Accepted paper:

Abstract aerophones and tangible tones: prehistoric imparsimony or Occam's mallet


Simon Wyatt (Bristol University)

Paper short abstract:

Interpretation is laden with subjectivity. We consider interpretations of prehistoric flutes which while logical are not airtight. Experimental models may suggest different use patterns though by no means guarantee an infallible interpretation and call us to acknowledge our biases.

Paper long abstract:

Archaeologists have long considered that subjectivity has a bearing on our interpretations. Ethno- and chrono- centric attitudes abound and are able to creep into otherwise sound hypotheses. This paper will examine two early cases of perforated bone tube and consider the changing ways in which such objects may be interpreted. The Isturitz pipe has been deemed a flute for many years. The second, the most recent ancient bone wind instrument, was published in an article with a title "New Flutes..." prior to any discussion of the properties of the artefact or discussion of its function. Recently an alternative interpretation has been given for the Isturitz pipe which while maybe valid is not foolproof and may be argued differently based on the same criteria. This is where the question of bias appears and why we should be careful of invoking the simple explanation. Here we will consider the biases of the author and how experiment intended to test theoretical view may lead us to think again and expand our horizons. Based on experimental models of both instruments we shall explore how ones own unconscious agendas may blinker our understanding and how these same models may lead to us becoming aware of unthought possibilities. Both these objects may be flutes, or perhaps not. Experimental work has the power to test hypotheses and free our interpretations. It also has the ability to demonstrate that more than one interpretation and indeed playing style may work for the same evidence.

panel S37
Artefact to auditorium: aural agendas in the archaeology of prehistoric sound (partly supported by the AHRC ‘Beyond Text’ program)