Culture (archeology)

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As archaeological culture primarily a limited space and time cut is material culture called. So it in no way denotes cultural or socio-political entities , even if the cartographic processing suggests this. In most cases the delimitation is arbitrary and, if it is accepted in research, is used as a convention .


Techno complex
The large complexes of prehistoric and early historical archeology , which used to be called culture, are now commonly referred to as "techno complex". At most in the Neolithic or later, the term culture was still used.
Assemblage, inventory
In the past, assemblage was often used in excavations to refer to a collection of certain objects found, e.g. B. Ceramic forms and devices that occur in solid complexes. Today it is usually referred to as inventory , sometimes also as "industry" when it is larger.
As an industry in modern prehistoric archeology, the accumulation of a narrower complex of matching assemblages of e.g. B. defined in certain technology machined flint appliances. ( Hand ax industry )
Group, techno complex
In prehistoric and early historical archeology one sometimes calls a find situation that can only be determined by a relic group (such as ceramics) that does not yet cross the border to a higher systematics, which in the Neolithic is sometimes also referred to as "culture". However, this boundary is fluid ( La Hoguette group ) and is drawn differently by the individual researchers. Usually the term "industry" is used here in a modern way.

As a classification unit , archaeological culture used to be an indispensable tool for the work of archaeologists. Today, however, the term is only used for a preliminary classification as a working hypothesis and has now been replaced by the neutral, culturally unencumbered term “techno complex”, especially in prehistoric and early historical terminology and systematics, and especially for the Paleolithic .

Culture change

In order to be able to determine an immigration archaeologically, fundamental changes (ceramics, house building) in the material culture and economy must be perceptible within a cultural area, preferably in connection with references to the area of ​​origin of the migrants.

According to E. Drenth and Eric Lohof, however, cultural continuity (and immobility) can generally be assumed. With the refinement of the chronology of the Neolithic and the Bronze Age over the last few decades, there has been a growing awareness that an archaeological culture, according to the well-known thesis put forward by Vere Gordon Childe , has an inherently dynamic character, so that cultural changes are usually not a result of Migration can be explained.

Attempt a commented definition

Under material culture all observable human agency are understood - the Archeology places special emphasis on archaeological finds. Material culture includes e.g. B. pots and needles, but also ornament patterns, house floor plans or the way graves are laid out or the dead are laid. These features are subject to change over time and can be distinguished in geographically limited areas. Correlations between certain features can also be observed, even if these features do not technically depend on one another. So z. B. at a certain time in a certain area ceramic style X with house shape Y occur together. Such correlations of several characteristics form the basis for the description of archaeological cultures. There are no conventions about a possible minimum number of such correlated characteristics.

The development of the characteristics over time means that archaeological cultures can be broken down chronologically - this is often done by describing an "initial", a "transitional" and an "end" phase. On the other hand, with a largely unbroken development, it becomes clear that the temporal demarcation between successive archaeological cultures is purely arbitrary. Often, “smaller” breaks in development, such as the appearance of a new type of ceramic or the elimination of another, are defined as a temporal boundary between cultures. A temporal minimum or maximum size does not exist. B. the Jōmon culture in Japan over 10,000 years, the Neolithic cultures of Central Europe, however, only a few hundred years.

In the spatial distribution of simultaneous features of a postulated culture, a relatively closed distribution area and a relative minimum size (= minimum number of sites) are decisive, but not mandatory. Here, too, the following applies: In the case of flowing transitions, the boundary is drawn arbitrarily. Come z. For example, in one area the features A, B, C and D in front of them and in a neighboring area simultaneously the features C, D, E and F, two hypothetical cultures could be postulated on the basis of the distribution of the features A and B on the one hand and E and F on the other become.

Leading forms : Typical artefacts of a culture are referred to as leading forms in archeology based on paleontological leading fossils .

A conceptually defined hierarchical structure of the archaeological cultures in spatial and temporal categories is largely absent, or is dynamically developed by the research for certain units Beaker culture is such. B. subdivided into further spatial subgroups, which - due to research history - are in turn made up of individual units, mostly referred to as cultures. Attempts to rename such widespread cultural phenomena for the purpose of a better overview, such as the bell beaker culture in the bell beaker phenomenon ( Christian Strahm ) mostly fail because of the established old terms. The relationship between the terms archaeological culture and archaeological group is also not clearly clarified; both are used synonymously as well as to designate different hierarchical levels of structure (mostly culture over group).


The naming of archaeological cultures does not follow any fixed rules. You will e.g. B. named after:

In the case of archaeological cultural phenomena that encompass today's national and linguistic borders, there is an additional complication that there are often multiple names for one and the same archaeological culture. B. The cultural complex of the late Early to Middle Bronze Age in Lower Austria is known as the Böheimkirchen group / culture, in southwest Slovakia as the Mad'arovce culture and in Moravia as the Věteřov culture .

Use of the term

The mostly arbitrary demarcation of archaeological cultures from one another and their definitions, which are very different in detail, sometimes more influenced by the history of research than by the research subject itself, make it clear that we are dealing with purely artificial structures that - at least generally - are never associated with ethnic groups , language groups or "living cultures “May be equated.

When defining archaeological cultures, “[e] thnian identity […] is spatially defined.” With the usual summative mapping of individual objects, “relatively arbitrary objects are selected and mapped above or next to each other” and removed from their context. A connection between different objects is constructed from similar distribution images, which leads to a circular argument, "because they [the objects] show a similar distribution image, and this circumstance in turn serves as proof that there is a substantive connection between these objects".

The subdivision of the immensely diverse archaeological legacies into units serves to ensure clarity and conventionalization, which cannot otherwise be managed - and therefore as the basis for any further research into the actually cultural, or better: cultural-anthropological, phenomena.

See also


  • W. Angeli: On the concept of culture in prehistory. FS Pittioni, Arch. Austriaca Beih. 13, 1976, pp. 3-6.
  • J. Bergmann: Ethnos and culture. On the methodology of prehistoric science. Prehist. Magazine 47, 1972, pp. 105-110.
  • Lewis R. Binford: Coping with culture. In: LR Binford (Ed.): Debating archeology. New York 1989, pp. 485-490.
  • Erik Drenth & Eric Lohof: Mobility during the End Neolithic and the Bronze Age. A general overview for the Netherlands In: Varia neolithica V 2007, ISBN 978-3-941171-27-5 .
  • Manfred KH Eggert : On the cultural concept in prehistoric archeology. Bonner Jahrbücher 178, 1978, 1–20.
  • Fröhlich, Siegfried (ed.): Culture: an interdisciplinary colloquium on terminology. Interdisciplinary colloquium on terminology 1999, Halle, Saale. (Halle / Saale, State Office for Archeology 2000).
  • Rolf Hachmann et al. (Hrsg.): Studies on the concept of culture in research on prehistory and early history. Bonn 1987.
  • E. Mandera: On the interpretation of Neolithic cultures, problems of prehistoric methodology. Nassauische Annalen 76, 1965, 1-14.
  • Siân Jones: The archeology of ethnicity: constructing identities in the past and present. Routledge, London 1997.
  • Nils Müller-Scheessel, Stefan Burmester (Ed.): Social groups - cultural borders. The interpretation of social identities in prehistoric archeology. Waxmann, Münster 2006, ISBN 3-8309-1651-5 .
  • W. Schmied-Kowarzik: Philosophical considerations for understanding foreign cultures and for a theory of human culture. Pp. 349-390. 1981 In: Basic questions of ethnology.
  • Christian Strahm: Continuity and Cultural Change in the Neolithic of Western Switzerland. Find reports Baden-Württemberg 3, 1977, 115-143.
  • Ulrich Veit: Cultural anthropological perspectives in prehistoric research: some research-historical and epistemological preliminary considerations. In: Prehistory as cultural anthropology. FS fool. Saeculum 41, 1990, 182-214.
  • Hans-Peter Wotzka 1993: On the traditional concept of culture in prehistoric archeology . Paideuma 39: 25-44.

Individual evidence

  1. ^ John Desmond Clark : The Cambridge History of Africa. Volume 1, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1982/89, ISBN 0-521-22215-X , pp. 157 f., 169, 234.
  2. Andrew Sherratt : The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Archeology. Christian Verlag, Munich 1980, ISBN 3-88472-035-X , p. 10.
  3. Harsema 1987, 104; Prien 2005, 304-316.
  4. ^ Nils Müller-Scheessel, Stefan Burmester: Introduction: The identification of social groups. In: Nils Müller-Scheessel, Stefan Burmester (Ed.): Social groups - cultural borders. The interpretation of social identities in prehistoric archeology. Waxmann, Münster 2006, ISBN 3-8309-1651-5 , p. 27.