Types and Typlessness: (Ir-)Regularity in Creative Action and Things’ Becoming

Types and Typlessness: (Ir-)Regularity in Creative Action and Things’ Becoming

Kevin Kay (University of Cambridge, kk510@cam.ac.uk)

Mark Haughton (University of Cambridge, mh850@cam.ac.uk)

Marianne Hem Eriksen (University of Oslo; University of Cambridge, mhe25@cam.ac.uk)

Recent years have seen calls to reinvigorate the concepts and methods of typology in light of the material turn. Rather than comprising a formulaic basis for later interpretive work, the similarities among things can open our eyes to critical aspects of things’ becoming (Fowler 2017). The dialogue among people, materials, and the contexts of creative action shapes things’ forms, both in manufacture and over their biographies (Sørensen 2015: 89). Extending these arguments, we may begin to ask how formal similarities and structured difference in artefacts, actions, identities and social space interact in living worlds.

Just as typological regularity can be informative, so too can its absence. Hard-to-categorise objects and deposits have proven particularly difficult to work with archaeologically, precisely because they defy our common-sense instincts about typology. Bewildering variety, idiosyncratic objects and blurred distinctions among types may indicate a lack of regularizing factors, or may comprise active contravention of norms and expectations. One measure of the success of our attempts to reinvigorate typology will be the extent to which previously inscrutable variation in creative processes becomes more lucidly understood. In other words, can typologies that are about pathways of becoming or taking-form do better at handling ‘typelessness’ than typologies based on static form?

This session invites papers exploring any of these potentials of a revived typological theory in archaeology. Contributions that work beyond case studies to address the core aspects of types and typelessness as social phenomena are especially welcomed.

Keywords: creativity; material culture theory; relationality, typology.


Introduction: Types and Typelessness

Mark Haughton, Kevin Kay, and Marianne Hem Eriksen


A Typology of Bodies?

Sian Mui (Durham University, sianmui@yahoo.com)

Recent theorisations of relationality, matter, discourse, and practice have challenged the opposition between persons and things, providing new ways to conceptualise archaeological bodies. In light of this, can typology be a useful framework for understanding bodies in graves? This paper discusses the use of typology in the study of burial positions, based on my own work on Anglo-Saxon burials. A typology is constructed as an experiment to tease out the nuanced patterns and variations in positioning practices, and provide a systematic way of approaching body positions. But how do we generate meaning from an experimental, arbitrary typology of bodies? Does it matter that past people would not have perceived the differing body positions in terms of typology? Is this approach perpetuating the opposition between matter and meaning, or is it going beyond it? What does a typology of bodies inform us about typologies in general?

Classifying the Scottish Bronze Age Food Vessel Corpus – a New Materialist Perspective

Marta Innes (University of Glasgow, m.innes.1@research.gla.ac.uk)

Within the study of the Scottish Bronze Age Food Vessels corpus (2140-1620 BC), the main trend in the conceptualisation of the pots has been focused on a discussion of most apparent ceramic attributes and their translation to elaborate and convoluted type sequences. This paper proposes an alternative approach to the analysis of Food Vessel pottery, which aims to understand the variation and similarity within the corpus through the new materialist approach to creative action, and the conceptualisation of pots as active assemblages. By moving beyond the focus on categorisation and concentrating instead on the fluid, relational and referential perspectives of the creative process of assemblage making, it is then possible to explore the notions of type, style and design in terms of a shared creative repertoire that actively becomes in the interaction between the matter, the maker, and their creative engagement; and manifests itself throughout ceramic types across Prehistoric Britain.


The Content of the Form: Working from Infinite Variation in Depositional Practice at Çatalhöyük

Kevin Kay (University of Cambridge, kk510@cam.ac.uk)

In this paper, I ask how depositional practice at Çatalhöyük, in Neolithic Turkey, operated as a political and knowledge practice. On the surface, deposition at Çatalhöyük has only a tenuous claim to being a ‘practice’ at all. A near-infinite variety of material culture is deposited in the town’s built environment, from spreads of clay and ash to buried clusters of artefacts. True to form, archaeologists have attempted to understand this variety by defining types of deposits, to be studied by different specialists according to different protocols: feasting deposits for the faunal specialists; floor whitewashes for the micromorphologists; human bodies for the osteologists; and so on. The depositional events, in their variety, resist this (should a burial of a pot, a figurine, and a baby’s leg be deemed a human burial, a ceramic deposit, a ‘magical deposit’, or simply a pit with finds?). Sorting the deposits at Çatalhöyük into a list of forms and functions amenable to archaeology’s working style becomes an exercise in drawing lines in sand (or silty clay) amid overwhelming ambiguities.

Here I propose an approach that does not begin by parsing deposits into types based on contents and function. Rather, I consider deposition, in total, as something generative of knowledge about the world, and how to act in it. Inspired by Hayden White’s analysis of narrative as a political form in recent centuries — it is not only the content of post-enlightenment narratives that is politically active, he says, but “the content of the form”, the way narrative itself teaches us to think linearly in a nonlinear world (White 1987) — I ask how the sum of the rhythms, materialities, and bodily praxis of deposition shaped the way people knew and acted in their world in the Neolithic. Depositional instances may be bewilderingly varied at Çatalhöyük; however, by seeking the way diverse instances added up to emergent dispositions towards space, we can begin to understand the potentials and historical consequences of depositional practice without segregating it into neat types from the outset.


Citation and ‘Loose’ Types: Approaching the Burials of the Irish Earlier Bronze Age

Mark Haughton (University of Cambridge, mh850@cam.ac.uk)

The funerary record of the Irish Earlier Bronze Age contains a curious contradiction. On the one hand, there is “a bewildering variety” (Waddell 1990) in the treatment afforded to the dead. While on the other, a series of funerary pottery is deposited with the dead that can be readily placed in archaeological typologies. Thus, these burials provide something of a frontier between concepts of types—the readily classifiable within the stubbornly unclassifiable.

In exploring this contradiction, this paper will employ the concept of citation to understand how similarities in elements of practice can tie together greater dissimilarities. Practices of citation—making and marking links between actions—open pathways for understanding things’ connections. In this way, loose associations can cohere over time. Here, I consider such ‘loose’ types in their becoming, attempting to trace the lines by which such phenomena come into being and affect the community in which they are rooted.



Laurence Ferland (Université Laval, laurence.ferland.1@ulaval.ca)

The eye is captured by pretty, shiny, or unusual things. For archaeologists, what is expected, what fits a well-established narrative or possesses the characteristics of a well-known type normally has an uncanny way to be more obvious and pleasing to the mind. And then there is the rest: that bulk of sherds, flakes, slags, too-perfect-yet-still-pebbles, and amorphous structures. While the latter end up ‘fitting in’ most of the time, boxes of typeless artefacts are usually stored without further thought because ‘typeless’ is the annoying, undefined category. There is a story to the bulk finds, though, a story that often has more to do with matter than form, and with space more than time. It is a story that often emerges on larger scales and tells of the people’s relationship with matter and with the landscape in ways that rarely command archaeologists’ eyes, because the bulk can hardly be treated like things. This paper moves beyond typology, but also beyond the typelessness of objects, asking: how can we begin to fix our gaze on matter that is not only typeless, but approaching thing-less as well?


Names-in-Motion: Thinking through Difference with Affect Theory

Yvonne Victoria O’Dell (University of Leicester,  yvod2@leicester.ac.uk)

Recent concerns about how typologies can constrain understandings of diversity and dynamic processes have led archaeologists to consider new ways of recognising repetition. I propose that Deleuzian difference provides a way to explore the becoming of things, removing the obstacle of pre-existing and universal types. Rather than grounding difference in sameness, between self-contained entities, difference is expressed through time, in the manifestation or expression of substance. In other words, difference occurs in the particularity of the becoming of each thing, event, and moment. I argue that affect theory, with its relational, assemblage based approaches, provides archaeologists with a means to discuss such becoming. With a focus on intercultural encounter in the colonial Caribbean, I want to explore how archaeologists might use affect theory to be attentive to authentic difference in the material record, without cutting their moorings on material recognition and the presence of patterns in the past.


“Audible” as an Archaeological Type

Diane Scullin (Independent Researcher, dms951@gmail.com)

All durable material objects possess the ability to create sound through interaction with other objects. If a durable object is struck, it produces a sound. The category of musical instrument denotes an object modified or used by humans specifically to create a variety of sounds that a particular culture defines as musical. In an archaeological context, a conch shell modified into a trumpet is an obvious musical instrument, while archaeologists classify a plainware ceramic vessel as a durable object that might only produce sound as a side effect of its materiality. Yet many objects, both past and present, occupy the space between these two extremes, objects that clearly have a sonic component, but not categorized as sound producers. Using the Moche (AD100-900) from the north coast of Peru as a case study, this paper explores the visual bias employed within most archaeological typologies.



Marianne Hem Eriksen (University of Cambridge and University of Oslo, mhe25@cam.ac.uk)