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MC14.1 Contrasting biographies

Contrasting biographies. Tracing the ‘second life’ of Aegyptiaca in the Bronze Age Aegean

Koordination: Diamantis Panagiotopoulos


For the most part of the last century, the historical evaluation of foreign imports in the Bronze Age Aegean was based on the implication that a ‘foreign’ thing was a cultural intruder whose otherness was clearly distinguishable within a more or less homogeneous material culture. Inventories of foreign objects became very popular providing a very solid fundament for the study of foreign contacts. The main problem was, however, that these inventories have established a very monolithic concept of alterity implying that foreign imports remained unaltered in their new cultural context, retaining their foreignness and thus original meaning. Only in recent studies, there has been a shift from the questions of provenance, typology, and style to the praxeological and phenomenological dimensions of this phenomenon. The project "Contrasting Biographies", has focused on the constant flow of exotic objects in the Bronze Age Aegean, striving to take on board these recent theoretical advances and to demonstrate how these items were reconfigured in their new context, thereby developing a new 'biography' that was independent from the former one.

In the first year of the project, foreign objects and techniques circulating in the Eastern Mediterranean were studied as palpable traces of embodied knowledge which was transmitted across different cultural regions through specialized personnel and/or objects. Several articles on the distribution of techniques and technical know-how and skills strongly contributed to an on-going paradigm shift in the interpretation of these foreign objects focusing not on the traditional issues of chronology, style and provenance but on the specific social practices in which these objects were embedded. In the two following years, the main focus has been on seals as bearers of multiple memoires and biographies trying to trace their trajectories across different cultural regions as well as their role in varying material networks. In both cases, it became apparent how foreign objects acted as vehicles of non-written, embodied knowledge providing a versatile reservoir of collective memory which transversed cultural borders. A further important insight was that their multiple affordances were not dictated by their mere materiality but were culturally constructed and thus remained fluid.