All pneumatic machines – including the Ctesibian machine and the famous ancient machines built for entertainment purposes, such as singing birds and hydraulic organs – conveyed potentially fundamental questions related to the constitution of matter (of the elements). In a world that had no concepts such as, for example ‘pressure’, the explanation of the functioning of pneumatic machines was not trivial and required continuous investigation of the characteristics and constitution of matter. Obviously, this sensitive issue is at the fundament of every worldview. Such questions, and others related to them, were eventually faced by practically oriented Hellenistic scientists, and the traces of their ensuing scientific debates can be followed over the centuries up until the foundation of modern mechanics in the seventeenth century. Until now, ancient pneumatics has been investigated either concerning just its theoretical consequences, for example, in reference to the work of Hero of Alexandria, or in reference to its social meaning, as a symbol of power in ancient culture. Building on the results of these previous scholarly investigations, the way in which such technology circulated during antiquity will be investigated in order to map the technological innovations and contextual conditions that led to the significant outcomes following the emergence of new scientific knowledge. The analysis of archeological findings and of primary sources related to pneumatics – the fundamental sources – will be utilized to develop this investigation.
The widespread circulation of balances, steelyards and the corresponding technological and metrological knowledge is connected more with the development of ancient markets and the instruments, directions and dynamics of their import and export activities, rather than to mechanics itself. The circulation of this technology, however, led to the emergence of standards employed during measuring activities, as happened with the development of metrology, and the foundation of mechanics related to the circulation of the steelyard. However, no attempt has ever been made to carefully map the circulation and employment of balances and, in particular, of steelyards. Even less investigated are the meta reflections on such mechanical devices that were achieved possibly earlier than the fourth century BCE and that constituted a first theoretical input leading to the formulation of the most ancient law of mechanics. The investigations to be accomplished within the frame defined by the subject “Balances, Steelyards and the Foundation of Mechanics” aims to achieve a map of the circulation of early mechanical devices from the perspective of technological innovation and an analysis of the first meta reflections on these innovations.
Besides the sources directly connected to the history of mechanics, such as the Problemata, the sources that need to be analyzed in this context are the literary Greek sources, both from the perspective of technology transfer and as well the development of ancient markets, focusing in particular on the fifth and fourth centuries BCE.
The project examines commensality, space, and collective identities in the context of early state and urban development in southern Mesopotamia and southwestern Iran, c. 5000-2500 BCE. A principal focus of investigation is the relationship between large-scale politico-economic processes (state and urban development) and small-scale practices of daily life such as commensality.
The ways in which food and drink are prepared, presented, and consumed contribute to the construction and communication of social relations, ranging from the most intimate and egalitarian to the socially distant and hierarchical (Appadurai 1981). Commensality can be used strategically and politically: contexts of food serving and consumption can foster solidarity or promote competition and support highly stratified social systems, what Appadurai (1981) calls ‘gastropolitics’ and Dietler (1996) ‘commensal politics’. The exclusivity of commensality can be fostered through the fact that it requires co-presence, by creating spatial and social boundaries that distinguish who can and cannot take part, who is and who is not allowed to share the same space. By definition, commensal occasions are tied to specific spatial settings and spatial relations among participants.
The specific research questions examined by the project include the following:
- How and to what extent did large-scale political and economic changes associated with state and urban emergence affect commensal practices, their spatial locations, and social contexts? How did large-scale changes shape and transform the locations and configurations of spaces in which commensality occurred?
- How did ritual forms of commensality – for example, feasts, in the context of processions or religious rites – relate symbolically and politically to quotidian consumption of food and drink? How were ritual commensal practices set apart from ordinary commensality, and what were the differences between them?
- How did commensality contribute to the production and transmission of knowledge about social distinctions, thereby helping to create and reinforce various kinds of collective identities?
Investigation of these issues has two main components: (1) the study of architectural and settlement layouts in order to identify the contexts in which commensal and food preparation activities took place, and (2) a detailed examination of pottery vessels, as these are the most commonly occurring implements associated with food preparation, serving and consumption in the periods under study. The project researches material from a series of previously excavated sites in the alluvial lowlands of southern Iraq and neighboring southwestern Iran during the later Ubaid (5th millennium BCE) through Early Dynastic periods (3rd millennium BCE).
At the end of one year, the project has reached a number of preliminary goals. A detailed documentation of architecture and associated installations has been assembled, in which plans, descriptions and dimensions of spaces are recorded. Analysis of these data focuses on inferences about the relative numbers of people who could partake in shared meals, how specific features constrained participants’ possibility to situate themselves in relation to others, the ease or difficulty of access to those spaces, and the extent to which these spaces were visible to non-participants.
A PhD student has begun to gather data on ceramic vessels from these sites, including information on form, size, and context in which the vessels were found. This work addresses questions such as whether people in particular times and places tended to eat out of large, common containers or smaller vessels suitable for single servings. Large, communal serving vessels ‘enforce’ proximity on the part of those eating together, whereas individual-size serving vessels permit greater spatial (and social) distance. Usewear analyses will be used to document the ways in which particular vessel forms were handled (e.g., heavily worn from frequent use vs. in pristine condition).
An international workshop entitled “Commensality, Social Relations, and Ritual: Between Feasts and Daily Meals” held in May-June 2010 in Berlin brought together scholars from a variety of disciplines to discuss a variety of theoretically informed issues concerning commensality in different cultural and historical contexts. Among the outcomes of the papers and discussions were the following points.
- The definition of a meal as a special event versus a quotidian one has to do with the scale of the meal, the types of food prepared, the material accompaniments (for example, utensils used to serve and eat) as well as the social relations among participants. These parameters can be combined in a variety of ways to differentiate types of meals; there is no predictable formula as to which kinds of things distinguish feasts and daily meals.
- Hospitality is a theoretically important notion, designating both inclusion and exclusion: the opposite of a guest is someone who is excluded. Importantly, the degree of inclusion or exclusion can vary. Spatial relations are of particular importance for understanding these issues of participation and exclusion.
- The preparation of the unusually large quantities of drink and food necessary for feasts necessitates a high labor input. This raises the questions of the conditions under which the necessary labor can be mobilized, where and with whom food and drink are prepared, and whether those who are involved in the preparation of a special meal can also partake of it. The temporal dimension plays an important role, too, as the needed supplies must be gradually collected, stored, and the feast finally prepared.
- Co-presence in the context of eating and drinking is not limited to humans: commensal relationships may also exist between people and gods or other non-human persons. Here the relationship between votive offerings and commensality requires close study.