People Not Pots?

For all you hardcore historian-types out there an interesting article from Discover Magazine on the “pots-not-people” paradigm that dominated archaeological studies from the 1970s onward but now seems to be changing as our knowledge of DNA characteristics in ancient population groups, etc. grows.

“With the recent publication of the paper on the archaeogenetics of Neolithic Sweden I feel like we’re nearing a precipice. That precipice overlooks lands of great richness, filled with hope. It’s nothing to fear. It is in short a total re-ordering of our conception of the recent human past, at minimum. The “pots not people”paradigm arose in archaeology over the past few generations due to both scholarly and ideological factors. The scholarly ones being that intellectuals of the 19th and early 20th century made assumptions of extremely tight correspondence between material and cultural characteristics, and demographic dynamics, which seem to have been false. Therefore, the rise of an Anglo-Saxon England and the marginalization of Celtic Britain to the western fringes was not just a cultural reality, but also a fundamentally racial one, as Germans replaced Celts in totality. The ideological problem is that this particular framework was take as a given by the Nazis during World War II, lending a bad odour to the hypotheses of migration which were once so ascendant.

No one could deny that material cultures rise and fall in pulses, and exhibit variation in spatial distribution over the millennia. But by and large scholars large took a very skeptical view of the idea that large scale migrations of populations may have occurred in prehistory, and could have been the underlying causal factors driving the changes in material culture. But a null hypothesis of demographic stasis was in itself a positive statement of beliefs as to the character of the human past. It was no withholding of judgement.

Today the results from ancient DNA, and more powerful inferential methods which extract patterns out of extant variation, simply can not be easily fitted into a “pots not people” framework. Nor can we go back to a race-is-culture and culture-is-race model in the vein of the Victorians. Rather, the new order model must take into account the imperfect, but non-trivial, correlation between cultural and genetic variation, and, the differences between patterns of cultural and genetic variation.”

There is also some stuff here on Celtic and Irish origins, as well as language change in historical Ireland (it has been argued that as recently as the 1840s a slim majority of people on the island of Ireland remained monolingual Irish-speakers).