Aegeus Society For Aegean Prehistory


25 November 2013

A manifesto for a social zooarchaeology. Swans and other beings in the Mesolithic

Nick J. Overton & Yannis Hamilakis Archaeological Dialogues 20:2 (2013):111-136.


Recent, non-anthropocentric explorations of the interaction between human and non-human animals have resulted in many groundbreaking studies. In this ‘animalturn’, zooarchaeology, which deals with and has access to the material traces of animals that existed alongside humans over the last 2.5 million years, could occupy a privileged and influential position. Despite some encouraging efforts, however, zooarchaeology’s ability to contribute to these discussions is heavily limited by the subdiscipline’s firm footing within anthropocentric ontologies and reductionist epistemologies. This paper outlines a framework for a new social zooarchaeology that moves beyond the paradigm and discourse of ‘subsistence’ and of representationist and dichotomous thinking, which have treated non-human animals merely and often exclusively as nutritional or symbolic resources for the benefit of humans. Building on alternative zoontologies which reinstate the position of non-human animals assentient and autonomous agents, this framework foregrounds the intercorporeal, sensuous and affective engagements through which humans and non-human animals are mutually constituted. These ideas are illustrated with two case studies focusing on human–whooper swan interactions in the Danish Later Mesolithic, based on the faunal assemblage from the site of Aggersund in North Jutland, and the whooper swan remains found associated with the Grave 8 at Vedbæk.

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