Archive for Past Seminars

Next Seminar: “Social Memory in Archaeology”

Memory is not data stored in the mind, but ‘emerges from the mutual engagement between the person and world’ (Jones 2007). It mediates between the past and the present and is not a passive reading of external information. It is part of the ongoing process of interpretation and re-interpretation of the world.

Memory can also change through time and memories can be eradicated. Connerton (1989) argues that memories are socially constructed phenomena and not purely psychological occurrences or constructed by social narratives. Instead, he argues than memory is embodied in social practice and that habit memory is expressed in actual body or physical movements of people and in ritual performances. Social memory can cause inertia in social structures, although this is not always the case. In order to understand these social structures it is necessary to examine habit, bodily practises and ritual. Accumulated material memories can create/ define human identity and personhood (also group identities). Material culture as a medium for storing memory (also neurological/ cognitive ability i.e. human brain evolution & language) but also for creating new memories and thus a medium for transmission of information, knowledge. Archaeologists have tended to either treat past societies as if they had no memories and to process and analyse their actives as if they had no sense of their own past, or archaeologists tend to rely heavily on textual evidence, which can be limited, fraught with pitfalls and can be limited in scope. Alcock (2001) believes that memories are embedded in a material framework and memory in archaeology can be ‘experienced’ in several ways, through actions or gestures, monuments, symbols and, of course artefacts.

Three case studies are listed which discuss various ways in which memory is used:

Embodied memory used to promote political/social capital in mortuary feasting in Late Bronze Age Greece and how the past is manipulated by ruling elites (Hamilakis).

Aurignacian statuettes reflect cultural memory, and are not passive objects that are reproductions of collective ideas but instead are active objects with meaning and have links with cultural memory, although, they have individual variations they possess shared meaningful ideology (Porr).

Social memory in a wider landscape at a time of dissent in Archaic and Hellenistic Messenia, exploring monuments and competing versions of the past (Alcock).

This seminar led by Dr. Yannis Hamilakis (University of Southampton) intends to use three casestudies to frame the discussion. (Questions to frame the discussion will be sent later)

Seminar will take place at 6.30pm on Wednesday 19th May 2010 at the Irish Institute of Hellenic Studies (51a Odos Notara).

Please RSVP to request the reading as spaces are limited:

Next Seminar: “Mortuary Practices and Society”

Mortuary practices have been used as a tool to track changes through time in elite ideologies and local political geographies. Preston (2004) discussed local mortuary practices in order to comment on the level of external influences on Crete during the Final and Post Palatial periods. Mortuary monuments may have functioned as large statements and monumental symbols.

A comparison by Wright (1987) between Shaft Graves and tholos tombs at Mycenae suggests that there were changes in mortuary architecture due to the evolution of society from chiefdom to an early state. Regional differences and different social strategies throughout the same cultural sphere may be traced through a study of mortuary evidence as Voutsaki (1998) showed with the case study of tholos tombs
in Messenia and the Argolid during LH II and LH IIIB. The same monument may well have a different social significance through time.

Changes in mortuary practices that could be due to radical socio-political developments leading to the emergence of a single, central authority may be visible via the archaeological record. Manning (1998) discusses the above issue with material from Maroni Valley in Southern Cyprus during the 14th Century B.C., a very crucial time in the island’s history.

It is even possible to identify distinct styles of burial which reflect different religious traditions, such as a 17th Century A.D. cemetery at Corinth where the remains of 133 individuals indicate a mixing of Christian and Muslim burial practices (Rohn et al. 2009).

The above case-studies, although largely focused on prehistory show the various applications of the study of mortuary evidence available to archaeologists. This seminar, led by Dr. Angelos Papadopoulos (Department of Antiquities, Cyprus), will use the above case studies from a range of chronological periods and geographical regions to address the issues outlined below and discuss their
applicability to all chronological periods.

• Can mortuary practices be used to show social differentiation and stratification between elite
and non-elite groups or are archaeologists are biased from modern perceptions?

• Can we trace cultural influences and wider network patterns through grave-offerings?

• Is it possible to reconstruct social and political processes of a society from the study of tombs
and burials?

If interested in participating please email the IIHSA to request the recommended reading. Seminar will take place at 6.30pm on Thursday 15th April 2010 at the Irish Institute of Hellenic Studies (51a Odos Notara).

Please RSVP as spaces are limited:

Next Seminar: “Anachronistic Identities?”

“Perhaps instead of thinking of identity as an already accomplished fact… we should think, instead, of identity as a ‘production’, which is never complete, always in process, and always constituted within, not outside, representation.” (Hall, S. 1990, 232)

The purpose of this seminar is to examine the way in which cultural critics, archaeologists and historians think about questions of identity. Although the imposition of outdated models of identity onto the ancient world has been discussed in areas as diverse as gender, colonialism and age, the manner in which group identity is variously conceived and the applicability or otherwise of (modern) notions, such as ethnicity and culture, remains highly contentious throughout all areas of archaeological enquiry. It is now somewhat commonplace that scholarship on the ancient world reflects modern interests and concerns – not least a concern for identity itself. Post-colonial approaches to antiquity are now increasingly prevalent – as demonstrated by the recent concern for subaltern voices and hybridized identities. We are ultimately faced with something of a conundrum, however, since it is often unclear how such terms of reference/models of understanding can best applied to the study of antiquity. In addition to wider concerns regarding the most appropriate means of reconciling the nuanced complexity of archaeological theory with the practical imperatives of material culture analysis, the influence of concepts such as ethnicity can at times seem excessive, skewing debate in favour of one particular ‘type’ of identity. During the course of this seminar participants will be asked to reflect upon the prevailing trends and assumptions within their area of study in the light of a series of set texts. The latter adopt positions that either challenge or qualify the way in which identities are ‘imagined’/constructed within a variety of fields: culture theory, archaeology and classics. Their intellectual bases and wider applicability will be open to debate along with questions of a more general nature, e.g. to what extent and for what reasons does scholarship on Neolithic, Classical or Bronze Age identities differ according to historical period or ‘national’ tradition – Anglophone versus Francophone scholarship etc.  The discussion will be chaired by Dr Naoise Mac Sweeney (Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge) and Dr Joseph Skinner (BSA).

Questions for discussion will include:

Is ‘identity’ itself a modern, rather than an ancient, concept?

Ethnicity, nationality, colonial – how far can these words be satisfactorily applied to ancient societies?

Do we need to revise the way in which we study past events and peoples or is the gap between theory and practice one to which we should be reconciled?

Would a different ‘take’ on identities have changed the way in which elements of the material and/or historic record were selectively interpreted? 

If interested in participating please email the IIHSA to request the recommended reading

6.30pm Thursday 17th December 2009 at the Irish Institute of Hellenic Studies (51a Odos Notara). Please RSVP as spaces are limited.


Next Seminar: “Imitation in Archaeology”

The Mediterranean basin contains complex and dynamic communication networks. Since Antiquity, ideas, objects and people have travelled on a regular base generating various forms of cultural contact. Cultural borrowing, or imitation, is one of them. This phenomenon, frequently encountered in archaeological studies, often represents a real challenge for archaeologists. Imitations affect the comprehension of archaeological issues related to technological knowledge, chronology and socio-economical aspects that need to be comprehended in order to reconstruct ancient history. The objective of the seminar will be to focus on the most frequent problems related to imitation in archaeological objects. The first meeting of the new session, led by Martin Perron (Université de Montréal & École doctorale d’archéologie, Université Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne), will discuss the concept’s definitions, mechanisms and purposes found in academic literature.

The issues we hope to discuss are:

–          the causes of cultural transfer (trade, war, craftspeople, mobility, migration, centre-periphery relationship, etc.)

–          the agents of transfer (the ideas, the objects or the individuals?);

–          who is imitating? for whom and for which purposes?

–          the techniques and the cognitive aspects associated with cultural reproduction;

–          the local needs that encourage acceptance of foreign influences in the “receptive environment”;

–          the degree of acceptance of influences (integral imitation, hybridation, rejection?) and what it can tell us about the “receptive community”;

–          the social impact(s) that imitation generates on individuals & collectives welcoming it;

–          Strategies, symbolisms and functions lying behind the phenomenon.

The last part of the seminar will be dedicated to the methodological approaches (stylistic, typological, archaeo-metrical, etc.) followed by archaeologists in order to distinguish imitations from genuine objects.

If interested in participating please email the IIHSA to request the suggested and recommended reading.

6.30pm Friday 06th November 2009 at the Irish Institute of Hellenic Studies (51a Odos Notara). Please RSVP as spaces are limited.


Next Seminar: The Archaeology of Religion and Ritual

Religion and ritual have been core concerns of archaeology for much of the discipline’s history. Many of the world’s most famous and impressive archaeological sites, from Stonehenge to the Pyramids of the Yucatan are often thought of as primarily religious or ritual sites. At the same time the study of ritual and religion has always had an ambiguous reputation within archaeology. Many scholars have regarded ritual and religion warily, as unrealistic subjects for investigation, poorly defined as phenomena, inaccessible through material evidence, or as merely convenient labels for the currently inexplicable in the archaeological record. It has been noted that even within post-processual archaeology with its notorious concern for the ‘ideational’ the term religion rarely crops up.

In this seminar we will discuss how archaeologists can approach ritual and religion. We will discuss whether they are clearly definable phenomena cross-culturally; whether they can be identified in the archaeological record; and how the study of ritual and religion impacts on other subjects within archaeology.


J. Brüch, “Ritual and Rationality” in European Journal of Archaeology 1999

T. Insoll, “Chapter 3: Current Approaches” in T. Insoll, Archaeology, Ritual, Religion

C. Renfrew, “The Archaeology of Religion” in Renfrew and Zubrow, The Ancient Mind

If you are interested in participating please email the Irish Institute of Hellenic Studies. 4pm Saturday 14th March 2009 at the Irish Institute of Hellenic Studies (51a Odos Notara)


Next Seminar: The Annales School and the Longue Durée

The Annales School is a major French contribution to historiography. Since the middle of the twentieth century it has exerted a significant influence on historical research. In archaeology that influence was especially focussed on Fernand Braudel’s concept of the Longue Durée. Beyond adding a new analytic dimension to the study of history, the Longue Durée, focussing on long term social and economic developments rather than on events, within a geographic framework, turned out to be especially suited to archaeological research. It is the underlying approach that influenced the development of archaeological landscape studies and of key aspects of the New Archaeology. However, there are many other aspects to the Annales School, some of which chime with recent trends in archaeological thought such as the development of an holistic interpretive framework.

During the seminar we aim to explore the philosophy and methods of the Annales School as they might be applied to archaeology in Greece.

If you are interested in participating please email the Irish Institute of Hellenic Studies and you will be provided with electronic versions of suggested reading. 7pm Friday 27th February 2009 at the Irish Institute of Hellenic Studies (51a Odos Notara)


Next Seminar: Applicability of Agency

Agency is an idea borrowed from sociology and was developed mainly by Pierre Bourdieu. It is concerned mainly with social power relating to intentional and meaningful action. The concept refers to the capabilities of people and things as major components of social practice.

This is in contrast with other approaches which subject people to determining structures, humanistic approaches. It stresses the creative role of human agents who intend, have motivations, rationalise and reflexively monitor action. Any account of past societies must, therefore, take account aspects of everyday social practice and experience. As archaeologists we are charged with adapting agency to fit our discipline and adopting our own archaeo-centric concept of it, that being said, material and theory are rarely adequately meshed.

In this seminar we intend to look at the applicability of agency to archaeological material, with reference to two case studies. How it can be recognised in and applied to archaeological material? Is it at times misused or poorly understood by archaeologists because their study is based on artefacts not people? Does this sociological theory has a practical use in archaeology or do we use it because we feel we should?

Suggested Reading
Barrett, J.C., 2004    ‘Agency The Duality of structure, and the problem of the archaeological Record’, in I. Hodder (ed.) Archaeological Theory Today:  141-64.. Polity Press.
Dornan, J.  2002    ‘Agency and Archaeology: Past, Present and Future Directions’, Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory. Vol 9 (4): 303-329.
Gravina, B., 2004    ‘Agency Technology, and the ‘Muddle in the Middle: The Case of the Middle Palaeolithic, in A Gardner (ed.) Agency Uncovered: Archaeological Perspectives on Social Agency and Human Beings: 65-81.    UCL Press
Lindenlauf, A., 2004    ‘Dirt, Cleanliness and Social Structure in Ancient Greece’, in A Gardner (ed.) Agency Uncovered : Archaeological Perspectives on Social Agency and Human Beings: 81-107. UCL Press.

If you are interested in participating please email the Irish Institute of Hellenic Studies ( and you will be provided with electronic versions of suggested reading.

7 pm Friday 13th February 2009 at the Irish Institute of Hellenic Studies, 51a Notara Street.