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Formation and change in individual identity between the Bell Beaker culture and the Early Bronze Age in Bavaria, south Germany by Jong-Il Kim
Archaeopress 2005 (BAR, International Series 1450); vi+206 pages; 73 illustrations; 9 tables; ISBN 1 84171 886 6 (£35.00)

This BAR is based in part on the author’s 2002 Cambridge PhD thesis (whose title is missing from the bibliography) and claims to provide the most up-to-date examination of the changing burial practices in Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age southern Germany. This area is fundamental to European prehistory and it is rare for a detailed study of its archaeology to appear in English, so this publication must be welcomed. The claim to be up-to-date may, however, be based on this rarity, since the latest items in the bibliography are dated 2000 and do not include important work such as Volker Heyd’s thesis on the late Copper Age in southern Germany which appeared in that year. Kim’s bibliography is nevertheless a valuable collection of the main literature up to 2000.

Chapter 1 is a brief introduction, containing the nearest to a summary the reader is offered. Nowadays we would also expect a work like this to contain a summary in German. The next two chapters are theoretical. The first discusses concepts of individualism, long-term history and power by reference to Anglophone archaeologists and to a wider range of sociologists, anthropologists and philosophers, including such famous names as Bertrand Russell, Gramsci, Trotsky and Wittgenstein. In particular Kim expresses his conclusions in terms of Anthony Giddens and Pierre Bourdieu (for whose contributions to archaeological theory see Klejn in the June 2006 issue of Antiquity: beyond archaeology Giddens is the proponent of the ‘third way’ who has influenced Tony Blair). The second theoretical chapter establishes a framework for analysis and interpretation of material culture, better to understand the formation of individual identity and its relation with material culture. An important concept here is ‘categorisation’, expressed in figure 3.1 as:

Category > Subcategory/Category > Subcategory/Category > Subcategory
Burial > eg, Grave-goods > eg, Pottery > eg, Bell Beaker

Kim relates material culture change to human ‘subjectification’, the process in which people subjectify themselves by establishing a relationship with material culture in order to construct their own identity. This discussion ends with a section on Heidegger, after which perhaps even some theoretical archaeologists might turn with relief to the geography and archaeology of Bavaria, including previous research, chronology and sources of data.

After this theoretical introduction, your reviewer found Kim’s analysis surprisingly simple. For six chronological phases - early, middle and late Beaker, then Bronze A1, A2 and B, roughly 2600 to 1500 BC – combinations of objects within burials, settlements and hoards are set out and compared. The burials provide most information, since hoards appeared only in Bronze A1b and burials can be also analysed by their orientation and sex, which is done in chapter 6. The following chapter deals with the layout of burials in cemeteries, especially the attitude of the living to earlier burials.

Chapter 8 combines the results of the analyses with the theoretical framework. During the early Beaker phase, male and female burials were distinguished, male graves given priority by their central location in family groups and their archery equipment and copper daggers. The adoption of different body orientations and the appearance of Begleitkeramik (literally ‘accompanying pottery’ though no English translation exists and this term has recently been rendered as ‘common ware’ in a French-language study) in addition to Bell Beakers during the middle Beaker phase are said to represent increasing identity between males and females. Male burials were no longer central for a family as in the early phase, though earlier male graves could represent a common ancestor. Burials were more standardised during the late Beaker phase, when Begleitkeramik became the main grave-good while Bell Beakers and other objects except bone buttons disappeared, so individual identity was expressed by conformity.

Bronze A1a burials showed increasing individuality within bigger communities as more metal ornaments occurred (and less pottery) compared with the Beaker period, while cemeteries became larger. The number of ornaments in some male and female graves increased further during Bronze A1b (perhaps in some cases beyond what it would have been practical for one person to wear), while pottery became even rarer. In some cases, male A1b burials were distinguished from earlier male burials and contemporary female burials, while A1b female graves were aligned with A1a burials. This suggests several different ways of formation of individual identity existed during A1b. Ornaments became fewer in Bronze A2 burials, though metal axes appeared in male graves, and pottery was almost absent. Male orientation changed from north-south to east-west, though not female. A2 burials may be aligned with earlier graves. Kim relates these apparently contradictory features to the occurrence of many hoards in Bronze A2, when they became more numerous than burials; he sees the majority of smaller hoards as deposited by individuals while larger hoards were communal. His argument here that because we cannot recognise specific items that signify an Early Bronze Age god, hoards cannot have been gifts to the gods (in the sense of the influential Berlin exhibition catalogue Gaben an die Götter) is not entirely convincing.

The concluding chapter summarises earlier discussion and suggests that change in material culture was not simply the result of growth in the power of individual males, but of a more complex process of change in structure mediated by material culture.

Despite (or perhaps because of) its large quantity, Kim takes no account of the published data on composition of the metalwork he discusses. He often describes Early Bronze Age metal, even ingots, as bronze whereas during Bronze A1 at least most metal objects in Bavaria were still copper. This does not necessarily affect his conclusions, but it would be worrying if such a misunderstanding had been allowed to pass in his thesis.

This book is not very easy to use. The different tones on the important illustrations showing association patterns can be difficult to distinguish and the background tone makes some of the maps hard to read. Plenty of drawings and plans are reproduced from published sources, but the photographs - often of objects still in their museum cases - are mostly too small and grey to inform readers who do not already know what they are looking at.

In particular, the data are set out with very little regard to the convenience of the reader. There are four appendices listing Beaker burials, Early Bronze Age burials, hoards and Beaker settlements and their contents. In the first appendix this information is confined to facing pages (with the contents of the burials identified only by cryptic headings), but the other appendices are spread over three or four pages though some of these pages contain only a couple of entries. Worse, there are no references to any of the finds in these appendices or on the distribution maps (figs 4.8-9). This left your reviewer with a curious sense of detachment from the archaeological material on which Kim bases his conclusions.

Brendan O’Connor

Review Submitted: July 2006

The views expressed in this review are not necessarily those of the Society or the Reviews Editor.

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