Government of Life and Death: The Rise of Coercive Power in European Late Prehistory
CoPOWER adopts state-of-the-art archaeological and bioarchaeological approaches to investigate the transition to urban society and the rise of increasingly sophisticated social control mechanisms in Europe, c. 2000-500 BC.
Many projects have investigated social complexity and urbanization in later prehistory by focusing on the elite groups that supposedly coordinated these processes. By contrast, CoPOWER explores the life-histories of the marginal individuals that are often the forgotten protagonists of human history. Such people may include those who were socially excluded for their low status, gender, disease or disability; children dying of starvation; people subject to forced labour and undernourishment; women and infants that did not survive pregnancy and childbirth with malnutrition and poor living conditions as precipitating causative factors, and the victims of extreme violence and abuse.
In order to develop more nuanced understandings of major socio-cultural transformations in history, one of the greatest challenges is to identify such individuals in the archaeological record of any given society. In this regard, CoPOWER primarily focuses on funerary data, as the latter provides exceptional first-hand relevant information not easily recognizable from other archaeological sources.
CoPOWER will complement traditional archaeological methods such as human osteology with the results of cutting-edge medical research on trauma, nutrition and gene-environment interactions. These methodologies will be integrated within the framework of a “biocultural” approach that considers the role of both social and biological processes in determining the development of the human body.
Overall, CoPOWER takes late prehistoric Europe c. 2000-500 BC as a case study to reflect on the socio-political and environmental conditions that favour the spread of social control and inequality in any human society. It also aims to promote a more nuanced understanding of social exclusion by considering it as the product of complex and interrelated socio-political, environmental and biological factors.
Collaboration with Dr Katharina Rebay-Salisbury and her ERC-funded project The Value of Mothers to Society (VAMOS) will also help address whether gender- and age-based forms of inequality emerged at the dawn of urban society in Europe, and to what extent these can be identified via archaeological and bioarchaeological analysis. Through this collaboration, CoPOWER will consider the possible effects of social change or instability in c. 2000-500 BC Europe on motherhood, childbirth and infancy, with a focus on osteological cases pointing, for example, to maternal and neonatal malnutrition, or child neglect and abuse.