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Maleen Leppek, PhD Project:


Innovation, Interaction and Society in the 4th and early 3rd Millennium BCE in Europe: Early Wheeled Vehicles as Innovations (working title)


The PhD-project argues that questions about early wheeled vehicles as innovations of the 4th millennium BCE in the area of today’s Europe get much more complex when viewed at a higher resolution. Instead of being perceived as compact single pieces of technology, prehistoric wheeled vehicles should be considered as parts of “technology clusters” (Rogers 2003, 14). Since it seems impossible to draw lines of separation-between individual technologies, an analysis of wheeled vehicles requires to go beyond pure questions of transport and to include matters of draught cattle application, knowledge of production and material, changes in settlement structures as well as a wide range of other aspects. The quite heterogeneous material evidence from the case studies (Circumalpine wetland/lakes shore settlements, Carpathian Basin, Trypillia-Cucuteni mega-settlements) supports the assumption that what was actually new in the various appropriating contexts has differed significantly. Processes of innovation, such as in the case of early wheeled vehicles, may have happened at very different speeds, leading to a multitude of possible results which were very much based on the respective local conditions of society, subsistence, topography and certain ways of appropriation. The time span from the first few hints of a combined innovation like “wheeled vehicles drawn by animals” to its full visibility in the archaeological contexts could be of quite different length, notwithstanding taphonomic processes. In conclusion, something that represented a major novelty to one community could have been regarded as no more than a slight optimization by another. Something that reached a certain context as a completely “foreign” novelty might have required a series of actions to overcome obstacles that changed the novelty itself as well as it set off further change in the appropriating community. This could have been the result of gradual development that included continuous optimization by targeted invention or the very selective choice of individual pieces of a compound innovation that had been purposely integrated into local contexts. This potential variability blurs clearly outlined novelties and traceable routes of their diffusion, as individual parts might have reached one context by different mechanisms and from different directions. It also complicates questions of appropriation and thereby strongly supports the need of a close analysis of local contexts that includes as many factors as possible and pays attention to earlier and later developments that might be connected to a certain innovation.