Committee on Archaeology: "Production, Power, and the Spread of Metal Technologies in the Caucasus, 1500-500 BC"


Wednesday, March 2, 2016, 12:15pm to 2:00pm


CGIS South Building, Room S354 (third floor), 1730 Cambridge St., Cambridge, MA

Nathaniel Erb-Satullo (Harvard)

How do systems of existing technological knowledge impact the adoption of new innovations? Two models are readily apparent: one that envisions skills and technologies building upon one another and stimulating further innovation, and another in which established traditions engender a culture of conservatism and resistance to change. In the latter model, innovation originates on the fringe, where individuals are less invested in existing practices.

            This talk examines these issues in the Caucasus, reconstructing the economic organization of metal production and tracing patterns of iron adoption between 1500 and 500 BC. The organization of metal production and the sociopolitical conditions in the South Caucasus differed significantly from those of the regions to the south, where most theories for the spread of iron were developed. Research in the Caucasus provides an opportunity to examine how analogous adoption processes play out in different cultural contexts. I argue that that tradition of large-scale bronze production on the Black Sea littoral delayed the initial spread of iron technology, but ultimately facilitated its rapid spread. The shift from conservatism to enthusiastic adoption was contingent upon a number of broader social developments. These included the emergence of social hierarchy, an increasing centralization of ritual practices, and the increasing emphasis on display of metal wealth. Considered alone, neither of the two models sketched above fully explains the patterns of iron adoption in the Caucasus. The influence of a given technological system on the spread of innovations is not necessarily fixed; on the contrary, it can change, sometimes rapidly, under favorable social conditions.