The Iron Age in Europe was a period of tremendous cultural dynamism, during which the cultural values and constructs of urbanised Mediterranean civilisations clashed with alternative webs of identity in ‘barbarian’ temperate Europe. Until recently, archaeologists and ancient historians have tended to view the cultural identities of Iron Age Europeans as essentially monolithic (Romans, Greeks, Celts, etc). Dominant narratives have been concerned with the supposed origins and spread of peoples, such as ‘the Celts’ and their subsequent ‘Hellenisation’, or ‘Romanisation’ through encounters with neighbouring societies. Yet there is little to suggest that collective identity in this period was exclusively or predominantly ethnic, national or even tribal. Instead, we need to examine the impact of cultural encounters at the more local level of the individual, kin-group or lineage, exploring identity as a more dynamic, layered construct.
ENTRANS will examine the nature and impact of cultural encounters in the highly fluid social world of the European Iron Age. As the programme focuses on encounters between Mediterranean and temperate European societies, it examines zones of primary contact where material culture, bodily treatments and patterns of landscape inhabitation provide new insights into the construction and negotiation of identity.
The East Alpine region, including parts of northern Italy, Slovenia, Croatia and Austria, formed a major locus for cultural encounters throughout much of pre- and proto- history. In particular, the North Balkans (including Slovenia and Croatia) form a key ‘gateway’ east of the Alps, which otherwise formed a formidable barrier to socio-economic interaction. Communities here occupied nodal points on complex route-ways along which flowed trade goods, linguistic forms, migrant groups, cultural values, political and religious ideas. Here, cultural encounters materialised through a range of media, including the artistic tradition known as ‘situla art’ – elaborate metalwork decorated with complex figural scenes drawing on Etruscan technologies and hybridised iconography.
The human body, carefully constructed in relation to posture, clothing, gesture and expression, forms a key focus of situla art. Attitudes to the body can equally be addressed through treatments of the dead, which also undergo significant change, including new forms of funerary performance, greater monumentality and new bodily treatments. New culturally-mediated landscapes also appear, where religious, funerary, domestic and economic activities are drawn together within circumscribed areas, and where movement and experience are carefully choreographed.
Through new field and laboratory work, including osteological and isotopic analysis, geophysical (image 2), topographic and Lidar survey (image 1), as well as archaeological excavation (image 3), ENTRANS will develop and actively promote integrative methodologies applicable to the study of past cultural encounters.