way for further development and are ‘a major causal motor of cultural evolution…(and it) is said to underline and thus shape most other aspects of culture’ (Dobres 2010:103).

Technology can first and foremost be viewed as an agglomeration of different choices that express the cultural environment, and not a process driven by a single individual. The triggers are ‘the satisfaction of various needs’ (Mahias 1993: 166; see also Berg 2007: 234). Technology is born from the knowledge of what is possible (Sillar and Tite 2000: 9; Zagal-Mach 2008: 197; Ingold 2000: 315).

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