Weighing transformed ancient cultures. Once developed, in tandem scales and weights allowed things that were previously incomparable to be compared and only thus could the concept of weight as an independent characteristic of objects be established. With equivalencies measured in precious metals, the preconditions for a new method of estimating value and facilitating exchange were created, effectively shaping the bronze age world.
Despite the obvious importance of weighing as a cultural technique – with a few notable exceptions – little attention has been paid to it in scholarship. In particular, bronze age scales have been neglected. As a consequence, there is still a lack of agreement concerning even the most fundamental questions such as (a) when, where and how the idea of weighing first emerged and (b) how it was perfected so swiftly (if it was indeed).
Existing studies tend to have a local focus, both diachronic and synchronic. The emergence and spread of scales, weights and weighing as well as their cultural consequences have not yet been fully explored. Given the wide range of cultures involved and their spatial and temporal extension, and the intricacies of interpreting the available material evidence, such an endeavour is all but impossible for a single individual.
A comprehensive history of the origin and cultural effects of weighing thus calls for a collaborative effort. Within the framework of the Excellence Cluster Topoi “The Formation and Transformation of Space and Knowledge in Ancient Civilisations” we plan to bring together leading experts in a workshop with the aim of establishing a working group to tackle the problem jointly. The workshop is thus explicitly not conceived as an event at which final results are presented but rather as a platform to share expertise with the aim of launching a long-term collaborative research program.
The workshop will comprise six sessions focusing on the emergence and spread of scales, weights and weighing in different geo-cultural areas (Egypt, the Middle East, the Mediterranean, Europe, the Indus Valley and China) until the beginning of our area. Each of the participants will be asked to introduce one of the sessions corresponding most closely to his or her field of expertise with a brief statement. These statements should address a limited set of standard questions.
A long term history of weighing and its cultural impact needs to concentrate on processes of cultural diffusion and innovation. In this perspective we aim at overcoming parochial cultural domains while respecting regional variations and contributions. Accordingly we would like to address the problem jointly, discussing how the topic can best be approached, focusing on formats and methods as well as materials.
This first workshop does not explicitly aim at an immediate joint publication. Whether and how the results will finally be published (for instance after a second workshop) will be decided by the participants at the close of the workshop.
10:00 - 10:15
10:15 - 11:30
David Alan Warburton
11:45 - 13:00
The Middle East
14:00 - 15:15
15:45 - 17:00
The Indus Valley
10:00 - 11:15
11:30 - 12:45
14:00 - 15:15
Thoughts on and Methods for a Future Collaboration
15:30 - 17:00
Round Table Discussion
19:00 - 22:00