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Cornaline de l’Inde

Valentine Roux

Introduction: Beads to dream about...

Valentine Roux

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1What is more evocative than ancient body ornaments? Found in the form of isolated beads, necklaces or bracelets, they represent objects that continue to play an ornamental or symbolic role in our society, representing social status and beliefs. Numerous historic and ethnographic documents provide evidence for the political, religious, ritual and social functions associated with body ornaments. They symbolize the world. “Their great variability in terms of form, materials and fabrication make them the ideal vehicle for a vast register of cultural information “(Dubin 1995:18). This is why the discovery of even a few archaeological beads immediately incites hypotheses as to their meaning. They embody the expression of a past whose meaning is still existent in our own universe.

2Even so, the problem of their interpretation is not simple. In the absence of written texts, we find ourselves confronted with the immense diversity of values attributed to beads by the ensemble of people on the planet, and therefore have difficulty reconstructing the values attributed to them by a particular, ancient cultural group. Or else, we are inclined to propose banal explanations that are associated with beads independently of the specific values that might have originally been attributed to them by a cultural group.

3However, in leaving – for the moment – the domain of dreams, there is another possible approach, whereby the bead is no longer an esthetic object viewed through the imagination and colored by ethnographic narratives. It instead becomes an object of study for which “meaning” must be constructed according to scientific rules that reconstruct the cultural value independently of anthropological prejudice.

4The studies compiled in this volume were guided by the latter approach. The proposed objective is double. First, to develop a modern reference-base that permits the interpretation of archaeological beads; indeed, the objects do not speak for themselves and thus attributing meaning to them implies drawing upon knowledge that often lies beyond the realm of archaeology (Gallay 1986). Second, to study hard stone beads from the Indus Valley for the purpose of proposing hypotheses concerning the dynamic of the origins of the Harappan civilization (3rd millennium BC). Indeed, the beads are far from anecdotal in the debate concerning the evolution of complex societies. They are elements that, by their very nature, provide information concerning the groups by which they were utilized. They therefore constitute a valuable element of archaeological data for understanding the relationship between the development of a crafts industry and the elite class, which we may suppose had an obvious interest in objects of value and/or prestige. In addition, hard stone beads were circulated over long distances, thus demonstrating the existence of systems of exchange and/or commerce. Bead production was intensified during the third millennium and thus participated significantly in the development of the urban techno-economic system and in the relations forged between the two principal politico-economic poles of the time, Indus and Mesopotamia.

Some ethno-archaeological rules

5Two thirds of the chapters in this volume are ethno-archaeological studies conducted with the ambition of developing interpretive references applicable to hard stone beads. The remaining third is comprised of archaeological studies. The relation between ethno-archaeological and archaeological studies might seem surprising. In fact, this relation is inherent in the interpretative procedure that consists, most often, of a simple transfer of ethnographic attributes onto archaeological data, given the existence of formal analogies between them (Gardin 1979). Therefore the problem of interpretation does not lie in the transfer of attributes, but in the conditions of this transfer. Under what conditions do we have the right to transfer to a particular, ancient society the meaning attributed to objects by another society, a society which is, moreover, modern. This question was intensely debated during the 1960s in response to the approach taken by comparative ethnography, which made unjustified analogies between traditional and prehistoric societies. The response proposed here is today almost unanimously agreed upon by archaeologists; that is, in the absence of a direct historic relation between the ancient and modern societies studied, the ethnographic attributes must have a universal characteristic in order to be applicable to all past societies, independent of their cultural specificity (among others, Binford 1967, 1968, 1972, 1978b; Gallay 1989, 1991; Gallay et al. 1992; Gould 1978, 1980; Kent 1994; Schiffer 1978). But do universal meanings exist that are not banal, and that can genuinely contribute to our knowledge of the past? The answer to this question depends on the meaning we give the word “universal”, on whether it signifies universals of process, related to the constraints and resources in the material, cultural or cognitive domains, or universals of form. It is the former that interest us, and that possess a heuristic function, as we shall see in this volume.

6As indicated by their name, universals of process relate to the mechanisms or laws that explain physical, cultural or biological phenomena. They must permit the interpretation of certain aspects of ancient material culture according to “transcultural” rules, also called “regularities” (Gallay 1986, 1982). They are, however, compatible with the observation of cultural differences. “Indeed, the same mechanisms of functioning can result in different observables, due precisely to the variability of environmental factors in the broad sense and of the objects to which they are applied” (Bril 1992:64, our emphasis). In archaeology, observables are the archaeological variables themselves (spatial distribution, quantitative data, etc.). These reflect the cultural particulars, or even the variability of human behavior, which are, nonetheless, also related to universals of process. These can be assimilated to the generalizations sought by middle-range theories (Binford 1977), “generalizations that attempt to account for the regularities that occur between two or more sets of variables in multiple instances” (Trigger 1989:21). There are several possible approaches to the study of mechanisms that underlie regularities: the experimental approach, which permits a rigorous control of the parameters at work (Bril et al. 1996; Longacre 1992; Roux 1997); the comparative approach, which permits, in certain situations, the isolation of explanatory parameters (Pétrequin & Pétrequin 1992); and finally the contextual approach, which permits definition of the context in which the regularity operates (e.g. Gallay 1992; Roux 1985).

7Even if archaeologists agree on the importance of seeking regularities applicable to ancient societies, there is still confusion concerning the object of study. As a result, research concerning regularities founded on universals of process is rare, whereas research based on what we could call “pseudo-universals of form” is abundant. The latter involve searching for regularities in the observables themselves, which are those par excellence destined to be influenced by cultural variation. One of the best-known examples is that of Yellen (1997) in his study of Kung campsites. He attempted to identify regularities that would permit inferences concerning the duration of occupation and the number of inhabitants of hunter-gatherer campsites based on their intrinsic attributes. However, the “regularities” he identified were simple correlations that were not explained in terms of “universals”. It was thus easy for Binford to demonstrate, using a simple ethnographic counter-example, that they had no general, transcultural value (Binford 1978a, example presented in Gallay 1989). Numerous studies comparing traditional material configurations with past ones have made use of such “pseudo-universals of form”, and were rightly criticized by prehistorians such as Leroi-Gourhan (1956). The diversity of their results is equal to the diversity of forms. They furnish hypotheses, some of them plausible, but without by themselves enabling us to progress in terms of archaeological interpretation. In their time, they were necessary in order to affirm the complex and multivocal character of material data. Curiously enough, however, it was never clearly brought out that universals could not be found in observables themselves (object attributes), but in the processes that underlie their diversity. It is because of these studies that ethno-archaeology currently remains an often criticized approach, comparable to a simple catalogue of plausible hypotheses, while it should be a true science of interpretation.

8In this volume, the ethno-archaeological studies consist of revealing regularities or rules of interpretation (Gallay 1992), which we demonstrate to be universally applicable. To speak of demonstrating is to speak of testing empirically, which as a rule implies complex analyses of the mechanisms underlying regularities. For this reason, the present book is structured so that before discussing interpretations, we present a series of ethno-archaeological studies conducted upstream, which can legitimately be regarded as complex and ponderous, followed by archaeological studies proper, downstream, calling upon comparatively light and simple operations that come down to a plain transfer of meaning. The resulting interpretations have the advantage of being testable by reference to ethno-archaeological rules (Roux 1992b), viewed from a logicist analytical perspective where the goals of the interpretive constructions are to respond to the principle of empirical verifiability (Gardin 1979, 1991; Gardin et al. 1981). We stress that validation in the present of “functional” interpretations is in fact an obligatory operation since, by definition, these are not “observable” in the archaeological material itself (in this way, the skills implied in the fabrication of an object are not “observable”; what we observe is an object interpretable in terms of skills according to a modem reference-base where the relation object-skill has been defined).

Cambay: a reference-base of choice

9The ethno-archaeological studies presented here were conducted at Cambay, a small city in the state of Gujarat, situated at the extreme point of the Gulf of Cambay. Lapidary activity is attested here by texts since the seventeenth century. A general presentation is made in chapter 1.

10Cambay is one of the rare places in the world where hard stone beads are still fabricated by the millions using traditional techniques. This particularity allowed us to consider three domains of study: the first concerning the fabrication techniques themselves (Chapters 2, 3, 4); the second concerning the skills implied in the knapping process (Chapter 5); and the third concerning the techno-economic organization of bead-production and its modelling based on quantitative description of the elementary operations (Chapter 6).

11The study of fabrication techniques includes the knapping polishing and perforation operations. The description of knapping methods and techniques is carried out by an expert in this domain, Jacques Pelegrin (Chapter 2). This chapter contributes, first of all, to the preservation of ethnographic data destined to disappear in the near future. These descriptions also permits the consideration of the existence of a knapping technique that, until now, was not attested for these periods in the Indus tradition: indirect percussion by counter-blows (with a hammer and spike that acts as an anvil). The Cambay example also provides a solid reference-base for describing the methods by which the body ornaments and small, stone objects were knapped. The study of abrasion, polishing and shining (final polishing) procedures was conducted in collaboration with Francesco d’Errico, who has developed effective methodological tools for analyzing the fabrication traces of prehistoric body ornaments at the microscopic level (d’Errico 1996), as well as with the help of Yveline Dumond (engineer). Based on macro- and micro-traces, our objective was to reveal observables on the ethnographic materials. These consist of diagnostic attributes that then permit the identification of the different polishing techniques used by the Harappans. From the same perspective, the study of perforation techniques (Chapter 4) was conducted with the goal of understanding the solutions adopted by the Harappans to perforate the different types of beads. An analysis of the mechanical principles of the bowed drill by a ballistic engineer, Antonio Sela, permitted, in particular, an appreciation of the great ingenuity demonstrated by the Harappans in their search for materials that would allow them to accomplish impressive technical feats.

12The study of the skills implied in the knapping of beads (Chapter 5) must permit the identification, behind the bead, of the gestures of the artisan and the apprenticeship that was followed. A description of these factors is essential to understanding the evolution of techniques and the organization of production (Mauss 1935; Haudricourt 1987; Sigaut 1994). At Cambay, the study of knapping skills was conducted in collaboration with Blandine Bril and Gilles Dietrich, researchers in psychophysiology and movement sciences. In order to characterize these skills and to understand the variation in apprenticeship duration as a function of competence levels, we conducted a field-experimentation program that permitted rigorous control of the different parameters involved in the expertise of the artisans. The result is the formulation of strong hypotheses concerning, first, the characteristics of each level of expertise, and second, the relation between expertise level and apprenticeship duration. When applied to archaeological data, these hypotheses permit interpretation of the different bead types in terms of skill level and apprenticeship duration.

13Finally, we had the objective of constructing a model that would serve in the reconstruction of ancient techno-systems. In prehistory, techno-economic studies based on empirical data are conducted essentially in order to define the different strategies followed in the fabrication, utilization, transportation and rejection of tools, and the materials required for their fabrication and maintenance according to a dynamic that is spatially organized at the site or territorial level (e.g. Binford 1978, 1979; Féblot-Augustins 1997; Geneste 1992; Perlès 1992; Torrence 1983). In protohistory, the tendency is more toward the development of models originating in classic or economic anthropology, which most often lacks archaeological correlates (e.g. Tainter 1988, discussed in Francfort et al. 1989). Based on data from Cambay, our objective was to propose a techno-economic model that had material correlates and of which we could evaluate the real foundations. This study was conducted in collaboration with Pierre Matarasso, an economist. The modelling that was performed permits the measurement of production systems based on the constraints and resources presented by the elementary technical operations. When applied to archaeological data, it permits us to increase the number of beads found to the amplitude of the annual production and to the number of artisans mobilized. Different alternatives of organization can thus be considered.

14We will see that the ensemble of ethno-archaeological studies involves collaboration with disciplines outside archaeology. It is certain that the solution to many interpretive problems resides at the crossroads of several disciplines (Gallay 1986). This is not only because these problems are treated by disciplines for which the object of study is the same, but also considering the epistemological constraints that require a validation of our references according to the rules of knowledge implied in their construction (Roux 1992).

The beads of Indus

15The study of beads from Indus is part of the broader, more general study of the Indus civilization, also called the Harappan civilization. This civilization developed between 2500 and 2000 bc over a considerable territory that today covers Pakistan and northwest India (Rajasthan and Gujarat). It can be considered as the outcome “of socio-economic, religious and political phenomena that we can follow for several centuries before the pinnacle of the Indus civilization” (Mughal 1988). It is characterized by an exceptional urbanism with cities such as Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, which were able to accommodate several tens of thousands of inhabitants (Jansen 1988). Among the particularly remarkable urban traits is an urban planning marked by a division between the upper city (often called “citadel”) and the lower city, as well as aligned streets and facades, and an ingenious conception of water-related structures. These latter exist both at large sites such as Mohenjo-Daro and at much smaller sites such as Dholavira (Gujarat). The Indus civilization is also characterized by the knowledge of writing, for which the better part of the corpus is represented on seals, as well as by a system of measures and weights. The 500-year-old material culture is distinguished, throughout its existence, at once by its homogeneity, by original characteristics that indicate the existence of regional entities, and by a remarkable development and diversification of artisanship (Jarrige 1988, 1990). The hard stone beads are part of this exceptional crafts industry, which prospered well beyond its frontiers, as far as Mesopotamia, where their discovery in funerary contexts leaves little doubt as to their exceptional destination.

16This volume presents three archaeological studies. They share a common procedure. The hard stone beads were analyzed from a techno-economic standpoint, considering both qualitative (morpho-technical characteristics, techniques and quality of fabrication) and quantitative (number of beads found by type) parameters. Interpretations were made by reference to data from Cambay. The first study (chapter 7) concerns the ensemble of Harappan beads and results in hypotheses concerning the Harappan techno-economic system as a whole. In particular, examination of the “great classic Harappans” reveals certain elements that contributed to the formation of the “Harappan State”. The second study (Chapter 8), conducted by Blanche Barthélemy de Saizieu, deals with the hard stone beads found at Nausharo in Pakistan. This study addresses the diversity of beads from this site and reaches conclusions that strongly converge with those reached for the ensemble of the Harappan world: that the number of artisans was limited and that there was considerable circulation of beads among the sites. Finally, the third study (Chapter 9), conducted by Marie-Louise Inizan, concerns carnelian beads found in Mesopotamia from the third millennium. These beads shed light on questions concerning production centers and the relations between the great urban poles of the period (Mesopotamia, Iran, Indus).

17Although the aim of this volume is to present elements of a response to research questions concerning the Harappan world, we would like to make it clear that the work is in no way restricted to Harappan archaeology. Indeed, the objective is to propose references of a transcultural character, which can thus be applied to all ancient, hard stone beads, independently of their cultural context. In the same spirit, the archaeological hypotheses advanced could be modified or confirmed following new discoveries. The potential modifications will never represent “heavy” operations in the sense that the interpretive referentials have already been constructed, so that archaeological interpretation can thus return to a simple transfer of transcultural ethnographic attributes.

© Éditions de la Maison des sciences de l’homme, 2000

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