Arts and Humanities Research Board
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The unstable and unattractive Neolithic: archaeology of the margins and the ephemeral.

Dr. Douglass W. Bailey
Cardiff University

The current understanding of the Neolithic in southeastern Europe is weakened by our neglect of the temporary and ephemeral activities that occurred away from traditional sites such as villages or aggregations of pit-features. Excavations and interpretive attention continues to focus on the obvious and the easy to detect, to record and to analyse : houses, pits, burials, large faunal assemblages, raw material sources. Even in those examples where hyper-analytic work is being carried out to recover the traces of ephemeral activities (e.g., at Catalhoyuk to the east), efforts are concentrated in obvious places (e.g., houses, buildings, the village). Critically, we have neglected the majority of Neolithic life: those activities which, by their nature were impermanent and ephemeral, and which occurred in the margins of the cultural landscapes, out beyond the edges of sites. A consequence of this negligence is that we have reconstructed a Neolithic that disproportionately values the move towards sedentism, permanence of residence, and the creation of places that were ‘home' to long-term economic, productive and socio-political strategies. The alternative proposed here is to rethink the reality of Neolithic life by examining the gaps in between the obvious and monumental. The argument is that, today as in the Neolithic, the majority of life takes place in the margins and in the gaps. Reconstructions that neglect this majority tell only one, significantly limited, story of the period. While particular reference will be made to recent research in southern Romania, the argument has relevance for the study of Neolithic across southeastern Europe.

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