Surrogacy and the Archaeological Object

Posted in: Annual Meeting, ASOR
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& the archaeological object A Note for the Viewer

based on a THEORY paper delivered by Rick Hauser at the 2015 ASOR Annual Meeting

I Introduction

II Urkesh (Tell Mozan)

III Bâb edh-Dhrâ

IV Birth of “City”

V Persistence of Paradigms

The layout of this paper and its manner of access are different from the usual paper presented on this website. SURROGACY is not made to be viewed/apprehended in one sitting. Rather, we hope that you – the “reader” – will sample the segments, perhaps not even in sequential order. The experience of the paper may be more satisfying if you choose a segment that interests you as you think it might relate to the overall topic of surrogacy, watch it, and then leave it for a while, letting the ideas presented in that segment percolate for a while.

You’ll recognize this approach if you’re at all familiar with the digital experiments of the latter part of the preceding century. As an adept, you might expect that the segments could be randomly assembled in any order and that your understanding would be correspondingly enriched by new juxtapositions that come about.

To an extent, you would be correct. After all, in our research, we do not necessarily proceed in linear fashion. We take objects and aspects of objects as they come, dealing with relevant materials as they might illumine or inform the topic that has immediately come to our attention. Just so, it might be interesting to deal with the mortuary context of Bâb edh-Dhrâ first and then approach the domestic and/or commercial contexts of ancient Urkesh. The nature of your interlocutors, real or imagined, would necessarily change. The effect might be bracing and invite new ways of thinking about the artifacts under consideration.

The objects treated in this paper were all excavated in the Ancient Near East at sites that are some 200 km distant one from another. Rather more important might be their diachronic distance – a millennium separates the deposition of the artifacts at the two sites. We invite you to consider how the manufacturing processes brought to bear on the corpora of these two sites differ, and how they change the nature of the objects themselves.

Rather, more importantly, the conceptual setting for these objects is radically different. Deposition and attendant ceremony or ritual in the two cases is correspondingly changed. It would be a mistake to conflate these practices.

It could be a bracing intellectual experience to consider them in tandem. Doing so will surely lead you to discover similarities in the archaeological context of each. In this case, we wanted you to view artifacts in somewhat the same light – united by the theoretical construct of surrogacy. Such considerations are not separate from the meaning of each individual object, but rather part and parcel of its substance.

It is our hope that these considerations that do not form part of the usual protocol of archaeological fieldwork will enlarge our collegial understanding of the artifact and its relationship to the culture that made it and that subsumes this constructed meaning. As observed in the introductory segment, space can serve as a container for memory, singular or shared and scattered amongst various individuals and lost amid events that are external to the individual. This is the so-called “shared mind”, a central concept of Material Engagement Theory (MET). It’s an imaginary landscape, one that brings us a singular understanding of cultural practice.

This surrogate reality overlaid on the actual world is of course a theoretical conflation. In this process of becoming, the concept of community / “city” is born.

So, be bold. Venture forth. This investigation of two case studies where various theories intersect promises to provide a revitalized perspective on coroplastics in ancient times. Even more importantly, it foregrounds a real-world context that articulates processes of manufacture – rather more a familiar territory for processual archaeology.


“Surrogacy & the Archaeological Object”
based on a paper delivered at ASOR 2015

Bourdieu, P. (1977 [1972]). Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge, Cambridge University.

Clark, A. (2010). Material Surrogacy and the Supernatural: Reflections on the Role of Artefacts in ‘Off-line’ Cognition. The cognitive life of things: Recasting the boundaries of the mind. L. Malafouris and C. Renfrew, McDonald Insitute Monographs: 23–28

Clark, A. (2011). Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension. Oxford, New York, Oxford University Press.

de Certeau, M. (1980). “L’Invention du quotidien.” 1, Arts de faire.

Gosden, C. (2005). “What do objects want?” Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 12(3): 193–211.

Halbwachs, M. (1980 [1950]). The Collective Memory. New York, Harper & Row.

Harmanşah, Ö. (2014). Of Rocks and Water. Oxford and Philadelphia, Ooxbow Books.

Hauser, R. (2008 [2007]). Reading Figurines: Animal Representations in Terra Cotta from Royal Building AK at Urkesh (Tell Mozan). Malibu, Undena Publications.

Hodder, I. (2011). “Human-thing entanglement: towards an integrated archaeological perspective.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 17: 154–177.

Malafouris, L. and C. Renfrew (2010). The Cognitive Life of Things: Archaeology, Material Engagement and the Extended Mind. The Cognitive Life of Things: recasting the boundaries of the mind. L. Malafouris and C. Renfrew. Cambridge, UK, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research: 1–12.

Simon, H. (1981). The sciences of the artificial. Cambridge, MA, MIT Press.

Spielrein, S. (1994). “Destruction as the Cause of Coming into Being.” Journal of Analytical Psychology 39: 155–186.

Zarins, J. with the assistance of Rick Hauser (2014). The Domestication of Equidae in Third-Millennium B. C. E. Mesopotamia. Bethesda, Maryland, CDL Press.


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  1. Pingback: Surrogacy and the Archaeological Object — The ASOR Blog | Talmidimblogging

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