Developing Models of Long-Distance Interaction: Migration and Other Processes

Developing Models of Long-Distance Interaction: Migration and Other Processes

Peter S. Wells (University of Minnesota,

Trade and exchange, and the recognition of “influences” from one society to another, have long been major themes in archaeology.  But surprisingly little attention has been paid to developing testable models for understanding how interactions between societies actually took place.  A promising approach is to focus on contexts, in the widest sense, in which the evidence for interaction is recovered, as well as on the character of broader changes that were taking place in the societies concerned.  Among the mechanisms of interaction to be considered are migration, invasion, colonization, and trade.  An example of the need for testable models is the ongoing debate over migration in many different contexts around the world – when can we demonstrate that substantial migration took place, and how can we ascertain the scale of migration?   Recent examples that have been much discussed include the spread of the Bell Beaker phenomenon throughout Europe, long-distance interactions across Eurasia during the Bronze Age, and the scale and character of Anglo-Saxon migrations from the continent to Britain.  Papers in this session develop models for examining interaction between societies, using specific archaeological evidence to show the applicability of the proposed models.


Keywords: interaction; migration; models



Ancient DNA and the Beaker Phenomenon: Social Implications of the New Genetic Data

Ian Armit (University of Leicester,

Recent genetic data has demonstrated that the centuries surrounding the arrival of the Beaker phenomenon in Britain witnessed a massive turnover in the genetic make-up of the population. Although migration had always been considered as a potentially critical factor in the spread of the Beaker phenomenon, the scale of this population turnover is nonetheless surprising. This talk considers the profound archaeological implications of this new data and explores some potential directions for future research.


Migrations in the Viking Age: The Formation of Iceland

Rachel Cartwright (University of Minnesota,

Archaeological models of migration have been developed over a long period of time. However, the application of these models has been somewhat difficult given the tendency for migration as a framework to be generalized. Where possible, an interdisciplinary approach to the study of past migrations should be used. In the case of the Viking Age, historical records and genetic evidence have been combined with archaeological remains to develop a better understanding of the migrations to Iceland during the Viking Diaspora. The complex interaction networks that developed between Norway, the British Isles, and Iceland led to the formation of a unique society still very much linked to the wider Viking World.



Signing the Other: La Tène and non-La Tène on the Gundestrup Cauldron

Timothy Taylor (University of Vienna,

European prehistory has long laboured under a pre-theoretical commitment to juxtaposing mobile hunter-gatherers (and, later, martial nomadic tribes) with sedentary agriculturalists (and the proto-urban and urban phenomena that developed from such a form of settled life). But it is clear by the second half of the first millennium BC that such coarse-grained distinctions are inadequate. How, for example, should we understand the expansion of the La Tène phenomenon?  We all move; thus measuring ‘mobility’ requires a definition at least of spatial terms.

In almost every book on Celts or Celtic Art some image of picture-narrative from the heavily-decorated late first millennium BC silver cauldron from Gundestrup in Jutland appears. Found in (Germanic) Denmark, showing (Celtic) La Tène warriors, made by (Thraco-Getic) silversmiths who drew on Hellenistic, steppic and northern Indian iconographic sources, the cauldron is nothing if not complex: an iconographic/ethnic Rorschach test that has been prompting highly diverse archaeological responses for over a century.

The frequent association of La Tène with ‘Celts’ and Celts with the cauldron fuses and confuses a very wide number of discrete issues at both analytical and interpretive levels. This paper attempts to provide greater analytical clarity and more plausible interpretation by looking at the setting of the Gundestrup cauldron both top down and bottom up. Top down, meaning from the perspective of the Eurasian networks and concomitant concepts of ethnicity (especially in relation to the identification of markets, trade partners, and branding) which had been brought into being as part of the socio-economics of what Jaspers once saw as the ‘axial age’. Bottom up, in terms of the range of geographical, ethnic and ideological references appearing on the cauldron itself.

The paper concludes by considering some of the kinds of mobility, and the kinds of mobile units, that we may need to envisage to understand the appearance of the cauldron which, re-interpreted, may in turn reflect on some of the standard assumptioms about the form(s) of later Iron Age ‘movement’.


Migrating West: The Anglo-Saxon Archetype

Brooke Creager (University of Minnesota,

The Anglo-Saxon migration offers an opportunity to study the ability of similar, but distinct, groups to influence the landscape and culture of Britain. The Anglo-Saxons were composed of at least five separate culture groups that integrated into the former Roman province. How many Germanic peoples settled there is still debated and is the key to understanding the process of acculturation addressed in this study.  Modeling a migration and the subsequent process of acculturation that is found in early medieval Britain requires a multifaceted approach. Identifying the interactions and circumstances necessary for a fast and dramatic cultural change allows for a better estimation of the magnitude of the migration. This paper will propose a model for the interactions of migrant and local cultures to understand the necessary scope of the migration by piecing together the process of acculturation through material analysis and comparative examples.



Interpreting Migration in the Context of Pan-Eurasian Gene Flow and Local Social Process in Late Prehistoric Eurasia

Bryan Hanks (University of Pittsburgh,

The availability of new human aDNA data sets produced from large-scale geographical sampling has rapidly transformed earlier conceptualizations of human migration processes. These studies have produced new characterizations of gene flow over multiple generations through time and space across Eurasia and led to dynamic new models for the movement of people, ideas and technologies.  The steppes of Eurasia have contributed importantly to these discussions of population movement both for Europe and Asia. This paper discusses recent genetic and archaeological evidence for the north central steppes of Russia and developments connected with migrating Bronze Age populations in the second half of the second millennium BCE. A particular focus is placed on examining regional and local scale processes where it is argued that more comprehensive local and regional aDNA datasets are needed to better understand diachronic models relating to migration and social organization.



A Model for Long-Distance Interactions between Western and Eastern Eurasia in the Iron Age

Peter S. Wells (University of Minnesota,

As the result of new discoveries in different parts of Eurasia, especially in central Asia and Siberia, and of new thinking about movements of people and of trade goods, it is becoming increasingly clear that interactions across Eurasia were playing major roles in the transmission of objects, designs, and technologies between Europe in the west and China in the east during the Iron Age.  What are the best models to account for these very long-distance interactions, given the information we have currently?  Can one model encompass the diverse interactions across this vast landscape, or do we need to think in terms of a variety of models to approach these questions?  This paper proposes a model to account for the movements of people, things, and ideas between west and east.