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African Archaeological Review

, Volume 12, Issue 1, pp 205–224 | Cite as

‘Symbolic reservoirs’ and inter-group relations: West African examples

  • Scott Maceachern
Article

Abstract

A number of archaeologists have recently considered the possible functioning of shared systems of symbols and beliefs — sometimes called ‘symbolic reservoirs’ — within and between more or less closely related West African societies. Elements from these systems are expressed in behaviour and in material culture to support and articulate group social strategies; they are therefore capable of structuring artefact variation on a large scale. This concept has obvious implications for our understanding of regional variation in archaeological assemblages. In this paper, I offer a critique of the concept of the ‘symbolic reservoir’; I believe that the metaphorical implications of the term ‘reservoir’ are not useful, and that present conceptions are of an entity too bounded and too stable usefully to reflect the dynamics of social interaction within and (especially) between African societies. I then offer an alternative view of the spread of symbolic and stylistic elements between groups.

Keywords

Social Interaction Regional Variation Cultural Study Material Culture Alternative View 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Résumé

Un certain nombre d'archéologues ont récemment envisagé la possibilité de systèmes communs de symboles et de croyances — parfois désignés par le terme “réservoirs symboliques” — au sein de sociétés d'Afrique occidentale entretenant entre elles des rapports plus ou moins étroits. Des éléments de ces systèmes s'expriment en termes de comportement et de culture matérielle et permettent de soutenir et d'articuler des stratégies sociales de groupes; ils peuvent donc structurer sur une grande échelle variation des objets façonnés. Ce concept a des conséquences évidentes par rapport à notre compréhension des variations régionales entre collections archéologiques. Dans cet article, je présente une critique du concept de “réservoir symbolique”; j'estime peu pertinentes les implications métaphoriques du terme “réservoir” et je pense que les conceptions actuelles représentent une entité trop bornée et trop stable pour pouvoir bien refléter la dynamique de l'interaction sociale au sein des sociétés africaines et (surtout) entre elles. Je présente ensuite un point de vue différent sur la propagation d'éléments symboliques et stylistiques parmi des groupes.

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© Cambridge University Press 1994

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  • Scott Maceachern

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