Warfare and Society: Archaeological and Social Anthropological Perspectives

By Ton Otto; Henrik Thrane et al. | Go to book overview

31 Warfare, Weaponry, and Material Culture:
An Introduction

So the possession of costly bronze daggers, swords, and rapiers consolidated
the positions of war-chiefs and conquering aristocracies as did the knights’s
armour in the Middle Ages.

(Childe 1941: ‘War in prehistoric societies’. The Sociological Review 33, p. 133)

HELLE VANDKILDE

The three articles in this section all deal with warfare in societies of the Bronze Age. In addition, they share a material perspective. In their articles Anthony Harding (chapter 33) and Henrik Thrane (chapter 32) assess the reliability of material culture as a source of data about Bronze Age warfare asking the essential question of how far the material evidence can bring us in understanding affairs of war in the Bronze Age. My own contribution reflects on the social role of weaponry, in strategies of power taking place in the ideal society described so persuasively by Homer.


Archaeology and material culture

Material culture has more than one application in archaeological research. First, it is the main source of empirical data about the past: only material remains have been preserved for long periods of time in the past, and these are the sole means of gaining access to prehistoric society. Archaeological sources for prehistory are, basically, material fragments of past human actions carried out by situated actors. On the basis of archaeological data past human actions can be reconstructed, and their structuration – their repetition and change – in time/space can be figured out through analysis. More precisely, archaeology may be described as a discipline that studies, mainly through material means, the reproduction of and changes in human action, which is in fact embodied social structure across time and space. Second, material culture is inevitably a third party in the relationship between human actors and society, and for that reason it is central to any interpretative enterprise. In archaeology material culture therefore holds a twofold position as data material and as a principal agent that has structured the lives of prehistoric beings.

-483-

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