Thesis — Brief Overview 2005

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My thesis in about col­on­isa­tion and iden­tity in 1st Millennium BC Sicily. If you are an Archaeologist then col­on­isa­tion was a simple pro­cess. The Greeks arrived from the eighth cen­tury and by the fifth every­one was Native or Phoenician on the island. All the nat­ives has become ‘Hellenised’. This is a prob­lem if you’re an Ancient Historian. Ancient History records an upris­ing by the nat­ive peoples against the Greeks in the middle of the fifth cen­tury BC. There must have been a defined nat­ive iden­tity, but so far archae­olo­gists haven’t the tools to find it.

There is also the ques­tion of how accul­tur­a­tion occured. The tra­di­tional approach is, in the words of Boardman “The Greeks had noth­ing to learn and much to teach”. The more recent gen­er­a­tion of schol­ars has a more lib­eral approach. They argue that the nat­ives could pick ‘n’ choose what they took from Greek cul­ture. It’s an inter­est­ing idea, but it breaks down if you still insist the accul­tur­a­tion was all one-way. I’m using extel­li­gent the­ory to see if there’s a way of show­ing a plaus­ible model of acculturation.

This model sug­gests that per­sonal ideni­tity is related to how you per­ceive the uni­verse. So there’s not just the issue of buy­ing the mater­ial goods, it’s a mat­ter of how you use them. Where I live in the UK base­ball bats are very com­mon. Are the nat­ives Americanised, or are they using them in their own way. The lack of base­ball dia­monds makes me think that there’s more to the bat than baseball.

In Sicily I’m look­ing at the temples and other civic build­ings. Yes, the nat­ives take on the Greek style but do they use them in a Greek way? The Greeks knew that for a temple to work it had to face sun­rise. Fieldwork shows that this idea was fol­lowed through 100% of the time (which is a wor­ry­ingly pos­it­ive stat­istic). If nat­ive temples can be shown to ignore this then I have evid­ence of Greek mater­ial being used in a nat­ive way.

Also Greek cit­ies con­sciously aligned super­struc­ture astro­nom­ic­ally. The nat­ives may have aligned infra­struc­ture. Greek cul­ture has noth­ing to say on infra­struc­ture until the codi­fic­a­tion of Hippodameon plan­ning, so if nat­ive pat­terns of infra­struc­ture are found in early Greek set­tle­ments, could this be evid­ence of nat­ive accul­tur­a­tion of the Greeks?

4 thoughts on “Thesis — Brief Overview 2005

  1. Athena

    Hi Alun,
    Your thesis sounds very very inter­est­ing. I have to admit I’m very par­tial to the Phoenicians myself (mostly due to end­less hours of play­ing with pot­tery hehhe).

    You wrote:
    There is also the ques­tion of how accul­tur­a­tion occured. The tra­di­tional approach is, in the words of Boardman “The Greeks had noth­ing to learn and much to teach”.


    Typical Boardman. And very symp­to­matic of the idea that the Greeks are the super­ior mas­ters who taught the world everything.

    You wrote:
    This model sug­gests that per­sonal ideni­tity is related to how you per­ceive the uni­verse. So there’s not just the issue of buy­ing the mater­ial goods, it’s a mat­ter of how you use them.


    Very post proc:-)) I actu­ally like this pov and apply it as well when think­ing about Sardinia.

    You wrote:
    In Sicily I’m look­ing at the temples and other civic build­ings. Yes, the nat­ives take on the Greek style but do they use them in a Greek way?


    A par­al­lel to this is the lovely Phoenicians. They trans­por­ted tons of Egyptian good­ies all over the place, usu­ally it was plates with mean­ing­less hiero­glyph­ics. Kind of like the souven­irs that flood every tour­ist area:)

    Will you be look­ing at any­thing else besides temples and astro­nomy? How about burial prac­tices? I like this thesis of yours, look­ing fwd to its even­tual publication!

  2. I’m post–pro­ces­sual? I sold the thesis to my archae­ology super­visor as an explor­a­tion of middle-range the­ory, straight from Binford. My ancient his­tory super­visor sees it more as cul­ture his­tory, so I’d argue I’m 20 or 40 years out-of-date rather than just 10 :)

    While I dis­agree with Boardman, it’s not enough to simply state he’s wrong. He puts it nicely when he says:

    Most recently a strange kind of polit­ical cor­rect­ness has crept in, thrust­ing the desired mod­ern stand­ards onto antiquity and mak­ing assump­tions about pre­ju­dices of recent gen­er­a­tions of schol­ars, repla­cing them with new pre­ju­dices which are poorly estab­lished on any basic aca­demic principle.

    I think that post-colonialists are mak­ing assump­tions and not chal­len­ging them. De Angelis has taken Dunbabin’s to task over the imper­i­al­ist nature of “The Western Greeks”, in Antiquity 1998, but exemp­ted mod­ern research­ers from sim­ilar ana­lysis because he claims you need 50 years of per­spect­ive to spot polit­ical pres­sures on the­or­ies. Frankly that argu­ment is so limp it’s wrist is broken.

    Am I the only per­son to spot the strik­ing sim­il­ar­ity of Thatcher empower­ing the indi­vidual in the 1980s and the rise of post-processualism and focus on the indi­viual in archae­ology? Just because post-processualism was Thatcherite doesn’t make it wrong, but I sus­pect it has had a pro­found influ­ence on mod­ern archae­ology that the tra­di­tion­al­ists have, by being “stuck in a rut”, avoided. I was recently told with no irony by a pre­his­tor­ian that there was “no such thing as soci­ety” and sys­temic mod­els failed because they didn’t account for individuals.

    And here I am try­ing to try­ing to find a third way between the two. Reflection of the times? Probably, but if I have data and reason then even if I am blinded by the zeit­geist the work will be of some value for later scholars.

    As for other data, there’s also a study of city grids. For instance the Carthaginians seem to have used sim­ilar cos­mo­lo­gical prin­ciples in plan­ning Carthage, Motya, Marsala and pos­sibly Palermo. The Etruscans also are known to have expressed cos­mo­logy through infra­struc­ture rather than super­struc­ture. This is dif­fer­ent to, but does not con­tra­dict, Hellenic cos­mo­logy. So as well as the Sikels being Hellenised, do the Greeks get Sikelised? Juko Ito notes the earli­est axial plan­ning occurs in Sicily, Aveni and Romano have argued for an Etruscan influ­ence in Greek city plan­ning, the second major centre of philo­sophy away from the coast of Asia Minor is Sicily and Southern Italy. So there may be some­thing to gain from re-reading the Pythagorean sources.

    There’s also the fact that cos­mo­logy is not the same as astro­nomy. Dora Crouch has recently pub­lished a book on the “Geology of Greek Settlement” or a sim­ilar title. The Greeks recog­nised many of the nat­ive deit­ies as Demeter and Persephone, which sug­gests a strong cthonic con­nec­tion. In south­ern Italy there’s fur­ther evid­ence of con­nec­tions with the under­world. With Etna dom­in­at­ing so much of the east of Sicily I’ll be dis­ap­poin­ted if I can’t dis­cuss the geology.

    The prob­lem is keep­ing to the 80k word limit.

    The burial evid­ence is inter­est­ing but it’s being picked over by most archae­olo­gists. That doesn’t make examin­ing the data point­less, but a PhD is sup­posed to be ori­ginal. Also the burial data is patch­ily pub­lished, so des­pite there being lots of it it’s not fully rep­res­ent­at­ive, so it needs more data to place it in con­text. Otherwise it simply becomes an argu­ment of opinion.

    In addi­tion because I’m arguing that cul­ture is gendered, there should be value in look­ing for gender-associated arte­facts. Loom weights for example. Uniform loom-weights prob­ably indic­ate a female mono­cul­ture, but mul­tiple pop­u­la­tions of loom weight types would sug­gest mul­tiple weav­ing tra­di­tions which in turn sug­gests mul­tiple female ethnicities.

    The big area for expan­sion is food, which is an excel­lent indic­ator of eth­ni­city. As you have noted, the British eat cute fluffy lambs, but wretch at the idea of eat­ing horse, even though horse is far more deli­cious. It would be reas­on­able to assume that the nat­ives and Greeks had dif­fer­ing cuisines, eat­ing dif­fer­ent foods and pro­cessing them in dif­fer­ent ways. There is so much that could be done, but again the data simply isn’t there.

  3. Athena

    I’m post-processual?


    *grins* no insult inten­ded:) But the idea that iden­tity depends on how you per­ceive the uni­verse etc is a fave among the post procs:)

    I sold the thesis to my archae­ology super­visor as an explor­a­tion of middle-range the­ory, straight from Binford. My ancient his­tory super­visor sees it more as cul­ture his­tory, so I’d argue I’m 20 or 40 years out-of-date rather than just 10

    —-
    Vintage is back in fash­ion :)

    While I dis­agree with Boardman, it’s not enough to simply state he’s wrong. He puts it nicely when he says:

    I agree… must learn not to write when half asleep.

    Most recently a strange kind of polit­ical cor­rect­ness has crept in,

    That’s not THAT recent… fem­in­ist schol­ars were impos­ing mod­ern stand­ards on pre­his­tory as far back as the 70s :)

    I think that post-colonialists are mak­ing assump­tions and not chal­len­ging them. De Angelis has taken Dunbabin’s to task over the imper­i­al­ist nature of “The Western Greeks”, in Antiquity 1998, but exemp­ted mod­ern research­ers from sim­ilar ana­lysis because he claims you need 50 years of per­spect­ive to spot polit­ical pres­sures on the­or­ies. Frankly that argu­ment is so limp it’s wrist is broken.

    *g* indeed. And why 50 not 100?


    As for other data, there’s also a study of city grids. For instance the Carthaginians seem to have used sim­ilar cos­mo­lo­gical prin­ciples in plan­ning Carthage, Motya, Marsala and pos­sibly Palermo. The Etruscans also are known to have expressed cos­mo­logy through infra­struc­ture rather than super­struc­ture. This is dif­fer­ent to, but does not con­tra­dict, Hellenic cos­mo­logy. So as well as the Sikels being Hellenised, do the Greeks get Sikelised?

    This is really inter­est­ing. Is there a good plan of the ancient city of Palermo? Pity we haven’t found any Phoenician cit­ies in Malta yet, it would have been inter­est­ing for many reas­ons.
    —-


    In south­ern Italy there’s fur­ther evid­ence of con­nec­tions with the under­world.

    Well I wouldn’t know about Greek stuff but there cer­tainly was in the Neolithic and Bronze Age (See Ruth Whitehouse’s work on caves and cults).

    PhD is sup­posed to be ori­ginal. Also the burial data is patch­ily pub­lished,

    A lot of things are in those parts unfor­tu­nately… you try get­ting reports for pre­his­toric sites…

    In addi­tion because I’m arguing that cul­ture is gendered, there should be value in look­ing for gender-associated arte­facts. Loom weights for example. Uniform loom-weights prob­ably indic­ate a female mono­cul­ture, but mul­tiple pop­u­la­tions of loom weight types would sug­gest mul­tiple weav­ing tra­di­tions which in turn sug­gests mul­tiple female eth­ni­cit­ies.

    Hmm that’s assum­ing weav­ing is a strictly female task tho…
    Why would uni­form loom­weights indic­ate a female mono­cul­ture?
    —-

    The big area for expan­sion is food, which is an excel­lent indic­ator of eth­ni­city. As you have noted, the British eat cute fluffy lambs, but wretch at the idea of eat­ing horse

    haha yes. Food is def­in­itely an indic­ator of iden­tity. Just fin­ished read­ing an amus­ing art­icle in the Times today about how every­one should eat a Mediterranean diet and live longer :-) (PS we eat cute fluffy lambs too… with honey, olive oil, rosemary…)


    even though horse is far more deli­cious. It would be reas­on­able to assume that the nat­ives and Greeks had dif­fer­ing cuisines, eat­ing dif­fer­ent foods and pro­cessing them in dif­fer­ent ways. There is so much that could be done, but again the data simply isn’t there.

    What about texts tho? I thought we knew a bit about Greek food? And I guess you could always get trace ele­ments done on pots..a. if you’re lucky to find them, b. if you’re even luck­ier to get per­mits and fin­ance. The use of cooking/food pre­par­a­tion imple­ments should also reveal some info… tho I guess it’ll take forever to ana­lyze all the data! I envy big pro­fess­ors who have large teams of min­ions… then I remem­ber I’m a min­ion myself:)

  4. Some replies to things raised:

    There’s no good plan of ancient Palermo as far as I know, but lim­ited excav­a­tion shows that the mod­ern city is built dir­ectly over the ancient grid, at least in places. This is more vis­ible in cit­ies like Marsala, the large open space in the north­w­est of the city is the archae­olo­gical park and the Viale Vittorio Veneto and the Via XI Maggio respect the axis of the Decumanus Maximus.

    Loom weights. In Greek soci­ety weav­ing was a female activ­ity car­ried out in the house. The females would have learned to weave in the tra­di­tional style from the elder women in the house­hold using their equip­ment. When she had her loom etc. I’m assum­ing she’d want the loom to be built in the way that she learned on. Loom weights have a mech­an­ical func­tion, being of a spe­cific weight and a ideal func­tion in terms of shape etc. If the females are a mono­cul­ture then inter-marriage and com­mon fash­ion would lead me to expect sim­ilar weav­ing tech­niques, includ­ing sim­ilar loom weights. However women were less mobile than men in this period, which cre­ates the oppor­tun­ity for greater local dif­fer­ences. While men had to be recog­nis­ably men across Mediterranean soci­ety, women were women on a more local scale.

    I’d there­fore expect some aspect of weav­ing to loc­ally embed­ded. The mater­ial would have to be of a trade­able qual­ity per­haps, but the trader would have no interest if the loom-weights used to make it were of the right shape, weights or mater­i­als. If you learn weav­ing from your moth­ers, and the out­put is ulti­mately not affected by local dif­fer­ences, then there’s no major pres­sure to con­form, and a mech­an­ism to pre­serve difference.

    In a city with females from dif­fer­ing eth­ni­cit­ies in dif­fer­ing house­holds, because weav­ing is learned within the house than in a civic envir­on­ment, these dif­fer­ences should remain for longer peri­ods of time until inter-marriage blends them. I can­not see why females from dif­fer­ent loc­al­it­ies would use identical loom-weights. However, my read­ing on loom-weights in neglible, so I’m open to be cor­rec­ted on this.

    As a note of cau­tion, there is plenty of good reason to be scep­tical of city-grids as hav­ing to be indic­at­ive of Sikelisation. Orthogonal plan­ning is simply a very con­veni­ent way organ­ising a city, which is why it’s found all over the world. It is plaus­ible that the Greeks worked it out for them­selves. It’s still very much thought in progress.

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