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Joseph Maran: Studies on the Significance of Earliest Wheeled Vehicles between Central Europe and the Aegean

Joseph Maran studied the impact of early wheeled vehicles on the ideology of Central and Northwest European societies in the centuries around 3000 BCE (Maran forthcoming 1). The example of these vehicles emphasizes that a technological or economic innovation is always much more than that, since its polysemous nature has the power of linking aspects of economy, religion and the social. In investigating the appearance of parts of such vehicles in the wetlands of Northwestern Europe J.D. van der Waals (1964) was the first to define certain cultural patterns of deposition which suggested to him a ritual character of these finds. Strikingly, similar patterns can be identified among many of the occurrences of parts of wheeled vehicles in circumalpine wetland settlements. This points to the likelihood that the finds from uninhabited parts of wetlands are much closer related to those from wetland settlements than was hitherto accepted. Both groups of finds are likely to provide evidence for the execution of ritual practices, in which specific parts of wheeled vehicles were dedicated as pars pro toto depositions in and outside of settlements.

Maran also contrasted the unusually rich evidence for early wheeled vehicles in Central and Eastern Europe with the intriguingly different case in the Aegean—a contrast that suggests that technological innovations were assessed in various ways by the people who introduced them (Maran forthcoming 2). Although Aegean societies most likely came into contact with wheeled vehicles at about the same time as did their contemporaries in Central Europe, the archaeological record of the centuries between roughly 3500 and 2000 BCE does not provide us with evidence that this technology was associated with prestige, social inequality, and high symbolic significance in the Aegean. In this period it was the boat, not the wagon that seems to have been imbued with symbolic meaning and thus became the subject of frequent depiction, much as wheeled vehicles did in Central Europe. The influential hypothesis of Bogucki (1993) that such vehicles were introduced by households and that this led to an antagonistic, inner-societal process of monopolizing technologies in order to promote certain households at the expense of others may not be applicable to the Aegean, where the imponderabilities of the environment made sharing and cooperation in agriculture an effective strategy for reducing household risk and may thus have outweighed the possible benefits of accumulation.

BOGUCKI, P. 2003: Animal traction and Household Economies in Neolithic Europe, Antiquity 67, pp. 492–503.

BURMEISTER, S. 2004: Der Wagen im Neolithikum und in der Bronzezeit. Erfindung, Ausbreitung und Funktion. In: M. Fansa and S. Burmeister (eds.), Rad und Wagen. Der Ursprung einer Innovation, Wagen im Vorderen Orient und in Europa. Wissenschaftliche Begleitschrift zur Sonderausstellung "Rad und Wagen. Der Ursprung einer Innovation, Wagen im Vorderen Orient und Europa" vom 28. März ‒ 11. Juli 2004 im Landesmuseum für Natur und Mensch, Oldenburg. Beiheft der Archäologischen Mitteilungen aus Nordwestdeutschland 40. Mainz: Zabern, pp. 13–40.

MARAN, J. 2004: Kulturkontakte und Wege der Ausbreitung der Wagentechnologie im 4. Jahrtausend v. Chr. In: M. Fansa and S. Burmeister (eds.), Rad und Wagen. Der Ursprung einer Innovation, Wagen im Vorderen Orient und in Europa. Wissenschaftliche Begleitschrift zur Sonderausstellung "Rad und Wagen. Der Ursprung einer Innovation, Wagen im Vorderen Orient und Europa" vom 28. März ‒ 11. Juli 2004 im Landesmuseum für Natur und Mensch, Oldenburg. Beiheft der Archäologischen Mitteilungen aus Nordwestdeutschland 40. Mainz: Zabern, pp. 429-442.

MARAN, J. forthcoming 1: Wheels of Change: The Polysemous Nature of Early Wheeled Vehicles in 3rd Millennium BCE Central and Northwest European Societies. In: J. Maran and P. Stockhammer (eds.), Appropriating Innovations: Entangled Knowledge in Eurasia, 5000-1500 BC (forthcoming).

MARAN, J. forthcoming 2: Earliest Wheeled Vehicles: Power, Prestige, and Symbolic Significance? In: S. Hansen (ed.), The Aegean as Counter-ExampleFormen der Machtrepräsentation zwischen Kaukasus und Adria vom 5000 bis 1500 v.u.Z. (forthcoming).

ROGERS, E.M. 2003: Diffusion of Innovations (New York ‒ London ‒ Toronto ‒ Sydney 2003).

SAUER,K. and SÜRENHAGEN, D. forthcoming: Zählmarken, Zeichenträger und Siegelpraxis. Einige Bemerkungen zu vor- und frühschriftlichen Verwaltungshilfen in frühsumerischer Zeit. In: T. E. Balke and C. Tsouparopoulou (eds.), Materiality of Writing in Early Mesopotamia. MTK 13 (forthcoming), pp. 11-46.

SHERRATT, A. 1981: Plough and Pastoralism: Aspects of the Secondary Products Revolution. In: I. Hodder, G. Isaac and N. Hammond (eds.), Pattern of the Past. Studies in Honour of David Clarke. Cambridge: University Press, pp. 261-305.

VAN DER WAALS, J.D. 1964: Prehistoric Disc Wheels in the Netherlands. Groningen: J.B. Wolters.

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