chapter  2
27 Pages

Animal Materials

The introduction and Chapter 1 have focused on broad issues central to a study of materials: a reconceptualisation of materials and their properties, and a study of the relation between material and form. The following two chapters look at a small number of materials themselves in more detail. In this, the first of these two chapters I will investigate two different materials that originally derived from animal bodies: antlers that once belonged to red deer, and tusks that once belonged to mammoths. We have encountered mammoth ivory in the previous chapter, in the material-form interaction of basket-shaped bead manufacture. However, the origin of the ivory, as part of a once living animal, has thus far been neglected. Similarly antlers also derive from an animate being, a creature with its own life history, prior to the incorporation of its body parts into technical interactions. The nature/culture divide has represented a fundamental barrier to

understanding the use of animal bodies as materials. Lying on the side of nature, animal bones, antlers, horn and tusks – as we have seen is the case with other materials – have been viewed as the passive recipients of imposed, cultural form. In archaeological accounts the various products of animal bodies are rarely distinguished, despite having very different textures, appearances, mechanical properties and life histories. Beyond this, the animals themselves, whose bodies become the material, are almost entirely ignored. The species employed is occasionally mentioned, but little about its age, sex, life history and how it made the transition from animal to material is recorded. How the transition from animal to material happens and its implications are the subject of this chapter. Since the late 1980s both anthropologists and archaeologists have ques-

tioned the nature/culture dualism that sees animals as either natural resources or passive recipients of human cultural projections. These historically particular, western articulations of the relationship between people and animals do not make sense for many non-western groups. Amongst these societies, animals may be seen as persons, relatives or supernatural beings. If we take these different understandings seriously, radically new interpretations of animal objects can be achieved.