Individualization, Urbanization and Social Differentiation: Intellectual and Cultural Streams in Eurasia (800-400 BC)

11.02.2013 - 13.02.2013
Dirk Krausse / Manuel Fernández-Götz / Denise Beilharz, State Office for Cultural Heritage Baden-Württemberg, Esslingen; Martin Bartelheim, University of Tübingen
Sophie Hüglin, Archäologische Bodenforschung Basel-Stadt

In many parts of Eurasia the centuries between 800 and 400 BC mark a fundamental turning point. It was accompanied by the appearance of a whole range of phenomena which were to play an important part in shaping the world of today, such as writing, urbanization, individualization and intercontinental trade networks.

Following on from the Priority Programme “Early Celtic Princely Seats” (2004-2010) funded by the German Research Foundation, and concluding the major exhibition “The World of the Celts”, these phenomena were discussed and analysed from a broad perspective during the conference. A special focus lay on the process of urbanization. Beyond the conventional perspective of settlement archaeology, emphasis was put on the preconditions and consequences of this phenomenon in the spheres of thought, mentality, philosophy, art and religion. This report can cover but a few of the many interesting talks and discussions a select group of international speakers gave to an invited audience. The conference contributions will, however, be published by Cambridge University Press.

COLIN RENFREW (Cambridge) opened the conference and the view by setting Jasper’s “Axial Age” within the larger frame of the human development in general. He discriminated between the “speciation phase” from about 200 000 BC and the “tectonic phase” from about 10 000 BC, the time when sedentary communities formed and an acceleration of cultural change can be observed. Cognitive archaeology is his approach to read the human mind from material remains: What do they reveal about “social relations” regarding concepts of marriage, community, property, measure, planning and value or the “sacred relations” of e. g. pictorial representation and writing.[1]

JOHANNES MÜLLER (Kiel) stressed different patterns of organised settlements all over Neolithic and Chalcolithic Europe from Spain to the Balkans and Scandinavia. He was able to show that not all of these were necessarily on the way to urbanization. New to almost everybody were “mega-sites” in Rumania like Talianki: at around 3000 BC these fortified but rather short lived settlements measured up to 4 km in diameter and comprised 310 ha or about 1400 houses; Müller estimated the proto-urban site to have had about 12 000 inhabitants.

The changes usually ascribed to the Iron Age already occurred in the Middle Bronze Age. KRISTIAN KRISTIANSEN (Göteborg) made this point by showing the existence of long distance trade, increase in transport efficiency, new settlement organisation, differentiation within settlements, formation of European regional identities, rank societies, division of labour, transmission of people and genes, treaties, dynastic marriages and so forth as early as 1500 BC. This development, however, collapsed in 1200 BC, just as it collapsed again at the end of the Hallstatt period in the mid 5th century BC; the reasons for both are still being debated.

FRED SPIER (Amsterdam), a protagonist of “big history”, surprised the audience by reaching even further back than Renfrew before him by looking on planet earth from the moon as the first astronauts had done in 1968. He analysed the sources of energy and their transitions within human evolution by tools, fire and agriculture. Looking at early state formation, he introduced the so called Goldilocks’ principle: what were the favourable circumstances, what enabled larger human communities? Spier recognizes these mainly in the invention of agriculture, where children can be productive at an early age, which again leads to a rise of human reproduction.

Archaeologist MARTIN BARTELHEIM and anthropologist ROLAND HARDENBERG (both Tübingen) tried to gain a new view of the usual top-down perspective of archaeology on hierarchies, which had recently also been the topic of a conference at the University of Bochum.[2] The value system of non-modern societies, where the community is more important than the individual, is still not implemented in many interpretations of excavated burial sites.

DAVID R. OLSON (Toronto) described experiments with illiterate probands and preschool children which show how writing brings speech into consciousness. The discrimination of words within a sentence or phonemes within a word is something which is acquired together with an alphabet and the ability to read and write. Implicitly he thus described the prehistoric human mind as lacking the ability of abstract thinking. It is important to try to understand the changes in human consciousness throughout time. One might, however question the sagacity of comparing the Celts implicitly with children.

JOHN BINTLIFF (Leiden) pushed this point further by asking whether humans in prehistory and today have ever been free to make decisions or whether we are just “agents of a world outside us”. He – rightfully – criticized archaeologists for either ignoring theoretical approaches or just borrowing them from other disciplines. They also follow trends, as currently represented by “feasting” and “network”. Taking up on Olson one might point out: the more we know, languages, for example, or skills and theories, the more concepts we can choose from when looking at past worlds or making decisions today.

Do we observe development of individuality, when, from the metal ages onwards, some graves are considerably richer in goods than others? ALMUDENA HERNANDO (Madrid) negated this. He stated that even if individuals differed from the social group they were buried in they were still part, for example, of a warrior aristocracy. This aristocracy had a standardized object collection to show they were part of a European élite, an élite which for example would use razors to wear a certain hairstyle.

JOHN COLLIS (Sheffield) discriminated between two types of state formation in the Iron Age: the “city states” like Athens, Corinth and Rome in Southern Europe and the “tribal states” represented by princely sites and oppida in the North and West.[3] While with the first the town gives its name to the people – Athenians, Corinthians, Romans – with the second the people give their name to the settlement like in Lutetia Parisorum (Paris) or Durocortorum Remorum (Reims). The “city states” are characterized by long term stability, trust in institutions and investment in landed property, while the “tribal states” often rise with a charismatic leader, exist only for a few generations and rather rely on mobile goods like cattle. Because the systems are so different, Collis argued, they can not derive from each other, but must be looked at independently. Inspiring was also his description of Galatians, Cimbri and Teutons as “mobile towns”, because these wandering groups consisted not only of warriors, but of whole communities with women, children and craftsmen.

DIRCE MARZOLI (Madrid) and MASSIMO ORSANNA (Matera) described similar phenomena – the Phoenician expansion along the Spanish/Portuguese South Coast and the Greek colonization in Apulia – occurring in different times and regions. The focus nowadays has shifted from the colonists to the indigenous population, with acculturation processes being observed on both sides.

RUDOLF ECHT (Saarbrücken) contrasted concepts of power in the earlier Hallstatt and the following La Tène period by means of two sculptures: the stone stela from Hirschlanden from around 600 BC and the one from Glauberg around 400 BC. Naked virility presents itself as part of a dynasty related by blood in the first example, while the second shows a man in armour with insignia of his social position, which he might have achieved by personal effort.

HANS-PETER HAHN (Frankfurt am Main) proposed to separate town and state as they did not necessarily come together. His examples Bamako and Timbuktu, though both situated in Mali, represented the model of a modern and a traditional town in Africa. Bamako is the capital with an airport and bus terminal, but has been seat of a university for only a decade. Timbuktu has been holding its position as an urban settlement for centuries in part because of its flexibility: when founded in the 11th century it played an important role in the Trans-Sahara trade network, from the 14th century onwards it had an Islamic university. In Hahn’s eyes, African towns are the boom towns of today: they have the largest growth in population by immigration worldwide. Towns are, according to Hahn, more flexible than states when coping with challenges of the modern world like trans-nationality and global circulation of norms and values. A last slide showing the earth by night with the lights of the towns neatly illustrated the urban network around the world.

SIMON STODDART (Cambridge) wanted to view the centre not without its hinterland. His research on settlement development between 1200 and 700 BC in Etruria showed that the density of the centre goes together with the colonisation of the landscape. Also the formation of the urban community was (and is) in his opinion in contest with the liabilities within the kinship group. John Bintliff added – thus limiting the importance of the landscape – that to his knowledge 70-80 % of the people then lived in the centre and cultivated their fields from there.

SABINE RIECKHOFF (Leipzig) looked at acquired elements of urban architecture in the Iron Age North of the Alps from a philosophical point of view. In the South for example porticos built in stone in front of the houses along the street protect against the sun; in Gaul their copies in wood sheltered from the rain. To Rieckhoff fortifications like the “murus gallicus” are not functional in the ordinary sense of the word, but are symbols of the town and of the community within. Olivier Buchsenschutz agreed with her pointing out the large number of big iron nails being wasted in the timber structures within a “murus gallicus”, because they were not necessary from a practical point of view.

MARTIN ALMAGRO-GORBEA (Madrid) looked at founding rituals for urban settlements in Antiquity like the “sulcus primigenius” or first furrow of the plough, ditches with offerings and graves of founders, which often became the patron of the town. The discussion afterwards included also the other end: Lately rituals comparable the burials have been observed in the archaeological record as marking the end of settlements.

The different concepts behind the Hallstatt and La Tène art style were the topic of PETER WELLS’ (Minnesota) presentation. To Wells opinion the static Hallstatt decoration, where predefined space is filled with geometrical ornament, reflects the condition of the society: a large group well divided vertically and horizontally with a clear hierarchical structure. La Tène style in contrast is much more dynamic: it often uses grotesque animal figures and humans faces as focussing points but also creates tension by leaving empty spaces. This change was usually explained by contacts with Greek and Scythian works of craftsmanship, but Mediterranean trade no longer played the same role by then. Wells sees the La Tène art style more as an expression of a new cosmopolitanism of the élite and a sign of growing political competition. The forces unleashed by the creators and furtherer of this style seem to have turned against them after a few generations.

The conference can be seen as the finishing point both of the long term „princely sites“ project and the major exhibition in Stuttgart. It was also a climax in a sense showing that with individualization, urbanization and social differentiation there are relevant topics in the context of the European metal ages, which profit from being discussed by agents from across the sea and beyond the borders of archaeology. From here archaeological research should carry on, but widen its attention from the Hallstatt period and fortified sites to Late La Tène large open settlements. There presently lies the greatest potential not yet revealed to better understand early European urbanization processes north of the Alps.

Conference Overview:

Ingo Rust (Vice Minister, Ministry of Finance and Economics Baden-Württemberg, Stuttgart)
Hans-Dieter Bienert (German Research Foundation, Bonn)
Dirk Krausse (State Office for Cultural Heritage Baden-Württemberg, Esslingen)

Opening Paper
Lord Colin Renfrew (Archaeology, Cambridge): Cognitive archaeology and the making of the human mind

Section I: The Beginnings of Social Differentiation
Chair: Claus Wolf (State Office for Cultural Heritage Baden-Württemberg, Esslingen)

Jean Guilaine (Collège de France, Paris): La conquête néolithique de la Méditerranée

Johannes Müller (Ur- und Frühgeschichte, Kiel): Dispersion and agglomeration: Neolithic and Chalcolithic settlement patterns

Kristian Kristiansen (Archaeology, Göteborg): Organising Bronze Age societies: the Prehistoric roots of modern Europe

Section II: Typologies of Social Complexity
Chair: Erzsébet Jerem (Archaeolingua, Budapest)

Gary M. Feinman (The Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago): Ancient economies: embedded does not imply centrally controlled

Fred Spier (Science, Amsterdam): Early state formation from a big history perspective

Martin Bartelheim/Roland Hardenberg (Ur- und Frühgeschichte/Ethnologie, Tübingen): Alternative approaches to describe socio-cultural dynamics in ancient societies: views from archaeology and anthropology

Section III: Between Myth and Logos
Chair: Manuel Fernandez-Götz (State Office for Cultural Heritage Baden-Württemberg, Esslingen)

David R. Olson (Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, Toronto): The conceptual and cognitive implications of writing

Almudena Hernando (Prehistoria, Madrid): Identity implications of social differentiation: lights and shadows of the individualization process

John Bintliff (Archaeology, Leiden): Agency, Structure and the unconscious in the longue durée

Section IV: 800-400 BC: A Time of Changes
Chair: Olivier Buchsenschutz (Centre national de la recherché scientifique, Paris)

John Collis (Archaeology, Sheffield): Spheres of Interaction: Temperate Europe and the Mediterranean world

Dirce Marzoli (Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, Madrid): Mobilität, Wissens- und Technologietransfer im 9. und 8. Jh. v. Chr.: Phönizier an den Küsten Iberiens und die Entstehung orientalischer Kulturen im Westen der Antiken Welt

Stéphane Verger (École pratique des hautes études, Paris): Des terres hyperboréennes a la Méditerranée

Rudolf Echt (Vor- und Frühgeschichte, Saarbrücken): Phasenübergang und Achsverschiebung. Von der Hallstatt- zur La-Tène-Zeit in den Landschaften nordwestlich der Alpen

Section V: The First Cities (1): Concepts, Models and Definitions
Chair: Rüdiger Krause (Vor- und Frühgeschichte, Frankfurt am Main)

Michael E. Smith (Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, Arizona): Population, diversity and function in early urbanism: A comparative perspective

Hans-Peter Hahn (Ethnologie, Frankfurt am Main): Zur Dynamik der Urbanisierung im globalen Kontext - Städte weltweit zwischen Entgrenzung und Vernetzung

Section VI: The First Cities (2): Visible and Invisible
Chair: Dirk Krausse (State Office for Cultural Heritage Baden-Württemberg, Esslingen)

Bernhard Schäfers (Soziologie, Karlsruhe): Zur Anwendbarkeit architektursoziologischer Grundlagen und Theorien auf vormoderne Gesellschaften

Sabine Rieckhoff (Ur- und Frühgeschichte, Leipzig): Heidegger und Heuneburg – „Bauen und Wohnen“ in der Eisenzeit

Martín Almagro-Gorbea (Prehistoria, Madrid): Founding rituals in the Keltiké

Section VII: Looking Towards East
Chair: Sophie Helas (Archäologie und Kulturanthropologie, Bonn)

Mario Liverani (Ancient Near East History, Rome): Conservative vs. innovative cultural areas in the Near East 800-400 BC

Alain Thote (École pratique des hautes études, Paris): Elite burials in First Millenium BC China: Towards individualization

Ceremonial Lecture
Svend Hansen (Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, Berlin): Riesentumuli der Eisenzeit zwischen Ost und West

Section VIII: Between Mediterranean and Keltiké
Chair: Martin Bartelheim (Ur- und Frühgeschichte, Tübingen)

Jonathan Hall (Classics, Chicago): Spatial determination and social stratification in the Archaic Greek polis

Massimo Osanna (Archeologia Classica, Matera): Interkulturelle Netzwerke und Urbanisierungsprozesse in der Frühen Eisenzeit Süditaliens

Simon Stoddart (Archaeology, Cambridge): Power and place in Etruria

Dirk Krausse/Manuel Fernández-Götz (State Office for Cultural Heritage Baden-Württemberg, Esslingen): Urbanization processes and cultural change in the Early Iron Age: a Central European perspective

Section IX: The La Tène Art as expression of changing identities
Chair: Vincent Megaw (Archaeology, Adelaide)

Peter Wells (Anthropology, Minnesota): Images and cognition in Early Europe

Otto-Hermann Frey (Vor- und Frühgeschichte, Marburg): Frühe keltische Kunst im Kontext

Pierre-Yves Milcent (TRACES, Toulouse): La genèse multipolaire des cultures laténiennes: des élites en réseau?


[1] Lambros Malafouris (ed.), How Things Shape the Mind: A Theory of Material Engagement. MIT Press forthcoming.
[2] Tobias L. Kienlin, Andreas Zimmermann (Hrsg.), Beyond elites. Alternatives to hierarchical systems in modelling social formations, Bonn 2012.
[3] John R. Collis, Celtic Oppida, in: Mogens Herman Hansen (ed.), A Comparative Study of Thirty City-State Cultures, Copenhagen 2000, pp 229–239.

Tagungsbericht: Individualization, Urbanization and Social Differentiation: Intellectual and Cultural Streams in Eurasia (800-400 BC), 11.02.2013 – 13.02.2013 Stuttgart, in: H-Soz-Kult, 25.04.2013, <>.