Evidence for a Stone Age fibre technology – a closer look at the prehistoric String Theory

University essay from Lunds universitet/Arkeologi

Abstract: The aim of the present study was to take a closer look into the evidence for a theory of prehistoric string manufacture, formulated by the British archaeologist Karen Hardy in the article Prehistoric string theory. How twisted fibers helped to shape the world (Hardy, 2008). A problem with the article, with the relevance and validity of the presented evidence as substance for the theory, was the mixture of references and arguments from different scientific areas and methodologies. In this study three research questions are discussed, related to the overall idea of a substantial Grounded Theory of prehistoric string manufacture. They concern the validity of the evidence (RQ 1), the constitution of a textile materiality in the Upper Palaeolithic (RQ 2),and the support for a theory of a technological mind for plant fibre manufacture in the early Stone Age (RQ 3). The methodology for embarking on a mission to evaluate evidence taken from mostly fragmented or perished material calls for a reflective perspective, almost as in archaeological fieldwork. The analysis undertaken relates to the direct and indirect evidence postulated by Hardy (2008), but with added arguments from the author of this study, after deep reading of some of her references and new search for further arguments for the initial evidence. The analysis resulted in a qualitative evaluation of each of the perceived 9 proofs of evidences for a String Theory. Five of these got their substance from archaeological records and four from ethnographic studies, see figure 1 in Appendix 1a and list of her references in Appendix 1b. The overall evaluation of the evidence showed an uneven quality profile for their validity and relevance for the String Theory. However, there were some very good arguments and evidence for an early prehistoric string technology, even as early as 1.8 million years BP, based on the evidence of perforated beads and pendant as well as the long history of a string knotting technique. The reported evidence for a more advanced string technology/textile manufacture in Upper Palaeolithic, through direct textile findings and textile imprints and impressions in clay, has high quality as well as the findings from Mesolithic burials and settlements. The substance for the String Theory from the ethnographic evidence generally have a low relevance and validity due to the disparity in the reported methodologies and its more or less contemporary primary setting in tropical highland cultures from New Guinea. In conclusion, the answers to the study’s research question can be summarized in the following way: the discovery and formulation of a prehistoric String Theory is a challenge for further research into the materiality and technological minds of the early Stone Age.

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