Symbolic meaning and Aesthetics of Artifacts during the Neolithic

This is an axe from the late Neolithic of Jutland that represent a piece of excellent craft expertise.

Although we have no insight into the aesthetic and symbolic aspects of this his artifact within the late Neolithic society, its fine formal qualities and skilled crafting may be seen as indicators of prehistoric aesthetic sensibility and pleasure in materials and special symbolism.

If we review the ethnographic literature, we can see the richness of meaning and the conveyance of sensory appreciation in stone tools.  This includes the technical circumstances and symbolic meaning of raw material extraction, procurement, transport, distribution and tool use, embedded in to a certain society. Anyhow, application of ethnographic comparison to prehistory is doubtful and can only be used to illustrate the spectrum of possible answers. 

Sometimes it is possible to determine special aspects of artifactual meaning by the intelligent use of comparative archeological data. For example we know from the Dutch flint axe depositions associated with the Funnelbeaker Culture (TRB), that axes that were found in waterlogged deposits show significant differences compared with axes retrieved from megalithic tombs. The latter were heavily used, while the former were unused and showed the presence of  a red pigment on the cutting edge. It was suggested that that flint axes deposited in natural places in the landscape became animated with special powers through the act of production, treatment and deposition.

Regarding aesthetics, we should be aware, that our own or even a contemporareous  “trancultural aesthetics” cannot be uncritically applied to objects that are several thousand years old and which were removed from their own context and tradition. This isolation will inevitably lead to a loss of social and ritual meaning and make these tools vulnerable to cultural appropriation and incorporation.

Suggested Reading:

http://leidenuniv.academia.edu/KarstenWentink/Books

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