Living Mesolithic Time: Narratives, Chronologies and Organic Material Culture

Elliott, Ben and Griffiths, Seren orcid iconORCID: 0000-0001-5168-9897 (2018) Living Mesolithic Time: Narratives, Chronologies and Organic Material Culture. Journal of World Prehistory, 31 (3). pp. 347-365. ISSN 0892-7537

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AbstractBritish and Irish Mesolithic studies have long been characterized by a reliance on broad-scale lithic typologies, both to provide chronologies, and in discussion of ‘cultural’ groups. More recently, traditional narrative structures—period definitions of ‘Early’ and ‘Late’, or culture typologies—have been complemented by a host of other evidence. This has included new studies of site stratigraphy, evidence for seasonality, and material culture chaîne opératoire chronologies, which place a greater emphasis on both temporal precision and the lived experiences of Mesolithic peoples. This paper will consider how the study of organic artefacts forces these narrative scales into acute focus, and presents an opportunity to explore the challenges in synthesizing different forms of data. We discuss how the evidence from sites in Ireland and Britain allows for new approaches, and highlight some of the challenges that this evidence presents, not least the perennial issue of moving from site-specific data to broader narratives. While the nature of earlier prehistoric evidence makes this an especially obvious issue for Mesolithic studies, it is one which generally besets archaeology. We suggest that in order to move beyond this in earlier prehistoric studies specifically, we need to make better use of all evidence sources, however seemingly prosaic, including antiquarian collections in museums, and chance and casual finds. Only by including the raft of available data, and recognizing its utility beyond the sum of individual apparently uninspiring parts, can we begin to move from generalizing narratives to more nuanced archaeological understandings of past material worlds.

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