Archaeology and Anthropology of Salt: A Diachronic Approach - Proceedings of the International Colloquium, 1-5 October 2008, A. I. Cuza University, Iasi, Romania

Article excerpt

Archaeology and Anthropology of Salt: A Diachronic Approach - Proceedings of the International Colloquium, 1-5 October 2008, A. I. Cuza University, Iasi, Romania Marius Alexianu, Olivier Weller and Roxana-Gabriela Curca (eds), Oxford, Archaeopress, BAR International Series 2198, 2007

Not all the published proceedings following an academic event are events themselves, but this book might as well be considered one, since it manages to bring forth an interdisciplinary yet unified view on the complex phenomenon of salt, especially in its relation to the evolution of humanity over time.

Significantly, the 2008 colloquium that made the reviewed book possible took place in Romania, the country with "the oldest evidence for salt production in Europe, and probably worldwide" (Foreword, vii). As is apparent in the editors' Foreword and in Nicolae Ursulescu's welcoming speech, the conference did not appear from nowhere. Supported by the framework of the project Salt springs in Moldavia: the ethnoarchaeology of a polyvalent natural resource, (2007-2010), it continues pioneering research in the history of salt exploitation, for which a significant beginning had been made in Romania by Ursulescu himself as far back as the 1970s. There had been a number of archaeologically focused conferences (Paris 1998, Liège 2001, Cardona 2003, Arc-et-Senans 2006), as well as several others, more historically oriented (Halle/Saale 1992, Granada 1995, Cagliari 1998, Weimar 2001, Nantes 2004, Sigüenza 2006); but the true precursor of the Archaeology and Anthropology of Salt was the 2004 international conference on the archaeology of salt (organized in Romania, by the History Museum in Piatra Neamt), although the papers delivered there ranged from field research to ethno-archaeology, ethnography and linguistics, instead of keeping within the limitations of the historical-archaeological domain. Although these were only about Europe, as the editors mention, important research on salt, from different standpoints, is under way in Asia, South America, Western Africa and Oceania.

Through their affiliation to the "narrow group of specialists" in salt, the editors, who also author papers in the volume, profess (in the Foreword) their intention to courageously "spill the salt" in front of the contemporary world and thus restore some essential truths. They fulfill their promise through this collection of articles that provide a broad perspective on this essential mineral, using anthropological, ethnological and philological approaches, and make one reconsider not only the role salt has played in the evolution of humanity, but also the value of research concerned with it.

The structure of the book supports an interdisciplinary approach, as promised in the Foreword. The division into five sections partly gives acknowledges the history of the domain (especially parts II and IV), and this is manifest in the titles: I. Ethnographic Approaches of Salt, II. Archaeological Salt Exploitation, III. Ancient Texts and Salt, IV. Historical Approaches and V. Linguistic and Philological Approaches. The papers are grouped according to interest, but together they create a balance between traditional and novel approaches and render a diachronic picture - from the Chalcolithic until the present times - of topics varying from salt exploitation and its political, social and economic implications, the household uses of salt, the language of salt, and the etymology of names referring to salt.

The opening section is concerned with ethnography and comprises five articles, of which the first two - "Salt springs in today's rural world: an ethnoarchaeological approach in Moldavia (Romania)" (Marius Alexianu, Olivier Weller, Robin Brigand, Roxana-Gabriela Curca, Vasile Cotiuga, Iulian Moga) and "New ethnoarchaeological investigations upon the salt springs in Valea Muntelui, Romania" (Dan Monah, Gheorghe Dumitroaia, Dorin Nicola) - deal with the ethnoarchaeology of salt springs in Romania. …