All posts by Thibaud Poigt

How accurate was Bronze Age Weighing in Western Europe? [Published paper]

Very recently came out, in the Journal of Archaeological Research: Reports, a paper dealing with the sensitivity and accuracy of ancient balances. The paper has been written by two members of the TIE team (Thibaud Poigt et Florent Comte) and with the help of Louis Adam (IMT Mines, Albi, France).

after Poigt et al. 2021, fig. 14

 

Abstract

This paper aims to bring new insights about weighing practices and instruments during Late Bronze Age in Western Europe. Northern France and Southern England share the particularity of providing tiny balance beams and weights dedicated to weigh small quantities. It is traditionally accepted that most of the Bronze Age weights found in Western Europe correspond roughly to a same practice built around one metrological system. Nevertheless, the deviations observed between several weights which should correspond to the same values in the metrological system raise questions about the accuracy of the Bronze Age balances.

This paper synthetizes the general categories of weights and beams used during the Bronze Age in Northern France and Southern England and their main characteristics. Using new mathematical and digital protocols – sensitivity analysis, 3D modelling and simulation, and finite element analysis – we highlight the main mechanical features of the Bronze Age balances, the accuracy that should be expected with them and their resistance to use.

Our results show that ancient balances were way more accurate that what is generally estimated. They show that most of them should probably allow to see differences between the loading of the two pans less than 0.5 g in most of cases. These results also raise new interpretations about the use of metrological systems during the Bronze Age considering that certain weights, generally interpreted as the same value, would appear as completely different if they were put on each pan of such a balance. The resistance simulations also show that the bone beams were very robust and could support loading much heavier than the weights identified for the same period.

Keywords

Metrology; balance; Late Prehistory; 3D modelling; Finite Element Analysis

Résumé

Cet article vise à apporter de nouveaux éclairages sur les pratiques et les instruments de pesée au cours de l’âge du Bronze final en Europe occidentale. Le nord de la France et le sud de l’Angleterre partagent la particularité de fournir de petits fléaux de balance et poids dédiés à la pesée de petites quantités. Il est traditionnellement admis que la plupart des poids de l’âge du Bronze découverts en Europe occidentale correspondent à une même pratique construite autour d’un même système métrologique. Néanmoins, les écarts observés entre plusieurs poids qui devraient correspondre aux mêmes valeurs dans le système métrologique soulèvent des questions sur l’exactitude des balances de l’âge du Bronze.

Cet article synthétise les catégories générales de poids et de fléaux utilisées durant l’âge du Bronze dans le nord de la France et le sud de l’Angleterre et leurs principales caractéristiques. Grâce à de nouveaux protocoles mathématiques et numériques – analyse de sensibilité, modélisation et simulation 3D, et analyse par éléments finis – nous mettons en évidence les principales caractéristiques mécaniques des balances de l’âge du Bronze, la précision que l’on doit en attendre et leur résistance à l’usage.

Nos résultats montrent que les balances anciennes étaient bien plus précises que ce que l’on estime généralement. Ils montrent que la plupart d’entre elles devaient probablement permettre de constater des différences endes différences de charges entre les deux plateaux inférieures à 0,5 g dans la plupart des cas. Ces résultats soulèvent également de nouvelles interprétations sur l’utilisation des systèmes métrologiques pendant l’âge du Bronze, étant donné que certains poids, généralement interprétés comme la même valeur d’un système métrologique, apparaissaient comme complètement différents s’ils étaient placés sur les plateaux d’une telle balance. Les simulations de résistance montrent également que les fléaux en os étaient très robustes et pouvaient supporter une charge bien plus élevée que les poids identifiés pour la même période.

Mots clés

Metrologie; balance; âge du Bronze final; modélisation 3D ; Analyse d’éléments finis

 

Thibaud Poigt

Le retour de Malvieu

La campagne de fouilles de l’habitat fortifié de Malvieu (Saint-Pons-de-Thomières, Hérault) ont repris ce lundi 14 juin avec une équipe de 10 fouilleurs et sous la responsabilité d’Alexis Gorgues.

Situé dans la Montagne Noire, ce site d’habitat est installé sur le versant sud d’une colline calcaire dont il occupe le tiers sommital. En plus de défenses naturelles certaines, il est protégé sur trois de ses côtés par une muraille en pierre sèche. Le site est occupé depuis l’âge du Bronze Final 2/3b (v. 1150-800 av. J.-C.) et il semble abandonné aux alentours de la fin du VIe s. av. J.-C.

Le site de Malvieu est singulier en Languedoc car il représente l’un des rares exemples bien documentés d’une occupation continue s’étirant du Bronze Final jusqu’à la fin du Fer Ancien. Son emplacement original, sur un versant abrupt (aux pentes comprises entre 25 et 40%), ainsi que son état actuel (celui d’un maquis de chênes verts et de buis) illustre la nécessité pour les archéologues d’investir de nouveaux terrains d’étude afin de mieux comprendre les dynamiques de peuplement du Languedoc occidental.

La campagne de fouilles de 2021 se concentre sur deux zones récemment ouvertes et qui devraient documenter les phases les plus anciennes de l’occupation du site ainsi que de procédés d’occupation de l’espace interne et autres usages architecturaux.

Pour aller plus loin:

Gorgues A., 2021, La morphogénèse de l’habitat fortifié de l’âge du Fer en Languedoc occidental méditerranéen : nouvelles propositions. In: Espaces fortifiés à l’âge du Fer en Europe. Actes du 43e colloque international de l’AFEAF. (Le Puy-en-Velay, 30 mai-1er juin 2019), p. 297-316.

Gorgues A., 2009, De l’âge du Bronze à l’âge du Fer en Languedoc occidental : le cas du site de hauteur fortifié de Malvieu (Saint-Pons-de-Thomières, Hérault), In: De l’âge du Bronze à l’âge du Fer en France et en Europe occidentale (X e- VIIe siècle av. J.-C.). La moyenne vallée du Rhône aux âges du Fer. Actes du 30e colloque international de l’AFEAF, co-organisé avec l’APRAB. (Saint-Romain-en-Gal, 26 – 28 mai 2006), p. 513-525.

Thibaud POIGT

What the hell is metrology?

Hypothetical restitution of an Iberian balance and its set of copper alloy weights, after POIGT 2021

What is metrology? The metrology represents one of the most important concept when dealing with trade, institutions and economics. Metrology can be defined as the science of measures, in other word, the ways humanity quantified his surrounded world. This need of quantification is not trivial.

Metrology can be understood as a language, the necessity to share a common ground for communicating information. It is composed by two main features: a metrological unit and a counting system (the same way language is composed by a vocabulary and grammatical rules).

The metrological units are arbitrary values to which one attributes the value one on an analogical scale in order to transform it to a numerical one. Historical and anthropological researches show that these units often derive from natural elements: body parts for length measures as the foot, seed for their mass as carat or grain, usual containers for volumes as the pint or the barrel, etc. Nevertheless, these units are first and foremost social consensus, cultural abstractions, and they consequently exist only in an certain sphere of acceptation.

The counting systems are closest to cognitive routines. If anyone understanding the arithmetical principles could theoretically count in any system (base 10, 20, 60 or others), it is truly extremely hard to do so. They represent cultural constructions of the mathematical knowledge and rules aimed to organize it. For this reason, even if most of us are mainly used to the decimal counting system, we still use binary system for digital applications and the sexagesimal system (basis 60) for expressing angles and time measures.

One of the most popular ideas is that metrological systems are first and foremost adopted in order to facilitate trade between foreign groups of people. From a certain point of view, it is true. We know many administrative and political actions aimed to unify metrological standards on larges scales to fulfilled this objective: the equivalences of the Hammurabi’s Code (18th c. BCE), the Solon laws (6th c. BCE) to define the ratio between minas and drachmas, Charlemagne attempt to define a common weighing standard (8th-9th c. AD), the Metric System wish to establish an universal metrological system (18th c. AD). We could even mention the claim to have a unique volumetric norm for the wine trading containers during the 19th c. in Europe. All these actions share the same will for metrological unity. All these attempts also failed to do so.

Why that? If sharing a common metrological system is so advantageous for trading, why so many political authorities have defined their unification a cornerstone of their agenda. In my opinion, it is probably because more than facilitate trade, the strong definition of measures units is a powerful administrative tool. It allows to objectively quantified the productions flows and stocks, the taxes and royalties to collect and to rationalise the redistributive processes. Adopting normative metrological systems can transform an analogical and approximative representation of the economy by a numerical and mathematical one.

Is that to say that the existence of metrological systems implies a strong administrated society? Clearly not. The most ancient metrological instruments of the continental Europe must be date to beginning of the Late Bronze Age (v. 13th c. BCE) at least. However, the humans groups who lived there probably had a very loose administrative structure until the end of the Iron Age (9th-1st c. BCE)  even if processes of taxes collects and redistributions could have exist. But we can observe that the societies developing a strong metrological practice, based on the production of many instruments and a daily use of them – as the ones from the Bronze Age Near-East or Aegean – are also the ones who produced evidences of a systemic administrative construction reinforced by the use of the written archives.

Metrologies are social consensus who exist only in a certain sphere of acceptation and their creation and use are the results of social, political and economical needs. They must not be perceived as a step in logical and evolutionist processes of progressive complexification of societies. At the opposite, they consist in the experimentations of social connexions proxies which can be adopted, adapted or rejected through time and space.

Thibaud Poigt

Thinking economies during Covid-19 times

Since few weeks now, the world is facing a viral epidemic with various impacts on daily life and on our relationship with the surrounding and distant environments. The governments reacted differently with this situation, but one aspect seems to be now common to most of them: fixing the economic impact of the epidemic.

Working on times far far away, this preoccupation rises questions. The situation is portrayed as a one-way road where only a substantial increase in work and consumption can fix the problem.

Historians and archaeologists face a major issue when they try to rebuild ancient societies. They cannot completely break free from their own habits and social structures. From an economical point of view, the neo-liberal economy, which makes the Earth go round nowadays, is spreading to all levels of way of life: production, exchange and consumption of course, but also social structures, relationships between human beings, hierarchical constructions, etc.
Because of this heavy weight of neo-liberalism in our own societies, we tend to portray ancient societies with modern features. From one scholar to another, these aspects can change: an early use of money, a strong place of market in society, the ideas that values are acting as prices with a large and multilateral spread on material and immaterial goods, etc. Hidden behind all these proposals, there is, I think, the unbreakable idea that everything can be quantified, calculated, and monetised.

This state of research is at the origin of many debates about ancient economies and more particularly concerning the 1st millennium BCE which see the confrontation of populations coming from different regions of Mediterranean and Europe and animated by quite different goals.
But I think we see today another consequence of such a situation. As historians and archaeologists are so used to the neoliberal mechanisms, they injected during the last decades, willingly or not, capitalist and neoliberal aspects in the vision we have of ancient societies. And as everyone is now accepting that ancient societies have already adopted centuries ago such ways of life, it seems impossible to consider solutions to crisis that would not pass by an extreme financialization of the processes.

Thibaud Poigt

EXPERIENCING NETWORKS

26-30 August 2020 – BUDAPEST

Experiencing Networks

Practices of trade and value assessment through time and space

Session #336 of the 24th Annual Meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists

Organizers : Alexis Gorgues, Lene Melheim (Museum of Cultural History, Oslo) and Thibaud Poigt

Abstract

This session is a follow-up of sessions hosted by the same team at previous EAA conferences, which approached the many faces of values assessment (Maastricht 2017) and the reasons and consequences of value destruction in the ancient world (Barcelona 2018). Adding another level, this year’s session aims at exploring the materiality of the institutions surrounding all forms of exchange of goods. By institutions, we mean the various rules, whether formal or informal, enforced by law or based on common knowledge and practice, that allowed for transactions to happen. The term transaction itself encompasses a diversity of practices, ranging from competitive gift-exchange practices to the on-line shopping, but it has always at its core a notion of value assessment. The situation coinage allows for – optimal possibilities of measurement and comparison of value – is only the tip of the iceberg. Other dimensions of value measurement are to be found in the assessment of the volume or mass of a given product. But beyond these quantitative expressions, the values of a good can reside in its own biography : scarcity, crafting method involved in its making, changing of owner. As previous sessions showed, such value(s) can or cannot be measured, and can or cannot be commensurable. Often a shift from commodity to gift or vice versa occurs when objects move across cultural boundaries. This implies that gifts and commodities cannot be a priori separated, and also; that trade and gift exchange are intertwined and often coexistent. We would like to invite to this session any paper interested in exploring the diversity of value assessment and exchange practices and dealing about all archaeological periods and every part of Europe. All perspectives are welcome : archaeological or ethno-archaeological point of view, theoretical perspective or specific case-studies, and methodologies developed for exploring such topics.

Revamping value(s)

5-8 September 2018

Revamping value(s)

On the destruction of value during the Bronze and Iron Age in Europe and the Mediterranean

Session #687 of the 24th Annual Meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists

Organizers : Alexis Gorgues, Lene Melheim (Museum of Cultural History, Oslo) and Thibaud Poigt

Abstract

The Maastricht 2017 session “The Value of all Things” approached the many facets of value assessment in the Ancient World. At the EAA in Barcelona 2018, we would like to take this discussion a step further, and investigate the whys and hows of value destruction.
Indeed, one of the most noticeable archaeological phenomena in European and Mediterranean late prehistoric societies is the deliberate withdrawal of values from circulation: hoards that were never retrieved, depositions in wetlands, grave goods – sometimes ritually mutilated – and offerings made in sanctuaries. In other words, value – at least in its material form – was destroyed or alienated, as these artefacts could no longer be used, possessed, given away, exchanged or displayed.
Such behaviour can be explained in the context of power: performative artefact destruction, for instance, may be intended to emphasize the wealth and power of an individual; or a ritual offering may be aimed at obtaining the goodwill of the gods. We would like, however, in this session to consider an alternative approach, that artefact withdrawal, more than being a destruction of value, was a way of converting value: The conversion of a material value that could be measured, evaluated and negotiated, into a symbolic and incommensurable value.
We would like to invite papers based on specific case studies (whether at a local, regional or inter-regional scale) as well as more theoretical contributions, in order to encourage a comparative approach to the many seemingly contradictive aspects of the curation of valuables.

The Value of All Things

30 August – 3 September 2017

The Value of All Things.

Value expression and value assessment in the Ancient World (Europe, Near East and the Mediterranean)

Session #314 of the 23rd Annual Meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists

Organizers : Alexis Gorgues, Lene Melheim (Museum of Cultural History, Oslo) and Thibaud Poigt

Abstract

The idea that things have a value is probably almost universal. In contrast, as a social construction, value assessment may be very different from one place to another. Roughly, we can consider that the social “construction” of value can follow three different paths.
Firstly, value can be measured and expressed according to one or more standard units. Such behaviors are nowadays intensely investigated, mainly through the study of the various forms of money of through the materiality of measurement
Secondly, value may be related with the symbolic relevance of things: prestige transmitted through successive owners, provenience, uses… This dimension of value is mainly explored through the study of objects biography.
Thirdly, value may be linked with the labor related to the making of the object, with its quality. This labor value is indeed poorly investigated, but can be approached through technique studies, still fashionable nowadays.
Value is often assessed by taking more than one of these criteria into consideration, and actual scenarios are indeed numerous and complex. We would like to invite, in this session, contributions interested in dealing with the many faces of value and with value assessment practices in a long-term perspective, in Europe, Near East and Mediterranean, from Bronze to Iron Age, including the Classical world. Contributors may present papers or posters discussing one of the three aspects mentioned before, or cross-analysis taking into account different factors.