Material is the mother of innovation and it is through skill that innovations are brought about.
This core thesis that is developed in this book identifies skill as the linchpin of – and missing link between – studies on craft, creativity, innovation, and material culture. Through a detailed study of early bronze age axes the question is tackled of what it involves to be skilled, providing an evidence based argument about levels of skill.
The unique contribution of this work is that it lays out a theoretical framework and methodology through which an empirical analysis of skill is achievable. A specific chaîne opératoire for metal axes is used that compares not only what techniques were used, but also how they were applied. A large corpus of axes is compared in terms of what skills and attention were given at the different stages of their production.
The ideas developed in this book are of interest to the emerging trend of ‘material thinking’ in the human and social sciences. At the same time, it looks towards and augments the development in craft-studies, recognising the many different aspects of craft in contemporary and past societies, and the particular relationship that craftspeople have with their material. Drawing together these two distinct fields of research will stimulate (re)thinking of how to integrate production with discussions of other aspects of object biographies, and how we link arguments about value to social models.
Table of Contents
1. A matter of skill, 2. Hard and soft approaches to ancient metallurgy: two sides of the same coin, 3. Craft theory, 4. Perceptive categories and the standard of the time, 5. Metal Axes and Metallographic Samples, 6. Approaching the data from a craftsperson’s perspective, 7. Late copper age axes, 8. Early bronze age I axes, 9. Early bronze age II axes, 10. Material specialisation and skill, 11. The right beginning: intentionality and axe recipes, 12. What is skill and what does it bring about?, Appendices
Maikel Kuijpers holds a PhD from Cambridge university and is currently a lecturer in European Prehistory at the Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden University. His main research topics are technology, craftsmanship, and skill which he explores both in archaeology as well as contemporary society.
"An archaeology of skill will foster a new consideration of archaeological objects from the perspective of the objects’ making and provide new insights into objects beyond usual data points of metal content and find context, which reflect only one moment in an object’s life. A focus on skill also allows new conclusions about makers’ intentions, object purpose and use, change over time, and may provide insight into technological innovation. Scholars from many disciplines, including the history of craft, anthropology, and material culture, will appreciate this book because it enables the assessment and discussion of skill in an empirical manner." - Pamela H. Smith, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute