Crafting Traces

” The foundation for a successful identification of individual crafting traces is based on the knowledge that each craftsman`s action 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 crafts­person unique and allow us to assign artefacts to specific individuals.”

Nørgaard 2018, 3

Something we need to know about human behaviour…

Of major interest for craft studies is the concept of the craftsperson´s habitus, explained as the interplay occurring in craft between the skills of the artisan/craftsman, the relevant factors of influence and the social environment.

The habitus concept was first applied by Ernst Panofsky (1951) in his study of Gothic architecture to unify the principles behind Gothic architecture and was later on refined by Pierre Bourdieu (in 1977) and Marcel Mauss (in 1973). Willeke Wendrich (published 2012) transferred this concept to craft studies and was able to unite previous models, like the ‘body of knowledge’, the embodied knowledge, ‘motor know-how’, anticipation and the idea of tacit knowledge in her description of the craftsperson´s habitus as the embodiment of skills, habits, taste and style, and personal experience.

We can, based on this foundation, define three major arguments:

  • Through continuous practice and repetition, certain physical gestures become a part of the body, which then, if necessary, can recall them as automated actions.
  • These actions are heavily influenced by the manner in which they were learned.
  • Tactile learning (touching and manipulating), the person’s psychological skills and sense of aesthetics shaped by the respective society are part of the habitus of a craftsperson.

Investigating crafting traces

Theoretical archaeology offers many options and models that can be a great help in the interpretation of prehistoric technologies. A fundamental step for the successful interpretation of data is splitting a particular work process into operational sequences, meaning in a step-by-step list of activities executed while crafting. Theoretical concepts of interest are the chaîne opératoire and the behavioural chain approach. Both concepts are worth investigating. Additionally, some independent methods for studying prehistoric technologies, all based around more or less detailed working sequences, are known under the term ‘production process’ studies.

Every tool and technique used leaves a trace that can be recognised in conjunction with an operation within a sequence. In contrast, not every trace can be related to an action. For the Nordic Bronze Age, it is necessary to highlight that lost-form casting can be assumed for the vast majority of the investigated bronzes. Consequently, wood, leather and plant materials might be used as tools for the creating of the models, as well as bronze tools. Additionally, this chosen technique makes every object unique, and we seldom will find the same tool trace or even use-wear on tools. However, this technique also has advantages as the choice of the tool, the way in which decoration is applied and combined, the various additional techniques used, and the individual decisions made by the craftsperson allow us to define a unique operational sequence and assign the object to a craftsperson.

In a practical examination, the following traces should be documented:
  • the various decorative elements
  • errors in the individual parts of the decoration, such as overlap of individual punches, variations in the spacing or width of the elements, aso.
  • differences in the shape of a specific decorative element
  • signs of measuring aids, construction lines or measuring mistakes

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