Redirected Light on the Indigenous Mediterranean

By Stoddart, Simon | Antiquity, September 1999 | Go to article overview

Redirected Light on the Indigenous Mediterranean


Stoddart, Simon, Antiquity


The characterization of the indigenous is a current concern of many archaeologists with a global vision (Funari et al. 1999). In the Mediterranean, the direct and indirect, explicit and implicit power and authority of the colonizer have dominated historically. Text has been master over other classes of material culture. Change has been sought in the exotic. Furthermore, whereas inroads were made into this attitude of mind for Mediterranean prehistory, the study of the last two millennia BC has continued to be profoundly affected by this approach (Boardman 1999: 190; see Boardman 1999: 275-6; Van Dommelen 1997; De Angelis 1998).

In spite of this background, the study of the later prehistory of the Western Mediterranean has changed appreciably in the last decade through new evidence and new ideas. More intensive research has been undertaken on those indigenous communities. A new conceptualization of interaction has been developed which is at last giving credit to the contribution of long-lasting indigenous communities. This has involved the identification of local identities that are not submerged in some Hellenic or Phoenician wave of advance. Diverse elements of this trend are visible in all the books reviewed here. They cover the two largest islands of the Mediterranean and its largest peninsula. Their presentation involves different modes of discourse, but a comparable underlying message can be established in each: the indigenous must be thoroughly considered in any explanatory framework.

The first Sardinian volume (Moravetti) - a sample of the new evidence of the indigenous uncovered principally by Sardinian archaeologists - is for the specialist Mediterranean library. It collects together the papers presented at the 1997 EAA meetings in Ravenna, Italy, within a BAR format, in three languages (Italian, English and Spanish). Papers start with two introductory outlines of the achievements of Sardinian archaeology in recent years. The second of these introductions is by one of the individuals (Lilliu) who has done most to advance local research, although within a culture-historical framework. The following papers are short illustrated presentations of recent work which range through prehistory from the Neolithic to the Iron Age, concentrating on funerary remains and nuraghi, with one contribution on the Roman period. For the most part, these are illustrations of material culture (including architecture), without a substantial analytical content, and without entering the broader setting of Mediterranean prehistory. Nevertheless, the use of osteological evidence and territorial analysis shows the interesting potential of work currently being undertaken. In particular, two papers make an important contribution to understanding of the landscape of the nuraghi (Alba and Foddai).

The second Sardinian volume (Van Dommelen) makes an interesting contrast. Van Dommelen explains in his preface the 'entanglement of perspectives' which led him to undertake fieldwork in west central Sardinia in the framework of a post-colonial perspective. These perspectives draw on the stimulating combination of his Leiden background, his UCL research experience, and implementation with Sardinian colleagues in the field. The result is a largely successful initiative to move away from the colonialist preconceptions of the past and apply them in the context of landscape archaeology.

The leading concept in Van Dommelen's approach is hybridization (Bhabha 1994) which he had already developed elsewhere (Van Dommelen 1997). There is also a Braudelian subtheme that evenements of imperial take-over did not immediately affect the conjuncture of local identity. This is an approach which rejects the dualism of the colonizers and the colonized, and seeks to explore the complex grades of the autochtonous through three phases: Phoenician, Punic and Roman. The key to this analysis is the unlocking of material culture which is sensitive to disentangling and then providing a methodology for distinguishing identities. …

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