Traditional archaeological ideas about Neolithic societies were shaped by questionable premises. The modern concept of social and cultural coherence of residence groups as well as the ethnic interpretation of ‘archaeological cultures’ fostered ideas of static and homogeneous social entities with fixed borders. Farming – as the core of the Neolithic way of life – was associated with sedentariness rather than with spatial mobility and cross-regional social networks. Furthermore, the widely used (neo-)evolutionist thinking universally assumed a growing social complexity and hierarchisation during prehistory. After all, such ‘top-down’–perspectives deprived individuals and groups of genuine agency and creativity while underestimating the relational dynamic between the social and material worlds. In recent years, a wide array of empirical results on social practices related to material culture and settlement dynamics, (inter-)regional entanglements and spatial mobility were published. For the latter the adoption of the relatively new scientific methods in archaeology like Stable Isotope Analysis as well as aDNA played a crucial role. Yet the question of possible inferences regarding spatial and temporal differences in forms of social organisation has not been addressed sufficiently.
The aim of this volume is therefore to rethink former top-down concepts of Neolithic societies by studying social practices and different forms of Neolithic social life by adopting bottom-up social archaeological perspectives. Furthermore, the validity and relevance of terms like ‘society’, ‘community’, ‘social group’ etc. will be discussed. The contributions reach from theoretical to empirical ones and thematize a variety of social theoretical approaches as well as methodological ways of combining different sorts of data. They show the potential of such bottom-up approaches to infer models of social practices and configurations which may live up to the potential social diversity and dynamism of Neolithic societies. The contribution shed light on spatial mobility, social complexity, the importance of (political) interests and factors of kinship etc. We hope that this volume, with its focus on the Neolithic of Europe, will contribute to the ongoing critical debates of theories and concepts as well as on our premises and perspectives on Neolithic societies in general – and the practices of social archaeology as such.
Towards bottom-up approaches in social archaeological Neolithic research
Maria Wunderlich, Caroline Heitz, Martin Hinz, Martin Furholt
II. Conceptual and methodological approaches to forms of social organization
Anarchy: Anthropological reflections on an unruly concept
Negotiating power in Neolithic communities – The politics of cohabitation
From ‘communities of practice’ to ‘translocal communities’. A practice-theoretical approach to mobility and socio-spatial configurations of Neolithic groups.
Ethnoarchaeology and agent-based simulation modelling as bottom-up approaches: Perspectives for archaeological research
Maria Wunderlich/Julian Laabs
III. Material dimensions of social organization
The world in a village? Regional and supra-regional transmission of pottery-making practices in south-western Germany in the early third millennium BC
Tracing the evidence of Neolithic social groups’ mobility according to the ornamentation on ceramics from the Lysa Hora burial site
Lausanne-Vidy: From Single to Social?
Katharina V. M. Jungnickel
Perversion of the Pareto Principle: Using a bottom-up approach to study burial practices in the Late Neolithic Carpathian Basin
IV. Scales and forms of social organization
Setting the ground for a village – communal organisation and space of the Early Neolithic site of Altscherbitz (Germany)
Isabel A. Hohle
Same but different: cross-regional cultural entanglement during the first half of the third millennium BC – a view from Franconia
How wide are social frames of cultural diversity and mutual cultural influences?
Aleksandr Diachenko/Iwona Sobkowiak-Tabaka
V. Afterthoughts, Reflections and Outlook
Purging our approach to Neolithic societies: a critical review of the terms, analytical categories and cultural concepts applied in research
Abandoning Neolithic societies – A practice-based approach
Theory versus data. Dealing with the interpretive dilemma in the biomolecular era
Maxime N. Brami
Martin Hinz is a Lecturer and Research Fellow at the Institute of Archaeological Sciences and Research Associate of the Oeschger Center for Climate Change Research at the University of Bern. His current focus is the combination of scientific data, quantitative methods and archaeological knowledge, particularly in respect to the Neolithic and Bronze Age in Switzerland.
Martin Furholt is Professor at the Institute of Archaeology, Conservation and History at the University of Oslo, Norway. Before he was working as Research Fellow and Lecturer at the CAU Kiel. His main research interests are the social and political organisation, mobility and community composition, local and regional social networks of Neolithic and Bronze Age communities in Southeast Europe, Central Europe, and Northern Europe.
Maria Wunderlich is currently a Lecturer and Research Fellow at the Institute of Pre-and Protohistoric Archaeology, Kiel University. For her PhD-studies between 2014 and 2018 she was involved in the DFG-project “Equality and Inequality: Social Differentiation in Northern Central Europe 4300-2400 BC” as a research assistant. For her comparative thesis on “Megalithic monuments and social structures” she conducted ethnoarchaeological field work in Sumba, Indonesia, and Nagaland, North-East India. Being interested in social archaeology and comparative analyses, she combines different theoretical approaches with material data derived both in recent and archaeological contexts.
Caroline Heitz is a Senior Researcher and SNSF-Ambizione Grantee at the Institute of Archaeological Sciences and the Oeschger Center for Climate Change Research at the University of Bern. In her award-winning doctoral thesis, she combined research on mobility, entanglement, appropriation, and transformation in relation to Neolithic pottery from the UNESCO-World Heritage wetland sites around the Alps. She was also awarded a Postdoc-Mobility Grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation and became a fellow at the Universities of Oxford and Kiel in 2021–2022. She is currently conducting research on social archaeology as well as climate change resilience and vulnerabilities of prehistoric waterfront communities.