Containers are ubiquitous enablers of life processes. How is the capacity for containment conceptualised cross-culturally? Our interest lies in the making and use of containers, as animate or gendered things, and their material and semiotic relations to bodies, life processes and sociality.
Containers are one of the most essential artefacts of human craft, simply because they enable so much of what we do. They are ubiquitous in the ethnographic and archaeological record, as well as in museum collections. The category container has the virtue of being massively encompassing, while the concept of containment is useful and suggestive for its formal limitation. Thus containers may include eating and drinking vessels (gourds), carrying devices (bags and baskets), items of furniture (hammocks, chairs), locomotives (canoes), among others. These diverse classes of thing, usually considered separately, share a capacity for containment. And all are prostheses to life processes such as eating, drinking, moving, sleeping; as well as to social and economic ones, such as exchanging, hiding, or storing. Furthermore, containers often relate to bodily processes because our bodies also are containers: our skulls contain brains, wombs contain offspring, lungs contain breath, and bellies food. Body parts are imagined as container-like in diverse ways, for example, Amazonian drinking gourds may be womb-like, while some Papua New Guinean peoples' hearts are figured as seeds/fruits containing knowledge and spirit. We ask, in what manifold forms do processes of containment elicit life (and death) and have life-like properties? How is the capacity for containment conceptualised and materialised in the making and use of containers? When and how are containers gendered, animate, or humanised? This panel invites archaeologists, anthropologists and others to reflect upon the material-semiotics of containment. We seek to understand the affordances of containment as quality and thing, concept and object.