Social Memory

The use of collective memory in archaeology can provide a unique perspective into the lives of people from the past. It can be expressed or recorded as written text, orally, physically such as through a ritual, or in the form of an object. The readings from this week demonstrate this, and provide a better understanding of how social memory is used to investigate societies in the archaeological record. The first reading is from a section of the book “How Societies Remember”, in which Paul Connerton explains the different types of memory and their respective roles in social groups. The second, “Daily Practice and Social Memory at Çatalhöyük” by Ian Hodder and Craig Cessford is a case study of Anatolian villages. In this article, Hodder and Cressford (2004) discuss how the embodiment of daily practices, rules, and power are reflected in the construction of the settlements.

Hodder and Cessford (2004:18) argue that daily routines teach people what is acceptable or inappropriate, and the rules that are learned consequently become embodied. This is significant since it is thought that the house is central to the creation of social rules where daily activities and routines take place. By studying individual houses, Hodder and Cessford (2004:32) were able to examine the way space was segmented and used for burials that were important to social memory. It was found that certain bodies were buried for about a year then recovered in order to use the skulls for art (Hodder and Cessford 2004:35). This is a significant practice when studying social memory because it shows that specific individuals were in some way special (which can be seen by their elaborate burials) and that the social groups wanted to preserve the memory of their ancestors (Hodder and Cessford 2004:35).

When comparing the information found regarding burials in Çatalhöyük to the concepts Connerton (1989) discusses, it is clear that similarities exist in the points that are brought up. The case study in Çatalhöyük made me question how social memory enables societies to interact with not only each other, but the space around them. Connerton’s examination of semantic codes, mind maps and social habit were useful in considering this question

Connerton (1989:28) mentions that the semantic code of individuals from different cultures can vary since they are based on mental maps obtained throughout childhood. Because of this, people may recall the same event differently or conduct similar practices but with different intent or meaning (Connerton 1989:28). An example of this from Hodder and Cessford (2004:35) can be seen in burial practices involving the plastering of skulls. In Kösk Höyük, plastering of attributes on skulls was found to have similar meaning to that in Çatalhöyük, however, the intent of specifically commemorating the individual may have been different (Hodder and Cressford 2004:35). In Çatalhöyük, it is likely that the plastering of skulls was embedded in general practice rather than a mindful commemoration (Hodder and Cessford 2004:35). Moreover, the mental mind maps learned by children are also related to how societies will regulate the usage of space. Hodder and Cessford (2004:30) mention that a child growing up in Çatalhöyük would have learned that factors such as age of deceased individuals would affect which platform the person would be buried under, which type of plaster would be used for that platform and how clean that platform is meant to be kept (Hodder and Cressford 2004:30). This type of collective knowledge is an example of a social rule that is directly related to spatial segregation. One last idea from Connerton (1989:35) that is reflected in the  Çatalhöyük case study is that of social habit. Connerton (1989:35) describes a social habit as an act that reflects the social conventions that others expect to be either legitimate or illegitimate in a society. Activities in Çatalhöyük such as cleaning, sweeping, burying the dead and plastering walls were all seen as positive practices that were accepted in society (Hodder and Cessford 2004:30).

Works Cited

Connerton, Paul.

1989  How societies remember. Cambridge University Press.

Hodder, Ian and Craig Cessford.

2004   Daily Practice and Social Memory at Çatalhöyük. American Antiquity 17-40.

Engendering Place

The two articles from this week are focused on the engendering of place in archaeology. The first, “Households with Faces: the Challenge of Gender in Prehistoric Architectural Remains” by Ruth E. Tringham, introduces the importance of material culture and architecture in putting faces to people from the past. The second article, “Interpreting Space” by Moore (1986) focuses on the Marakwet from East Africa. Moore (1986) demonstrates the importance of economic and social factors in relating meaning to domestic spaces and the way they are utilized.

Tringham (1991) makes an important note that when attempting to engender prehistory it is important not to “add women and stir” (95). Since archaeology was typically genderless or focused on men, it is important not to simply add women to the narrative with stereotypical assumptions about what their role would be or how they would have been perceived. Tringham (1991) suggests that in order to better understand gender differences in prehistory, material culture and architecture can be used (98). In addition to this, it is argued that ethnographic or ethnoarchaeological studies can provide deeper insight to the gender division within the household (Tringham 1991:103).

For Tringham (1991), it seems that the issue is not only including women in prehistory, but using the evidence available in order to avoid misrepresentation. Obviously as anthropologists we aim to avoid misrepresentation, and given that it is an issue that pertains to culture and gender in today’s society, the article made me question if there is a way to truly avoid bringing our own cultural biases into the engendering of place in prehistory. As of right now, this is probably not possible. However, I agree with Tringham that analysis of households on a microscale (material culture and architecture) as well as ethnography are good places to search for meaning and therefore the possibility of difference in gender roles. Although ethnographic information may not correspond exactly to prehistory, it does provide researchers with an idea of how gender roles can vary. This in turn helps archaeologists keep their own cultural biases in mind while gaining a sense of the diversity that exists.

Moore’s (1986) description of men and women of the Endo made the idea of engendering space much more concrete. Not only did spaces in the households have gendered relations, items such as ash, Chaff, and animal dung had much more symbolic meaning than would be initially assumed. These symbolic meanings were directly associated with power, politics and economy in a way that allowed Moore (1986) to conclude that the symbols are both what they represent and what they oppose (113).

One common theme that persisted throughout the article was that of conflict between male and female interests. This idea was helpful for understanding exactly how factors such as economy and power come into play with engendered space. For example, women were subordinate to men, but this does not mean that they had no power (Moore 1986:111). Women are associated with working and cooking in kitchen with the hearth which produces ash, and is therefore symbolic of the reproductive powers of women (111). Ash has a specific space that it is allowed to be, and should never be mixed with its opposite which is animal dung (112). Animal dung represents a different type of fertility which is that of the herd and maleness. Tension between men and women can occur in relation to these because of control over production, since women control food and men control the animals. The interests of women and the production of the household may clash with that of the man and the clan (112). This example demonstrates how spaces and materials can be symbolic of not only gender but much more, and from these meanings greater social implications can follow.