Barcelona presentation now online

The collaborative presentation read at the 10th International Symposium on Knappable Materials in Barcelona on Wednesday, 9th September 2015 is now available online. The presentation is entitled “Exchange networks from Close-up: The case of Lipari obsidian. Officially presented by Andrea Vianello, Robert Tykot and Kyle Freund, it contains many of my ideas on the topic. Slides (and previous results) were contributed by the other two authors.

Here is the abstract:

The island of Lipari was a primary source of obsidian in the Neolithic Mediterranean. The particular location of the Aeolian Islands, of which Lipari is one, has been conducive for the formation of long-distance exchange networks. Indeed, most islands were probably settled on a temporary basis and visited primarily to acquire artefacts for exchange.


A systematic program of research conducted now in the past few years has attempted to trace the dispersal of obsidian materials from Lipari and Pantelleria combining typological data, elemental data from pXRF and the study of prehistoric exchange networks. The main purpose is to detect differences among local contexts to reconstruct the progressive development of the networks as well as any local dynamics and constraints. This approach helps testing network analysis, currently a favoured methodology, which assumes that similar social dynamics were at work along routes recognised by one dominant material. The pXRF has been able to discriminate the procurement of obsidian not only between major islands, but also among subsources within the islands, allowing for a fine grained reconstruction of the networks.


Obsidian is the only material that enables rapid scientific testing for provenance with a high probability of locating its source. As a result, we can follow the dispersal of raw materials from their geological sources, and through techno-typological analysis we can identity how they were consequently reduced. Preliminary results for Sicily and Calabria reveal a marked preference for Lipari obsidian. This preference is evident in sites that could access either Lipari or Pantelleria obsidian, and reveals that ancient people were able to recognise the subtle characteristics distinguishing the raw materials, and expressed a clear preference for specific sources. The study has further revealed differences among macroareas, demonstrating that obsidian was procured differently region by region according to cultural constraints and local dynamics. The emerging network appears very flexible with the product ‘adapted’ to suit local needs. It appears that the ability to ‘market’ the product to local cultures was a key component for the success of long-distance distribution along with the function, availability and cost of procurement of the materials exchanged. The resulting networks irradiating from Lipari are fragmented and culturally neutral, and suggest that some principles of market economy may have operated from a very early moment in time.


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