Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Beyond the "Fringe Archaeology" — part five: movements and memes

Richard Dawkins
"Dawkins came to prominence with his 1976
book The Selfish Gene, which popularised
the gene-centred view of evolution and
introduced the term meme."
Photo: David Shankbone
"The term 'Celtic' helps imply that this material has a link to, or possible origin in, the European continent. While links there certainly are, there is no reason to believe, on the basis of present evidence, that Celtic art was introduced to Britain from the outside. Had this been the case we might have expected to see a horizon of imports into Britain followed by obvious British imitations, ... The conclusion we draw from this is not that Celtic art started independently in Britain, but rather that these islands were part of the area in which Celtic art grew up, so that insular communities participated in its genesis rather than receiving influences from the outside. Such a view gets away from the dichotomy of local origin versus outside influence (possibly through migrations) and it also questions the insular nature of British society." (Chris Gosden and J.D. Hill, Introduction: re-integrating 'Celtic' art, in, Rethinking Celtic Art, Oxford, 2008.
The quote above differs from E. M. Jope's comment on page 1 of Early Celtic Art in the British Isles, Oxford, 2000:
"The initiating stimuli for this rise evdently came from Europe, yet at the crucial time, the fouth-third centuries B.C., we can point to practically no imported pieces that might have served as potential exemplars; the new ideas and skills must have come largely in the minds and hands of men with a considerable experience in distant ateliers."
in that Jope is not trying to account for, or work around any pre-existing dichotomy but uses the physical evidence to formulate the hypothesis that continental influence on British decorative metalwork came about, not through influence from imported objects but from the arrival of people trained in continental workshops. Jope's hypothesis comes directly from inductive reasoning and is not referent to previous theories or models.

While not explicit, the Gosden/Hill quote refers to a long history of theories and models about the Celts arrival in Britain, the earliest expression being the dichotomy of the insular adoption of certain cultural traits as opposed to such traits being brought by invaders. The invasion model soon fell out of fashion and that part of the dichotomy was replaced with models of migrations. Because the previous models were not really explained, the mention of both a dichotomy and (possibly) migrations leaves a "black box" source for that line of reasoning in the minds of any reader unfamiliar with the academic history of the subject. Thus, much of the information in the more recent publication comes from deductive reasoning using existent theories without clarifying the exact nature of those theories. There is no example of the exact nature of the agency which introduces coninental features to British-made objects. The text continues with examples of how certain continental forms could have been easily copied by local individuals. We then imagine that all examples of British Celtic art can be so explained.

It would have been a simple matter for any British workshop to take a continental design and apply it to the mold for a uniface plate to then be cast where only one surface bears a detailed design in bas-relief. The technology for making such a plate would long precede the style depicted on it. My example of a British finial in the Plastic Style turns Jope's hypothesis into a theory because the innovations did not rest entirely in the style, but in the fact that a complex small shape "cast in the round" was able to be made at all. All examples of this technological development are expressed on objects of the Plastic Style (which was given a distribution range from Bavaria to Bohemia, with a western outlier from France).
Science was able to prove that the finial was certainly made in Britain because of the ratio of Co to Ni in the alloy and this was quite the surprise to scholars of early Celtic art as not even an imported example of the Plastic Style has previously been found in Britain. Furthermore, the course that British Celtic art then took used, and further developed the repoussé technique to simulate the designs that could have been cast by the workmen in the Plastic Style workshops. The individual who made the finial was trained in. or trained by a member of, a continental workshop and when his workshop went out of production, the technology was lost. No one could have made a similar object without "inside information" of the technique for detailed "in the round" small casting.

Theories, movements, and fashions in study are not always explicit in studies and in the example above, their presence is only indicated by two words: dichotomy and migration. Sometimes. the details of a previous model are forgotten and what survives are memes that came about from these models but which then gained an unexamined life of their own. One must look out for subtexts and their attached memes in academic writing. The differences in the two text examples here can be seen where Jope describes an actual human agency for change and does not have things changing themselves as if by magic.

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