The Prehistoric Society Europa Conference 2016: Dynamics of Art, Design, and Vision in Iron Age Europe. Edinburgh, 3–4 June 2016

by Alex Gibson (, Manuel Fernández-Götz ( and Courtney Nimura (

Each year the Prehistoric Society awards the Europa prize to an individual who has made a lifelong contribution to European prehistory. The award, which originated from a bequest from the late Professor Graham Clark, coincided with a lecture but has, since 2007, developed into a two-day conference organised by the President and Council of the Society. It is now the largest event that the Society organises each year. The Europa conference is unique in that the first day is devoted to early career researchers whose research intersects with the honoree, whilst the second day is for senior scholars chosen by the honoree. Each year the Council chooses not only the Europa winner but also the university that will host the conference; these have included the Universities of Reading, Cardiff, Bradford, Dublin and Edinburgh.

The 2016 Europa Conference took place on 3–4 June at the University of Edinburgh and was entitled Dynamics of Art, Design, and Vision in Iron Age Europe. The prize was awarded to Professor Peter Wells (University of Minnesota), one of the most prolific and influential scholars on Iron Age Europe. The topic of the conference was directly related to Wells’ long-lasting research on the cognitive aspects of visual perception in late prehistoric and early historic Europe (Wells 2008; 2012), and to the large exhibitions on Celtic art that were subsequently displayed between September 2015 and September 2016 at the British Museum in London and the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh (cf. Fernández-Götz 2016).

The conference was attended by more than 130 delegates and included 18 lectures and six posters. The first day started with Courtney Nimura’s and Peter Hommel’s (University of Oxford) presentation of the ongoing Leverhulme Trust Project ‘European Celtic Art in Context: Exploring Celtic art and its eastern links’ (PI: Professor Chris Gosden). In the following paper, James Johnson (University of Chicago) analysed the role of aesthetics in Pontic Iron Age funerary performances. Gadea Cabanillas (Institut National du Patrimoine), for her part, reconsidered social interpretations of La Tène continental arts based on decorated pottery. The morning session concluded with a presentation on Iron Age replicas in museums by David Marchant, Tim Pestell and Roland Williamson.

In the following afternoon session, Tanja Romankiewicz (University of Edinburgh) explored Iron Age creativity from an architectural design theory perspective. Considering the rich evidence from Iron Age East Yorkshire and inspired – as many other conference contributors – by Alfred Gell’s work (1998), Helen Chittock (University of Southampton/British Museum) addressed the question of ‘What did pattern do?’. Adopting a different approach, Eric Harkleroad (University of Minnesota) discussed the role of weapons as an expression of Late Iron Age martiality in the context of the advance of Rome, whereas Rena Maguire (Queens University Belfast) analysed the symbolism of La Tène-derivative art styles on Irish equestrian equipment. Also devoted to Ireland was Erin Crowley’s (University of Minnesota) paper on the ‘revitalization’ of Iron Age style on Early Medieval metalwork. In addition to these contributions by young researchers, the first day ended with a keynote lecture by Laurent Olivier (Musée d’Archéologie nationale de Saint-Germain-en-Laye) on ‘Celtic art as art?’, in which he combined cognitive interpretations with ethnographic analogies. Finally, Vincent Megaw’s closing statement provided a brief summary of ‘60 years of Celtic art’.

The second day of the conference began with Colin Haselgrove’s (University of Leicester) overview on cultural contact and change in Late Iron Age north-western Europe, with a particular focus on coin production and deposition. Lotte Hedeager (University of Oslo) addressed the interplay between art, myth and politics in post-Roman Scandinavia. J.D. Hill and Julia Farley (British Museum) revisited the 19th century find of the Witham shield from the perspective of technologies of enchantment, whereas Fraser Hunter (National Museums of Scotland) considered the Late Iron Age–Roman transition in northern Britain and its impact on the materiality of identities. Again drawing upon Alfred Gell’s concept of art and agency, Jody Joy (University of Cambridge) proposed ways to approach the question ‘What did Celtic art do?’ using different categories of artefacts. The important topic of the Mediterranean connections of Temperate Europe’s Iron Age art was addressed by Simon Stoddart (University of Cambridge). Finally, the Europe Lecture by the honoree Peter Wells at the National Museum of Scotland offered a theoretically-informed overview on design for communication in the Iron Age. Overall, the conference demonstrated the potential for new approaches to Iron Age art and identity, providing a useful exchange platform between younger researchers and established scholars.

Fig. 1. Prof Peter Wells (right) received the 2016 Europa Prize from the President of the Prehistoric Society, Dr Alex Gibson (left) © Prehistoric Society

  • Fernández-Götz, M. (2016): ‘Celts: art and identity’ exhibition: ‘New Celticism’ at the British Museum. Antiquity 90, 349: 237–44.
  • Gell, A. (1998): Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory. Clarendon, Oxford.
  • Wells, P. S. (2008): Image and Response in Early Europe. Duckworth, London.
  • Wells, P. S. (2012): How Ancient Europeans Saw the World: Vision, Patterns, and the Shaping of the Mind in Prehistoric Times. Princeton University Press, Princeton.

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Multiple femininities – multiple masculinities: the diversity of gendered identities in the Bronze and Iron Ages

by Katharina Rebay-Salisbury ( and Peter Ramsl (

The workshop ‘Multiple femininities – multiple masculinities ’, organised on 29-30 September 2016 in Klement, Austria, reviewed gendered social roles, their conceptualisations, and how they are attributed to later prehistoric people. The archaeology of personal identities has firmly established age, gender and status as relevant categories of investigation. Beyond the recognition that not all women and men led identical lives, however, there has been little effort to unravel the diversity of gendered lives.

In this workshop, over twenty participants brainstormed for common as well as unusual social roles in prehistory to reconstruct the variability of gendered lifecycles in the Bronze and Iron Ages. In addition, we explored methods of investigating the skeletal, burial and settlement record that aid in understanding the diversity of gendered identities.

Katharina Rebay-Salisbury and Peter C. Ramsl introduced the topic with a review of the archaeology of gendered identities in recent years. Moving on from analysing sex and gender and their dissonances to an investigation of how femininity and masculinity were constructed in the past, the paper evaluated the usefulness of recent theoretical advances in ethnicity research (Fernández-Götz 2013) for gender archaeology. Further, we discussed how we may best research the intersections of gender (Arnold 2016) with other categories of identity such as age and status.

In her paper ‘LGBTQQIA identification in archaeology: an eight-letter riddle’ Estella Weiss-Krejci clarified some misconceptions about the difference between sex and sexual identities, and gave an overview on how modern western people base some of their identity on preferred modes of sexuality. She stressed, however, that in pre-industrial societies, identity is not normally based on sexuality, even if alternatives to the heterosexual model exist (Halperin 1993; Epple 1998). In line with Butler (1988) and Fauso Sterling (2005), she also argued that sex is as much a culturally constructed category as gender and that sex is probably better understood in terms of a spectrum than two binary categories. It is estimated that one person in 100 has some sort of intersex condition, where chromosomal sex characterization contradicts gonadic or genital sex identification (Ainsworth 2015).

Katharina Rebay-Salisbury’s paper ‘Motherhood and alternative life courses’, discussed reproductive pathways as underlying the diversity of female lives. Although in archaeological research, motherhood is often seen as a natural, normal and inevitable part of women’s lives, societies may differentiate between mothers and non-mothers (infertile, unmarried or childless for other reasons). She argued that by taking motherhood as an independent category of identity, we will be better placed to address questions of how the social status of women changed as they became mothers and how reproduction was culturally embedded in different societies.

Doris Pany-Kucera followed with a paper on the physical anthropology of motherhood. Pregnancy and childbirth may leave physical traces on the female skeleton, morphologically described as “parity features”. In addition, tooth cementum and DNA analyses within the framework of the FWF project ‘Der soziale Status von Mutterschaft im bronzezeitlichen Europa’ will help to provide new insights into prehistoric motherhood.

Jan Turek’s comparative presentation of age and gender identities in ancient Egypt and the European Copper Age raised the question of a cultural bracket that encompassed ancient Egypt as well as the Central European Copper Age, and how we understand gender roles within it. Most striking, perhaps, is the realisation that what we thought we knew about strict rules of gendered burial practices based on biological sex, have in fact been recently challenged by modern methods of sexing via aDNA analysis.

In her comparison of social practices across three different identity groups in the middle Danube region, Alexandra Krenn-Leeb stressed that object associations with the gendered human bodies underwent cycles of acquisition and loss over the lifecycle; grave goods may therefore only inform us about a fraction of the individual identities. She further brought evidence of care – for children, elderly and sick – into the discussion.

A joint contribution by a Hungarian team (Vajk Szeverényi, Gabriella Kulcsár, Judit Pásztókai-Szeőke, Zsuzsanna Siklósi, Viktória Kiss) gave an overview of gender (pre-) history in Hungary from the Neolithic to the end of the Iron Age, with many examples as to what to look out for in the archaeological record.

Jakub Godiš’s poster on ‘Bronze Age Identities during Koszider Period in the Middle Danube Region (1550-1450 BC)’ provided a chronological case study.

Ines Beilke-Voigt’s paper on female grave goods in male burials and male grave goods in female burials discussed practical and theoretical implications of interpreting ‘mismatched’ graves. She used a range of ethnographic examples to argue that a binary understanding of gendered roles in prehistory may not be adequate for archaeological interpretations.

Surfer’s ear - exostosis or abnormal bone growth within the ear canal – was discussed by Barbara Teßmann. The bone reaction to irritation from cold wind and water is associated with temperate climates and food procurement from lakes or the sea. Interestingly, in most examples from all over the world – represented in anthropological collections in Berlin – these activities were found to be strongly correlated with the male sex.

Christoph Baur’s presentation opened the second day of the conference, chaired by Gerhard Tomedi. Baur discussed patterns of weapon deposition in Villanovian graves, and how they related to evolving ideas of masculinity.

Peter C. Ramsl presented the first results of his SASPRPO project at the Academy of Sciences in Nitra, where he investigates male identities in La Tène period cemeteries. He discussed the identities of children, old people, the rich and the poor, as well as ‘special’ identities such as those of druids, armed women and male burials with female markers.

Daria Ložnjak Dizdar and Marko Dizdar analysed the visibility of male and female identities in the burial record of the late Bronze and Iron Age in the southern Carpathian Basin (Croatia), providing both a chronological and geographic overview of possible gender markers.

Barbara Teßmann followed on with a paper on Iapyde women and their costumes, thinking about their social position in society. She suggested that fibulae and other bronze dress elements may have marked membership in a family or clan.

New data from recent excavations presented by Hrovje Potrebica illustrated his assessment of gender roles in Croatia. He discussed gendered identities of the early Iron Age in the light of the complexities that arise when multiple aspects of identity are analysed together.

A preview of Ramona Blecha’s PhD research on Raetian women and their ritual and religious role provided interesting examples of the entanglement of indigenous and Mediterranean goddesses and their representations, demonstrating the connectedness of the Iron Age world.

Fig. 1. Schüttkasten Klement (old grainary), Austria, and conference participants © Photo: K. Rebay-Salisbury

The workshop was organised by Peter C. Ramsl, Institute of Archaeology, Slovak Academy of Sciences, Nitra, Slovakia and Katharina Rebay-Salisbury, Institute for Oriental and European Archaeology, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna. It was supported by the FWF (Project No. 26820) and SASPRO (1340/03/03), Marie Curie Actions and FP7 of the European Union.

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