Travellers’ tales and science-based archaeology: ex oriente lux revisited
A. Bernard Knapp Antiquity 89 (February 2015), 219-220
Ling and Stos-Gale (above, p. 206) end their study on a safe, if rather vague, note: “[w]e could, perhaps, consider the maritime-themed rock art depictions [of ships and copper oxide ingots] as records of travellers’ tales, where representations of reality mingle with myths, magic and sailors’ stories”. Yes, perhaps we could, since at least two of the ingot depictions (Kville 156:1 at Torsbo, Norrköping) look strikingly similar—as the authors note—to the ‘pillow ingots’ (Kissenbarren) known from the Mediterranean world. Or, perhaps, we could remain more cautious before even broaching the idea of interconnectedness between Late Bronze Age Scandinavia and the eastern Mediterranean. Such a suggestion requires a lot more faith in the basic arguments of Kristiansen and Larsson (2005)—namely, that Europe and the Mediterranean formed a massive, open network through which warrior elites and others travelled at will—than I am able to muster. For Kristiansen and Larsson, cultural contact and cultural change ultimately still flow ex oriente—thus, they return whence Childe began. Yet whereas their work is an attempt at synthesis, not analysis, Ling and Stos-Gale have a stab at analysis, of the lead isotope variety. The question is how well they succeed.