Understanding and Interpretation

Veerasamy Selvakumar (Department of Epigraphy and Archaeology); Kaushik Gangopadhyay (Centre for Archaeological Studies and Training in Eastern India)


Artefacts, symbols, built structures, and features are integral components of culture. Cultural materials, apart from their primary function as objects per se, assume multiple meanings in various cultural contexts. They become symbols and identify individuals, communities, groups and cultures.  Style and design of material culture form the basis of interpretations of archaeologists. Archaeologists define material culture based on various attributes of artefacts. Correlating material culture with a specific identity is a challenging task facing archaeologists.  The designs and styles of material culture are influenced by numerous cultural and environmental factors, and changeover time. Archaeological research often focuses on describing and explaining such changes.

The theme “Understanding and Interpretation” focuses on the relationships between material culture and identity. It welcomes contributions that explore these relationships from various cultural contexts, both archaeological and ethnographical, across the world.

Some of the possible areas related to the theme include:

  • Theories on ritual, cosmology, and meaning
  • Emic and etic perception of material culture
  • Function versus cultural identity
  • Typology, classification and archaeological cultures
  • Colours, symbols and identity
  • Artefact types and regional cultural traditions
  • Palaeoart forms and their contribution to defining cultural identity
  • Architectural forms and their regional, chronological and cultural tradition
  • Iconography, writing, identity and meaning
  • Gender and material culture
  • Children and material culture
  • Multiplicity of meanings


Art in Ancient Urban Life

Durga Basu (University of Calcutta)


Urban Art is defined as a style of Art which relates to cities and city life, often created by the artists who have been nourished in the urban society. In ancient world, one of the greatest contributions of urban societies was the production of Art. Each Civilization had a distinct art style which was mostly confined to a particular urban societal and chronological frame work.

If art is created to communicate with the people, then the art work which is related to an urban society no doubt advertises the message, mood, environment and day to day customs of that urban life. Admittedly urban art serves as a means for exploring and appreciating the essential elements of an urban life. Urban art is easily distinguishable from the rural or folk art for its high stylistic quality, sophisticated and elegant gesture and form, mood and expression, colour and refinement. Sometimes an ancient urban life can be better understood through its artistic creations.

Recently scholars have interpreted art as the means by which a community develops itself.

Art in Ancient Urban Life may be taken as a major theme which will highlight different aspects of ancient urban societies with the help of art traditions.

Shamanism in Indian Rock Art: An Exploration

Ruman Banerjee (University of Bristol)


Indian rock art is one of the richest living cultural heritages on earth. From the prehistory to the contemporary the character, ramifications and manifestations of this extraordinary cultural resource has shown continuity, revival and rejuvenation defining cultural identity and traditions. A few newly discovered motifs from Central India showed considerable promise to approach the problems and prospects of shamanism and its trajectories both in rock art and regional ethnography. These rock paintings represent therianthropes with raised arms having single, multiple feathered or horned headdresses. In an altered state of consciousness shamans communicate with the supernatural entities, heal the sick, control livestock, fertility, warfare and seasons; which are finally depicted in the rock art. In Indian context folk art might go along the lines of shamanism, when produced in the altered state of consciousness and provides a potentially optimistic means of enquiry. But could we really trace back this concept from contemporary ethnic representations to the archaeological record in terms of rock art production and consumption? This paper, therefore aims to analyze and interpret how shamanistic motifs in specific rock-shelters constituted, reproduced, and sometimes challenged social relations and beliefs.


Understanding monumentality: motivations, mentalités and the significance of early monuments for past societies. Part 1 & Part 2

Bettina Schulz Paulsson (Graduate School Human Development in Landscapes, Kiel/Germany); Antonia Davidovic (Graduate School Human Development in Landscapes, Kiel/Germany); Kemal Moetz (Arkeoloji Bölümü, Instanbul University)


Mesolithic and Neolithic monuments worldwide, which includes stone temples and circles, Henge monuments, megalithic graves and pyramids, are striking features of the prehistoric landscape. The earliest worldwide known stone monuments are T-pillar buildings constructed in the 10th millennium BC in eastern Anatolia. For Europe, the earliest known monumental funeral proliferation documented are the Passy graves in the Paris basin dating from the early 5th millennium BC. But how can we understand this increased monumental behaviour and the necessity of past societies to express themselves with symbols in the landscape by creating permanent communal or memorial places? What social concept, and which worldview is behind the monument building?

The Session Will Examine:

  • Theories on social organisations required to create monuments vs. current reconstructions in archaeology from social organisations of past societies through the spatial distribution of monuments and the burial rites.
  • The mentalités that lay behind the architecture of early monuments from a cognitive archaeological approach.
  • Environmental factors and economic needs as possible reasons for erecting early monuments worldwide.

The session is open for papers, both about the earliest monuments in specific regions in the world, but also employing interdisciplinary contributions e.g. from the social/cognitive psychology, cultural anthropology, paleo-climatology etc.


Hunting Kites

Stephan F.J. Kempe (Technische Universität Darmstadt, Germany), Ahmad Al-Malabeh (Hashemite University, Jordan)


A session is proposed inviting papers on archaeological, palaeontological, ecological, chronological, statistical or heritage (inter alia) aspects of prehistoric or historic “Hunting Kites”. The term “Kite” originates from the Jordanian Harrat (lava desert) were hundreds of kilometer-large stone structures exist (reminding from above of children’s kites) that most probably were erected in Neolithic times to hunt gazelles. They show a rich archeological relative stratigraphy and a high diversity of form. They were arranged in chains that also extend into Syria and Saudi Arabia, to effectively intercept migrating animals. Similar, albeit much smaller structures have been reported from the central Saudi Arabia, Negev, northern Syria/southern Turkey and Uzbekistan in Asia as well as from the plains and arctic regions of North America (“Drive Lines”) where they served to hunt bison or elk.


Roman Aequeduct Tunnels

Ahmad Al-Malabeh (Hashemite University, Jordan), Stephan F.J. Kempe (Technische Universität Darmstadt, Germany)


A session is proposed inviting papers on archaeological, engineering, geological, chronological, or heritage (inter alia) aspects of Roman aqueduct tunnels. In Northern Jordan water tunnels exist that may have a total length of >100 km, possibly representing the longest antique tunnel system. It served to supply water to some of the Decapolis cities, such as Abila (Quwailiba) or Gadara (Umm Qais). A hypothesis states that a tunnel extends all the way from the Syrian border to Umm Qais. However, detailed surveys of sections of this presumed “super-tunnel” cast doubt on this hypothesis. The session could serve to present conflicting data as well as reports on other Roman tunnel systems in the Near East, Africa or Europe.


The Socio-Cultural factors and the effectiveness of interpretation of archaeological heritage in the Jordanian context

Musa Ayesh (University of Tsukuba, Japan)

Under the theme of Interpretation of Archaeological heritage, this session focuses on how the sociocultural factors could affect the interpretation of archaeological heritage in a particular context like Jordan.


Gender and burial customs in the Bronze and Iron Ages between the Atlantic Ocean and Ural Mountains

Valeriu Sirbu, (Museum of Braila – Romania); Cristian Schuster (Institute of Archaeology “Vasile Parvan” – Bucharest)


We intend to analyze several aspects of the way in which the sex of the dead can be deduced from the funerary fitting out and inventory found in the grave. Of course, were are not talking just about the biological meaning of sex, but also about the way in which the funerary fitting out and inventory can point to the gender status as “man” or “woman” of the dead in the society. We will also look into the age limit of the “child” status, as mirrored by the funerary inventory.
In order to have a wider view of this phenomenon, we will analyze a wide geographical area, between the Atlantic Ocean and the Ural Mountains, and a time span of about three millennia, namely the Bronze and Iron Ages.
Extra attention will be given to comparing the anthropological analyses with the funerary inventory, in order to notice any patterns in the depositing of “funerary sets” that mirror the dead’s gender in the society.


Scenes of life and death in rock art: challenges for analysis and interpretation

Sally K. May, (The Australian National University, Australia); Ines Domingo Sanz, (Universitat de Barcelona, Spain)


This session focuses on the challenges of using rock art scenes to interpret social and cultural activities. Rock art has the potential to provide unique evidence for past (and, sometimes, present) social and cultural activities as well as the motivations of the artists depicting such scenes of life and death. Given rock art was generally made and meant for the place it is today found, it is also some of the best contextualised evidence of the past. Using case studies of sites from around the world we aim to explore how such information is encoded in rock art and the challenges association with analysing and interpreting this imagery. We welcome papers drawing on individual scenes as well as those taking a wider site or landscape approach.


Material Culture and Symbolic Representations: Meanings and Identity

Veerasamy Selvakumar, (Tamil University, India); Kaushik Gangopadhyay, (Centre for Archaeological Studies and Training in Eastern India, India)


Material culture (artifacts, monuments, ecofacts, i.e. natural objects used or handled by people without any modification), natural features (e.g. hillocks, rivers and rockshelters) and symbolic representations (artificial graffito and paintings, and even naturally occurring designs adopted or incorporated by people) serve both economic functions and ideological role within a culture. Some of the possible questions related to the topic are: How does material culture become focal point of identity? Why does the meaning of a particular artifact change? This session seeks to explore the meanings and identity of material culture and symbolic representations in various archaeological and ethnographic contexts.

It seeks to address the following issues:

  • Theoretical issues concerning material culture and identity in archaeology.
  • Multiplicity of meaning of artifacts.
  • Artifacts, monuments and identities from archaeological context.
  • Material culture and identity in contemporary society.
  • Past material culture and contemporary construction of identity.
  • Symbols, meanings and identity.


Peripheral relations; Cast events in unsaid archaeologies

Andres Zarankin (Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil), Cristobal Gnecco (Universidad del Cauca, Colombia), and Alejandro Haber (Universidad de Catamarca, Argentina)


During our fieldwork, we live stories of several types, we feel and think things which seldom are published. At best, these are shared in an informal and spontaneous manner, in non-academic conversations. In other occasions, we archaeologists write imagined histories, projecting our knowledge about the past in order to build characters and histories, regarding the contexts studied. These are also histories which end up lost in forgotten notebooks. Remaining peripheral to methodological protocols, these histories refer to relations which could be constitutive of past experiences. Whilst excluded from disciplinary narratives, they do not, however, disappear. Instead, they remain influencing and agencying archaeology, sometimes much more then archaeology whishes to recognize, but still shaping field experiences into true events of epistemic interpellation. The objective of this symposium is to bring forth these histories or living experiences, which are an integral part of the archaeologist’s creative process, in order to put into new focus those events that the discipline leers on to. In the search to question the epistemological niches, which are based on abrupt modern dichotomies, and, also, to question our own questions, we invite, for this symposium, discussions of peripheral relations.


Prowess, Peoples and Belief Systems: Presentations of Siva Linga in South and Southeast Asian Art

Amarjiva Lochan (University of Delhi, India); Simona Ferraro, (University of Basel, Switzerland)


In Hindu pantheon, Siva stands tall in its art forms across South and Southeast Asia since the beginning of the First Millennium AD. Mostly represented in the form of linga (_phallus-like cylindrical pillars with rounded tops_ ), its provenance has been found from the second millennium BC *Harappa* Civilisations (south Asia) to the farthest of Indonesian islands (*Bali*). This form of veneration was solidly consolidated both in texts and art creations during the Gupta period (4th-5th century AD) and consequently the belief crossed the shores of India with other Indic elements. Often associated with the royalty and the assertion of the political prowess, the Siva Linga has produced innovative visual presentations in stone in the entire region. Be it the _Sahasralinga_ (Thousand Linga in stone) of Gujarat(*Patan*) or Karnataka(*Sirsi*), or Khmer establishment of *Lingapura* or *Kbal Spean* (Cambodia), the local genius emerge out of such monumental art work of Siva Linga with fullest scope of regional art variations adorning Hindu(central Vietnam), Jaina(Ellora, western India) and Buddhist temple complexes( Thailand). The panel looks at the underlying symbolism and features of Siva Linga as the integral components of material culture related with Siva Linga for understanding India beyond its borders.


Archaeology of Death and the Dead

Krishnan. K. Nampoothiri (The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, India); P.R. Chauhan, (Indiana University, USA)


Within the archaeological context, death and the evidence related to burial practices have though been studied by archaeologists, anthropologists, historians and several similar social scientists; we still fail to understand the ideas behind the burial practices. It is not wrong to assume that the way death is treated by the people who began recording heritage in written format have definitely relied on the inherited thoughts and ceremonies from either their immediate past or from their memories about the past or as per their own cultural norms. Archaeologists have not succeeded in integrating the information derived from these scriptures on death with that of the archaeological remains of the dead because it is difficult to integrate tangible and intangible components of culture. But, it has become imperative for us to focus on deriving a tentative picture of its cultural norms. This session aims to open a forum to discuss the possibility of integrating such tangible and intangible components on death and develop a suitable methodology to facilitate integration. The global archaeological evidence to be discussed will be both empirical and theoretical and cover all three time frames: prehistoric, proto-historic and historical.


At the edge of the worlds – cultures in between

Marcin A. Czarnowicz, (Jagiellonian University, Poland); Agnieszka Ochał-Czarnowicz, (Jagiellonian University, Poland); Joanna Dębowska- Ludwin, (Jagiellonian University, Poland); Fazli Sattar Durrani, (University of Haripur, Pakistan)


The main aim of this session is to discuss mutual interactions among cultures, including core–periphery relations and impact of developing civilizations to neighboring lands. The starting point to the discussion is Jordan and whole Southern Levant as a territory influenced by both Egypt and Mesopotamia. A special importance will be given to the presentations showing evidence of influences of other cultures, visible in archeological context, such as appearance of imports, imitations, fakes or even hybrids (artifacts which combines elements typical of different cultures). This will be an introduction to a discussion about the interactions and socio-economical and socio-political changes and the method of tracing such interactions through archaeological investigations.

This workshop is open to anyone who would like to share their own experience in research on interactions between the cultures in the past.