Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Beyond Meaning. An Artefact Approach to the Neolithic Figurines from Tell Sabi Abyad (Syria) and Ҫatalhöyük (Turkey)


For the Neolithic in the Near East figurines are our primary, at times only, source of visual representations of humans and animals at many sites. More than purely utilitarian objects, figurines are thought to provide insight into the more intangible aspects of past life such as ritual, cosmology, identity and social processes. In most approaches, there has often been a focus on figurines as static images. However, placing prime importance on representation ignores the importance of interactions between people and materials. In this thesis it is argued that through an artefact and life biography approach we can more productively analyse figurines as a process; from production, use, to final deposition. Better insight into these aspects will allow us to more fully comprehend how figurines operated in their respective social contexts. Any statement on figurine practices needs to incorporate all types of figurines and furthermore a nuanced view on differences in figurine practices needs to be substantiated by analysis of different sites. Therefore, this thesis features the corpora of two Neolithic sites: Tell Sabi Abyad (Syria) and Çatalhöyük (Turkey) both inhabited through the 8th to 6th millennia. The different social settings at these sites make them an interesting case study to analyse differences in figurine practices. The result is a comprehensive overview of the complete life biographies of all clay figurines found at both sites, looking at material properties, production, use-wear traces and depositional contexts which are then compared between figurine types and analysed through time. Synthesising these findings yielded a detailed insight into figurine practices at the two case study sites, showing some common practices but also marked differences potentially linked to more household practices at Çatalhöyük and community practices at Tell Sabi Abyad. Furthermore, life biographies of figurines at the two sites are variable and changes through time are observed at both sites. This thesis not only offers a detailed and nuanced picture of figurine practices at these two sites, but it also exemplifies that generalised statements about figurine practices in the Near East need to be reassessed through intra-site, artefact approach studies.

McMahon, Augusta
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


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