Time and Transitions: The Hybridization Threshold

Posted on January 1, 2020


Happy new year. Here is a session we filmed at TAG that you might enjoy:

Session Info

Periods of transition are recognizable archaeologically for their jarring nature. These periods offer unique insights into conceptions of culture and community as individual and group identities respond and adapt. Particularly interesting are those transitions that occur through contact between different cultures. These connections result in new practices as identities are renegotiated in response to new cultural influences. Limited or isolated changes within a culture due to a small migrations, trade, raiding, or other forms of cultural transmission are visible as well. Archaeologically, the study of transitional periods has been examined within culturally specific contexts. Our studies look beyond the appearance of foreign imports to the production of new materials by drawing from both contexts, resulting in those changes that we identify as markers of cultural transition. This session will explore when transitions appear with a particular interest in the hybridity threshold and the cultural intimacies necessary for hybrid materials to be persistent in the archaeological record. Transitional materials are easily identified when they change dramatically and quickly. However, when there is subtle change resulting from persistent culture contact, how do archaeologists parse out the motivations and negotiations behind the hybridized forms? Differentiating between the causes of change is vital to understanding the nature of transitional phases. This session aims to deal with both the process of transition and the nature of culture contact and exchange that precipitates these liminal periods of hybridization.

Organisers: Brooke Creager (University of Minnesota) and Erin Crowley (University of Minnesota)


How Long Does It Take To Be Local?: the Foreigner-Local Threshold


Prehistoric archaeology often identifies cultural groups based on association with different types of material culture. However, in situations of culture contact, particularly prolonged contact such as in instances of colonization or migration, differentiating between groups can be particularly difficult. Exchange of ideas and goods between people in close geographical proximity can blur or eliminate cultural boundaries in the archaeological record. Furthermore, over time the colonizer and the colonized can create new hybridized material culture. What is the temporal boundary, therefore, between foreigner and native? This paper explores this question by comparing case studies from the New World, Ancient Greece, and Rome. Insights from cultural anthropology, and particularly ethnography, are essential to this discussion. While in pre- or proto-history, it is not possible to ask an individual how they identify themselves, it is in modern contexts. This reveals that identity is a multi-faceted concept and that the field of archaeology still lags behind anthropology in the application of this idea. In many cases, it may not be useful, therefore, to continue to discuss whether an archaeological individual or group is colonizer or colonized, but to acknowledge that they may be both and/or neither simultaneously.

Ivy Faulkner-Gentry (University of Minnesota)

Timing Death: Questioning the chronology of Romano- British figural funerary reliefs


Romano-British tombstones form part of a complex visual culture that emerged from several interactions and represent a new form of commemoration that came out of Rome’s conquest of Britain. Attempts to explain the varying appearance of these images most often have their basis in models of cultural interaction, or questions of skill. I will argue that none of these are good enough answers to my question. Factoring time into this is difficult as tombstones are often dated by style, which is in turn explained by the passage of time. The notion of transition seems to demand that we establish a chronology, but what if we can’t? What if neither cultural contact nor time serves as a sufficient explanation for these images? My approach here is to return to the images themselves and what they were supposed to do: commemorate people. I will examine the artistic strategies used, primarily in the representation of the body, in order to determine their possible effects in a commemorative context. By investigating the motivations behind these images in terms of cultural contact, time, and context, it is hoped that we will gain some insight into what hybridity and transition looked like in Romano-British funerary imagery.

Hanneke Reijnierse-Salisbury (Cambridge University)

Broaching the Subject: Hybridised cultures behind the Bird and Sandal fibulae from northern Britain


So-called ‘Romano-British’ fibulae in the form of birds, ducks, or swans are some of the least understood brooches in the menagerie of zoomorphic fibulae. Whereas horses, rabbits, and dogs have been connected to gods and goddesses both Roman and Celtic, the duck, as yet, escapes explanation. In contrast, sandal brooches are explained either through a connection to travellers and traveller gods, or to the army. Whatever the iconography represents, the majority of historians agree that the brooches, which appear in the Roman era, are manifestations of a hybridized culture, change over time. This paper will explore the sandal and bird fibulae from Northern Britain, rethinking their meanings and what light they can shed on ‘Roman Britain’.

Alex Mirošević-Sorgo (Cambridge University)

Cash Cow: Transitional economies challenging hybridity in late prehistoric-early Medieval Ireland


The effects of cultural contact can permeate all parts of society apart from material manufacture. Particularly, regional trade relations can impact the development of local economies. How, then, might we interpret the cause of economic change and development archaeologically? It has been suggested that the dairying economy so integral to Irish early Medieval society developed from contact with the Roman Empire as part of a suite of practices that developed during the first half of the first millennium AD. During the early Medieval period, cattle are the most prevalent remains identifiable at archaeological sites, and law tracts from this period suggest that property and personal values were measured in numbers of milk cows and pounds of butter. What amount of intimacy or what nature of contact would be necessary, therefore, for a society to develop such a complex value system? By examining economic change and development in archaeological contexts, this paper will propose ways in which we may better understand the network of social interactions that may lead to economic changes and questions how we explain the interconnections between social and economic interactions.

Erin Crowley (University of Minnesota)

Religious Liminality: Hybridized ritual formation in Post-Roman Britain


Hybridization occurs during periods of change, when a culture is reforming in response to stimuli, either internal or external. Within these hybridizing events, religion is a barometer for the worldview of the culture. When religions hybridize, they indicate that the culture itself is evolving. The hybridization, or adaptation, indicates that the society is rethinking how its world functions. Sometimes these hybridizations have less impact, such as the inclusion of an additional god to the polytheistic Roman pantheon, and sometimes they indicate larger transitions, such as a conversion from a polytheistic ritual practice to a monotheistic one. The case study of Post- Roman Britain, with an examination of Christian practice in the Migration Period, allows for the study of how a monotheistic religion evolves within a polytheistic society. The development of hybridization indicates the integration of one practice into another, and the resistance to hybridity can indicate something entirely different. The interactions between cultures is revealed by the degree of the subsequent hybridity and important for understanding the evolution of societies.

Brooke Creager (University of Minnesota)

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