Article Review: ‘Burials, Houses, Women and Men in the European Neolithic’ by Ian Hodder

What does the author say is his/her goal in this article or chapter? What is the point he/she is going to make?

At the outset, the Ian Hodder tries to make clear the two varying interpretations of neolithic megalith structures. The first view assumes that the megalith monuments of ancient Europe were products of emerging religious ideas at the time. The second view emphasizes the social and economic tensions of the time as the primary factor in the scale and location of many of these structures. Hodder then goes on to analyse the strengths and drawbacks of these different schools of thought by way of weighing up supportive evidence. For example, the author argues that there is little direct evidence to support the hypotheses forwarded by Renfrew and Chapman. Hence their ‘processual’ approach to understanding the meaning and importance of these megalith structures still remains unproven. Amid these competing claims and counterclaims regarding the monoliths, Ian Hodder seeks to adopt a more robust framework of analysis for interpreting the importance and functions of these ancient structures.

What archaeological or anthropological examples does the author use to demonstrate the theoretical point he/she is trying to make?

Ian Hodder identifies the different forms of tombs and houses by the differences apparent in their architectural styles and construction techniques. The long houses and long burial mounds are given special attention, for these structures are spread across continental Europe, spanning modern day Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Neatherlands and beyond. Based on the shape, size, location, orientation and the likely human population at the time of their construction, the author arrives at the most likely historical and anthropological significance of these structures. While long houses, long burial mounds and tombs are found all across Europe, no two structures are identical. In fact, the uniqueness associated with each of these archaological sites are what give their broader indication.

The other task the author carries out is to ascertain the social and interpersonal implication of these structures. Determining the relation of long houses and tombs with respect to their surrounding environment is much easier when compared to finding the social interactions within these ancient spaces of living. This is so because the monoliths have withstood the passage of time while the smaller sized household utilities such as pottery, objects that served as furniture and food leftovers have largely been destroyed by the elements. As a result it is very difficult to estimate the number of people who took shelter in these houses, their relation to one another and what other function did these houses serve? Nevertheless, the author tries to deduce aspects of domestic and social life in the European Neolithic from the available pottery fragments and other small artefacts.

The other area of sociology that the author attempts to decipher is the relations between men and women. Questions pertaining to the social hierarchy in the European Neolithic is also considered. And finally, the reasons for the differences between the architectural styles of sites in Western and Central Europe is deliberated.

How does this article/chapter build on previous work?

Overall, the article is eruditely written by giving due consideration of various theoretical interpretations given by other scholars. The article satisfactorily places the megalith structues in their broader social contexts. But more importantly, rather than disregarding existing interpretations, the author builds on them and attempts to bring about a synthesis. It is equally commendable that Ian Hodder accepts the limitations of his own analysis and that there is much more work to be done by future generation of archaeologists and sociologists, before one could arrive at a conclusive picture.

Is this article/chapter persuasive? That is, do you agree with the author, were you unconvinced at first and agreed by the end, do you find the article unconvincing or do you downright disagree with the author’s point?

Nevertheless, the explanations and arguments made by Ian Hodder do come across as logically sound. What makes the author’s point of view persuasive is that fact that he gives proper rationale for discarding a previous scholarly interpretation. This way, the article takes an air of interactive dialogue, as opposed being a dogmatic polemic. As I completed reading through the article, I got the feeling that its initial promise was well substantiated throughout. In sum, the article in question is a fine piece of scholarship, written in an objective fashion.

References:

Article: Burials, Houses, Women and Men in the European Neolithic. Author: Ian Hodder Book: Theory and Practice in Archaeology 1992.