And Now for Something Completely Different? Interrogating Culture and Social Change in Early Indo-European Studies

In: Dispersals and Diversification


The concept of culture is a topic of shared interest for archaeologists and historical linguists alike. Despite its still prevalent usage in both disciplines, the concept of culture is an area of study that is highly problematic, and over the last three decades, increasingly contentious in the social sciences and humanities. There are two primary problems with culture and its application in (Proto-)Indo-European studies as I (and others) see it. First, there is the intellectual packaging and subsequent presentation of culture as a social totality. Participation in such totalities is defined and identified archaeologically by: the use of one or more peculiar items, including but not limited to decorative styles and vessel forms of pottery, the use of certain types of tools and/or weapons, and certain styles of burial rite. The first problem with such a conceptualization of culture is the perpetuation of limits or borders that reify culture as bounded, behavioral, and symbolic totalities that undergo change homogenously. The second problem is how social change is approached as denouement, or climax of cultural progress before rapid change. Such approaches fail to acknowledge and, more importantly, to investigate the juxtaposition of change and continuity experienced by different communities within these supposedly bounded entities. This paper addresses these problems and the subsequent issues that arise when trying to integrate the multiple methodologies employed by archaeologists, historical linguists, and geneticists to help develop more comprehensive understandings of human social action and processes in prehistory.

Dispersals and Diversification

Linguistic and Archaeological Perspectives on the Early Stages of Indo-European