Scales of time: addressing temporal practices in the past

Room:    Teaching room 3
Time:      09:00–12:30
Format: Standard paper session
Organisers: Magnus Odebäck Ljunge (Stockholm University) – Joakim Wehlin (Uppsala University)

Time has been an essential part of archaeological practice and thinking ever since the 19th century. Time is the natural point of reference for almost any archaeological study. Methods and techniques for dating archaeological material has been developed for a long time and are used as the natural starting point when initiating archaeological enterprises. To ask, “How old is this thing and when was it in use?” is a deeply rooted initial reaction when encountering things and structures originating from the past. But the concept of time has also been the subject of archaeological theorization, and increasingly so since the 1980s. Researchers have developed critical considerations concerning the temporal framework used in archaeology, characterized as a linear historical time of occurring events.

The development of time and temporality as theory has been part of the ontological turn in archaeology and has generally been concerned with deconstructions of archaeological practices, such as chronological categorizations. Drawing on philosophical writings by thinkers such as Deleuze and Bergson, the ordering of the past in episodic periods has been criticized to its core. It has been argued that tings operate within different temporal relations and take part in the creation of notions of the past, the present and the future at all times.

The session will evaluate this theoretical development beyond deconstructions of archaeological practices and aims to discuss how to put this frame of thought into further use. How do we go from temporal ontologies and deconstructions of archaeological epistemology to an understanding of temporal practices in the past? For example, how do we develop methodologies that helps us address the temporal scales of the archaeological record in relation to seasonal changes, weather- and light conditions? How can movements and dwelling be understood in relation to temporal changes and rhythms of landscapes? We welcome contributions that that discuss methodological challenges and possibilities when studying theses issues, favourably with examples that relate to a landscape perspective.

1. Identifying Mesolithic moments and events as part of storytelling and worlding practices

Author(s): Astrid J Nyland (Museum of Archaeology, University of Stavanger)

Archaeology often studies processes of long duration where changes occur so slowly that they may have been imperceptible to those who experienced them. An archaeological challenge is then to identify material changes as indications of societal developments. However, identified temporal threshold of material change, do not necessarily capture the significant Mesolithic moments or events that caused that change or kept status quo. For example, some Mesolithic events may have been epoch-making, but left few marks in the archaeological record. This is the case with the Storegga tsunami that battered the western coast one autumn day, 8200 years ago. For those experiencing the tsunami’s full power, it must have created a temporal threshold to which the communities considered time Before and After. However, despite geological evidence of the tsunami itself, there are no direct trace of ‘squashed Mesolithic people’ (Wickham-Jones 2002). That is, the tsunami does not seem to have caused immediate massive material change. Should we then still regard the event as significant? What if the terrifying moment may have become entangled in stories and myths, and thereby affected societal practices or traditions in the coastal communities? There are also more low-key and subtle moments, like those experienced at a rock art site when light hits the surface, that may have been equally necessary or significant parts of the worlding practices of the Mesolithic societies. In this talk, I consider both types of temporal moments/events experienced as contributing to conceptualizing Mesolithic life worlds. To capture such moments, different methods timescales, and theoretical perspectives, must be combined. I argue that this may bring us towards new understanding of Mesolithic societies.

2. Moving in temporal landscapes

Author(s): Joakim Wehlin (Uppsala University)

Archaeological models are usually based on summer landscapes. Long-distance journeys and travels are assumed to have taken place along the waterways during the warm summer half of the year. However, we know historically that long-distance journeys took place during the winter, when practicability was favourable. The same applies to major land events such as large meetings and markets, which often was held during the winter. An important aspect to keep in mind is that the historical comparisons should for the most part, be linked to a full-fledged peasant society, where the winter was a less intense period in the agricultural cycle. The statement may seem obvious and is something that has been pointed out by researchers before. However, it is important to understand that movements in a landscape differs significantly between summer and winter, spring and autumn. Movements is also related to the sociality of landscapes and differs between different types of societies, such as hunter-gatherer, nomadic, semi-nomadic, animal husbandry, agriculture, etc.

Taking seasonal changes into account makes it possible to get closer to the archaeological remains and gain a better understanding of how people moved in the landscape. In the temperate part of the world, several overlapping landscape models may be needed to understand the prehistoric societies and their interaction with animals and landscapes. With such a view, it may for example be possible to understand the great variety of the prehistoric settlements and dwellings. Prehistoric sledges, skis and artefacts found in what previously have been referred to as no man’s land, should perhaps rather be interpreted as in the middle of the road.

3. Movement and mobility of arrows and humans

Author(s): Tova Lindblad

The aim of this study is to identify the Early Metal Age (2000–1 BCE) sites in Dalarna, located in the inland of central Sweden. In Dalarna, few sites from the Early Metal Age are known, but many new finds appears during the time period, like flint daggers, a few bronze objects, stone settings and bifacial arrowheads. Numerous dwellings by the water systems of Dalarna have been determined as Stone Age sites, or sites with Stone Age character. However, many of them have not been properly investigated. On several dwelling places, bifacial arrowheads have been identified. In this study, the bifacial arrowheads are used to search for sites from the Early Metal Age, and to identify movements in the landscape. Taken into consideration that arrows are made for movement, they are a good illustration of mobility patterns of past societies. Instead of searching for permanent settlement, this study recognizes the dwellings from a mobility perspective. In order to understand the people’s movement in the landscape, the seasonal changes and weather conditions can give insights to how and when the different dwellings where used. A first step is to identify and distinguish the Early Metal Age sites. At least two Early Metal Age sites with a large material of waste material from bifacial stone tool making have been found during the scope of this study. Single arrowheads without waste material are harder to connect to an Early Metal Age context, and are more common on dwellings with a long continuity.

4. Curating Time

Author(s): Christina Fredengren and Caroline Owman (Stockholm University)

Time is a matter of power and control. Museums work with “temporal politics” (see Pschetz & Bastian 2017) – and this paper has tried to make that visible by the analysis of a standard exhibition that creates an anthropocentric history that feeds into the linearities of Anthropocene time. By organizing time, an impression of a world that follows understandable (time)lines is established. This is a well-known phenomenon in curating museum exhibitions. In this paper we investigate how a museum’s history narrative is built around such dominant structures of timepower. Here we examine how, at the same time, alternative temporal relations are muted, and other-than-human agencies are rendered invisible. Our study highlights a number of temporal-relational portents, found in many exhibitions, that are tell-tales of environmental futures to come and histories in the making. Furthermore, we discuss ways of tuning in with museum things as counter-clocks, that consists of several temporal relations, to suggest other alternatives for how to curate time. We suggest a counter-curating of the exhibited objects, hence acknowledging the liveliness of museum things and their ecological relations with a more-than-human world, that project and diffracts out from museum displays. This shift in perspective, here performed within the museum context, is of utmost importance at this very moment in time; to understand and relate to our uncertain present and most unpredictable future, as rapid climate change is constantly creating new scenarios, we need to identify and communicate new perspectives on ourselves, the world and how it all is weaved together. In this paper we show how the museum, saturated with a diversity of temporal relations, is a suitable place to start as a move in highlighting museums as radical agents of environmental change.

5. Fakeness: a new dimension of archaeological time. Studying pre-hispanic mural paintings in Madrid

Author(s): Jesus Martin Alonso (Universiteit Van Amsterdam)

There are realities, landscapes and materiality that, depending on how one looks at them, do not belong to any “real” historical moment or, on the contrary, belong to several at the same time. Somehow they are present, past and fake. They are witnesses of a non-existent temporality because they pretend to be in another moment, in one for which there is no reference in the past. Baudrillard defined them as simulacra in his theory of hyperreality.

Very close to Madrid, in the lunar landscape of massive granite rocks of “La Pedriza”, there is a place that exemplifies this new temporal dimension. It is a set of supposedly pre-Hispanic mural paintings from the last quarter of the 20th century. They are the remains of what was a set for the film Tex and the lord of the Deep. Nowadays, it is a derelict place in which we find numerous material remains linked to the film and the filming process.

This paper aims to explain the archaeological intervention we carried out in this film set during the summer of 2020 and how we approach this fake dimension archaeologically.