Mathias Bjørnevad-Ahlqvist and Peter Bye-Jensen (eds)
BAR Publishing, £36
Review George Nash
Within the context of burial and ritual, archaeologists have found it near-impossible to understand why mundane objects became the focus for ritual deposition. I suppose it is all too easy to look at anthropology and ethnography to get some of the answers, especially when we look at our own throwaway society. Clearly, objects in late and early prehistory took on several roles through the duration of their use: from utilitarian tool to a venerated item that would have possessed supernatural power and provided essential help for the afterlife (and beyond).
This book includes papers that were presented at the 2016 EAA conference in Vilnius and covers selected themes from a number of regions of Europe. Similar to other conference volumes, chapters form a smorgasbord of material, but it is organised into ten well-crafted chapters, with a short preface by Joshua Pollard.
The core theme of the book is how do mundane objects, used in everyday prehistoric life, transition into the realm of ritual and symbolism: say, the ceramic vessel used for cooking that eventually becomes part of the ritual garnish of death and burial? This and other objects become a complex narrative, transformed through a number of phases, and develop a history – sometimes outliving many generations of a community (and becoming archaeological artefacts!).
Individual chapters include research on a variety of materials (antler, bone, ceramics, lithics, metalwork, shells, and stonework) from a select number of prehistoric core areas of Europe such as Mesolithic Scandinavia, the European Neolithic, and the Copper Age and early Bronze Age of central Europe. Chapters trace the narrative of an artefact, from conception and raw material, via construction and consumption, to deposition and demise.
Despite the breadth of subject matter, the book’s editors have used their skill and judgement to pull together a single overriding theme from a number of diverse chronologies and geographies to create a volume that will provide the reader with an understanding of how everyday mundane objects become the focus for ritual life.