Material Culture: Techniques and Society

larko2233  2022-2023  Louvain-la-Neuve

Material Culture: Techniques and Society
5.00 credits
30.0 h

This biannual learning unit is being organized in 2022-2023
To have followed LARKE1230 Materials and Techniques of Antiquity is an advantage.
Main themes
In the continuity of LARKE1230 Materials and Techniques of Antiquity, this teaching unit proposes a set of theoretical and methodological frameworks for the study of archaeological artifact assemblages, according to the different types of materials and technical gestures employed by the humans who produced them (ceramics, stone, metal, wood, glass). At the same time, the variety of trajectories of archaeological objects ("object biography") and their contexts of discovery are discussed, in that these variants impact the interpretative processes. Starting from the description of archaeological artifacts, analytical methods are examined that allow the reconstruction of the techniques and uses to which they were subjected. Such reconstructions are also scrutinized in that they are the materialized expressions of the related social groups.
Learning outcomes

At the end of this learning unit, the student is able to :

. At the end of the course, the student will be familiar with the methods of analysis of archaeological artifacts from the point of view of their material properties and the technical gestures that produced them, as well as their functional analysis.
He or she will also be able to explain the variety of questions and issues involved in the practice of archaeology when it focuses on the reconstruction of the technical traditions and uses of the communities studied, and when it tends to infer cultural and social dimensions.
Material culture is central to all aspects of archaeology; it has been theorized according to various concepts: materiality, symmetrical archaeology, theory of material engagement, theory of "entanglement" (cf. LARKO2231 Historiography and Theories of Archaeology). Other approaches focus on the relations between human beings and things/objects by probing the interconnection of their respective lives. One then considers in particular the concept and tool of the chaine opératoire, and the notion of biography (or trajectory, or itinerary) of objects.
In the first case, starting with archaeological artifacts (and samples), we are interested in the different types of operations, phases, and sequences of the chaine opératoire used to produce artifacts, we address the methods that allow us to describe, characterize, and interpret these technical processes, and we consider how their study, in close connection with the context of discovery of the objects, informs us about the specific or shared characteristics of the communities in question. Ultimately, by exploring the diversity of the ways of making, or technical traditions of the various social groups under study, we try to approach the dynamics in play, i.e. not only the functional constraints of materials, but also cultural factors and choices, the latter allowing us to consider processes as diverse as those of invention, innovation, borrowing, adoption, rejection, transfer and acculturation.
In the second case, various issues related to the circulation and use of different categories of archaeological materials and artifacts are addressed through the presentation of case studies. These allow us to address methodological questions, but also to consider the variety of representations and forms of interaction or organization of the ancient societies that handled these objects, along different regional and chronological scales.
In the end, from contextually anchored archaeological problems, and by calling upon methods of analysis borrowed from anthropologists and experimental archaeology (the principle of analogy, given our inherently incomplete documentation), the archaeologist can consider the techniques and uses linked to objects as social productions. The crossed approach of a set of works can ultimately inform us about more transversal interpretative schemes (or concepts) of the material culture of human societies (how do we define a workshop?; what are the modes of transmission of knowledge and the contexts of human learning?; how do we approach the different scales of a community's exchange networks? what can we say about the gendered distribution of work and domestic activities?; what do objects say about maintenance and subsistence activities within a household?)
Teaching methods
In the form of ex-cathedra sessions, each course addresses questions and methods of analysis specific to a type or category of archaeological artifacts - ceramics, stone, glass, metal, wood. Each course focuses on a major theme, which can be illustrated either by a specific research project in all its methodological and practical details, or by a more transversal approach to a group of research works. Some sessions take the form of conferences by invited experts that give rise to more interactive exchanges.
Some sessions are linked to an article to be read beforehand. The content of the article is discussed at the beginning of the session on the basis of questions raised by the students. Practical sessions will complete the formation - insofar as the sanitary conditions related to covid 19 are respected – and relate to the macroscopic examination of different types of materials and objects (seminars at the Musée L and at the CRAN laboratory of UCLouvain) or visits intended to familiarize the students with various analytical methods and treatments of the different kinds of materials (e.g. visit to the laboratories of the Public Service of Wallonia).
Evaluation methods
Continuous evaluation and final paper to be submitted during the exams session, which may be the subject of an oral presentation in front of the other students and the teacher. Instructions for the paper are explained during the course. It can be written in French or English. A plan and a first statement of the research question discussed in the oral presentation and the paper must be submitted beforehand and will be taken into account in the final evaluation.
Online resources
Available and downloadable on Moodle: powerpoints of the sessions, bibliography and portfolio of articles; additional readings and resources.
Une bibliographie détaillée est fournie sur Moodle. Un portefeuille de lectures obligatoires est également discuté durant certaines séances de cours.
Faculty or entity

Programmes / formations proposant cette unité d'enseignement (UE)

Title of the programme
Learning outcomes
Master [120] in History of Art and Archaeology : General

Master [60] in History of Art and Archaeology : General