Sonntag, 5. Oktober 2014

When Interdisciplinarity works: Cultures of Stone, Dublin, September 18th-20th 2014

A contribution by Michelle Beghelli

The international conference “Cultures of Stone. Interdisciplinary Research on the Materiality of Stone” took place at University College Dublin (UCD) and National Museum of Ireland on September 18th-20th 2014.

Cultures of Stone
(Graphics M. Beghelli, photos by M. Beghelli and via Wikimedia Commons
[PD, by Arheo, Locutus Borg, and unknown author])
With the main focus on stone as a material, the papers were organized in five sessions: 
1. Engagements with Monuments, Sculptures, and Structures; 
2. Interactions with Stone Surfaces; 
3. The Movement, Trade and Exchange of Stone; 
4. The Meaning and Experience of Stone in Ritual Practice; 
5. The Quarrying and Transformation of Stone. 
A poster session completed the general frame of the conference. It is particularly noteworthy that the program was truly interdisciplinary, just as announced in the title. Chronologies ranged from the Palaeolithic to the 19th century, and the papers dealt with areas in all the five Continents.

Archaeology was the main academic discipline of many speakers, but remarkably interesting viewpoints were provided by researchers in Geosciences, History of Art, Design, Architecture, Anthropology, Ethno-Sciences and even Psychiatry. As a whole, thus, the papers and the keynote lectures given at the Conference were characterised by a huge variety of subjects and academic fields. Their grouping in the above-mentioned five sessions (according to their subject) gave the opportunity to detect resemblances and differences in stone’s manufacturing and trade, perception, symbolic and ritual meanings across very different chronologies and locations. Besides this, however, methodological approaches and structures within the various fields of science represented often another common feature which allows us to cluster them.

Egyptian obelisc at the Piazza Navona
(formerly Circus of Domitian) in Rome
(Foto: R. Schreg, 2014)
In some papers, archaeological issues and themes were contextualised in a broad chronological and cultural frame. Some topics were only very little-studied in scientific literature to date –, e.g. the production, perception, meaning and movement of obelisks from the Antiquity to the 19th century; the re-use of Roman stones in Renaissance Rome, its modalities and meanings; the travelling stones and travelling craftsmen and sculptors from the Roman Imperial Period to the Early Middle Ages; the interpretation and meaning of the hog-backed stones in Early Medieval Britain; the production, social and cultural significance of the Early Medieval stone grave building in France.
Other papers which focused on the contemporary perception of old stone-monuments proposed interesting cultural-anthropological and ethnographic viewpoints on subjects ranging from the megalithic monuments in Cornwall and the Ogham stones in Ireland to the African cupstones.
Some researchers analysed specific phenomena which are not generally known or are not well researched yet (e.g. the worshiping of natural rocks in Ancient Greece, Cycladic Islands; the 1-3 meters sized Yapese round stones, traded among villages and used as money and sign of prestige; the fisheries in the Minho Valley, Portugal; the probable use of ancient stones taken from Cyprus in the construction of Suez Canal), providing many colleagues with new perspectives on different, possible uses and meanings of stone.

The large time-span chosen for the conference gave also the opportunity to deepen the audience’s knowledge on essential themes related to stone – such as the quarrying and working techniques – which were analysed through different papers ranging from the Palaeolithic to the present day. Further crucial, general matters were taken into consideration by the lecturers who dealt with the conservation, restoration and exhibition in museums of stone-artefacts, and the problem of the communication of their cultural-heritage value to the public visiting museums and archaeological sites.     

The overall impression has been, eventually, that nearly no viewpoint or research-issue related to stone was neglected. Interdisciplinary conferences not always meet their goals, but “Cultures of Stone” certainly met them, which was also visible in the very fervid debates soon after each session. 

Programme, paper and poster abstracts, list of Lecturers available here:

Conference Organising Committee:
Bernard Gilhooly (UCD School of Archaeology)
Niamh Kelly (UCD School of Archaeology)
Sol Mallía-Guest (UCD School of Archaeology, UCD Mechanical and Material Science Engineering)
A. David Newell (UCD School of Classics)


Keine Kommentare: