ChapterPDF Available

Social Interaction in the Farming Communities of Neolithic Greece:: Archaeological Perceptions

Authors:

Abstract

The paper is a critical comment on the issue of social interaction in prehistory and the way it is manifested archaeologically. It is argued that social space is a manifold entity made up of fluid and changing social relations and processes, and that dialectics should be rigorously employed in regard to notions of social reality and social interaction. Attention is drawn to the social analysis that makes a distinction between concepts like social and individual phenomena, and therefore between forms of social interaction. © 2017 by International Monographs in Prehistory All rights reserved.
319
Abstract
The paper is a critical comment on the issue
of social interaction in prehistory and the way it is
manifested archaeologically. It is argued that social
space is a manifold entity made up of fluid and
changing social relations and processes, and that
dialectics should be rigorously employed in regard
to notions of social reality and social interaction.
Attention is drawn to the social analysis that makes a
distinction between concepts like social and individual
phenomena, and therefore between forms of social
interaction.
Keywords
social interaction, social phenomena, farming,
Neolithic Greece
 IwouldliketostartbydeningwhatIconsider
to be social interactioninprehistory,orwhat,inother
words,isatthecoreofourattempttoconceptualize
allformsofthemanifestationofpastsocialinterac-
tionsbydocumentingthemarchaeologicallyinthe
rstplace.Iconsiderthisintroductorynoteregarding
denitionan essential partof the presentationthat
follows,whichaimstocontributetothetopicsofthis
conferenceandthediscussionsthatwillfollow.So,
by social interactionImeananyformofsocialrela-
tionsandprocessesamongpeoplewhobelongtothe
samesocialgroupinahistoricallydeterminedsocial
reality.Thisisintentionallyaverybroaddenition,
whichIsuspect,becauseofitsgenerality,wouldbe
acceptedandagreeduponreadily.
The Archaeology of Social Interaction
 Mynextpointexplicitlyconcernsusasarchae-
ologistsand ourpractice. Thereare relationsand
processes—thatis, formsof socialinteraction—in
prehistory(asinanyotherhistoricalperiod)thatare
offered,atleastintheirgenericdescription,fordirect
empirical(archaeological)observation,andthereare
- 21 -
Social Interaction in the Farming Communities of Neolithic Greece:
Archaeological Perceptions
Nikos Efstratiou
somethatarenot.Thespatialdistributionofspecic
materialsor objects—forinstance, withina com-
munityorbetweensettlements—discloses,however
indirectly,certainformsofsocialinteractionthatare
alreadyin thescope of archaeologicalattention in
onewayoranother.Variationsin thesize,plan,or
constructionofhousesandtheirmaterialcontentin
asettlement arejustiably relatedto intersections
ofsocial relationswithin acommunity.Similarly,
membersof ahousehold unitengage indifferent
categoriesofrelationswitheachotherbasedonage,
sex,andlabordivisions,thuscreatingformsofsocial
interaction.Thesearchaeologicalexamplesreferto
formsof socialinteraction, indicationsof which,
asstated above,can be empirically detected (e.g.
increasedpresenceof“goods”inahousehold);and
thereforetheyarerightlyusedtoaddressaspectsof
socialresearch.
However, speculations—or if you prefer, as-
sumptions—ofany scaleandintensity stillremain
atthecoreofthiskindofarchaeologicalinterpreta-
tionandtentativereconstructionsofpastsociallife,
includingformsofsocialinteraction.Nevertheless,
onecaneasilyclaim—withahighelementoftruth—
thatthis constitutesa limitationof ourdiscipline.
Whetherunavoidableornot,ormanageableornot,
assumptionsofthisorderexisttopinpointthedif-
cultiesinunderstandingpastsocialstructuresandin
contextualizingspecicexplanatoryparadigms.So
thefundamentalquestionremainsaspivotalasever:
howcanweapproachformsofpastsocialinteraction
(socialrelationsandprocesses)andindeedunderstand
theirmanyinterconnectionswhilerelyingonlyonas-
sumptions,particularlyifwesustainandacknowledge
thatsocialphenomenaarenotautonomousandself
containedbutratherdeterminedbyorassociatedwith
otherphenomenathatweoftendisregard?Thatsaid,
onemayask:isthereadegreeofrelative(perhaps)
autonomythatcharacterizessomeoftheseveryphe-
nomenaofsocialinteraction?Ifyes,onecanclaim
thatthiscould behandledfairlyby archaeological
constructs,empiricallydetectedandpresentedinthe
formofadistributionmapofceramictypesorraw
320
Nikos Efstratiou
materialsand astatistical diagramwith anumber
ofparameters, such asvolume or distance,among
others;this,inpractice,tendstocreateanillusionof
realitythatissupposedtorefertosocialrelationsbut
canneverbe the case. Butifweaccept“no”asan
answer—acknowledgingthatsocialphenomenaare
notautonomous—thewayisopenforaninteresting
intellectualjourneyintoaprocessofsocialresearch
thatshallventuretorevealthesocialrealitiesofthe
past(Efstratiou2014:3).
 Ishallnotargueinfavoroftheformer,thatis,
theviewthatphenomenaofinteractioninasociety
areautonomousand self-contained;inmy opinion
thiswould meanthat wenot onlysustain a gross
empiricisminarchaeology,butalsothatweconcur
withtheidea thatsocialreality is linearandstatic
andtherebycantaketheformofmeasurementsand
counting,which, Isuspect (and hope), is not the
caseatallforallofus.Thereis,however,something
elsethatisimplicitlyevenmoreworrying.Itisthe
indirectacceptance of the validity of a traditional
formallogic,whichholdsthatAandB—thatis,two
socialphenomena(orinourcase,twoarchaeological
parameters)—arealwayseitherthecauseoreffectof
eachother(Carchedi2011:17).Couldthisprovidea
satisfactorycontextforobtaining answerstoques-
tionsthatdealwithdynamicelementsofpastsocial
realities?Couldtheapplicationofthisformallogic
measureand explainsociety’squalitativechanges,
whichappearinthecourseoftime?Onthecontrary,
Iammoreinclinedtowardthesuggestionthatsocial
researchinprehistory—especiallywhenfocusedon
formsofsocialinteraction—shouldstrivetoempha-
sizethedialecticnatureofthesephenomenaandnotbe
constrained—consciouslyornot—bytherecognition
oftheirexclusivelyformalcausaldeterminationand
theirapparent“cause-and-effect”relationship.This
isapointwithclear—andsometimesdramatic—ar-
chaeologicalrepercussions,uponwhichIwouldlike
tocommentbriey.
 Letme useas anexample the entityof social
space,which,despiteitsoftenself-evidentcontent,
remains—orshould remain,asI shalltryto argue
below—opentoarchaeologicaldebateasfarasboth
itsconceptionandperformanceareconcerned.Social
spacehasamanifoldcontent,withthemainquestion
beinghowweasarchaeologistsshouldapproachand
trytodescribeit.What, after all, constitutes social
space?Ichooseonceagainthebenetsofageneral
description:socialspaceisanentitymadeupofso-
cialrelationsandprocesses—thatis,bothsocialand
individualphenomenaandtheirmutuality:“peopleare
consideredasmembersofsocialgroupsratherintheir
individuality,respectively”(Carchedi2011:14).Thus,
socialspacedoesnotexistindependentlyofpeople
andthe relationsbetween them; andin thissense,
socialspaceisuidandopentocontinuouschange.
Underthesenon-staticcircumstances, the question
arisesastohowwedeneitandhowwerelateand
understandthemanypartsthatcompriseitandtheir
interconnections?Arethearchitecturalremainsofan
EarlyNeolithicsettlement,forexample—theplans,
numbersordensityofhouses,presenceofopenareas,
materialevidence ofactivities relatedto different
everydaypractices,etc.,orthespecicarrangements
ofspace-useintheinterior,suchascookingfeatures,
foodremains,orareasofspecialactivities(sleeping
orburial)—thestartingpointfordiscussingformsof
socialinteractioninthecontextofacommunityor
itsexpression(Karamitrou-Mentessidietal.2013:1)?
Similarly,andatanotherscale,dodifferenttypesof
occupation(tell,at,orcavesites)relatetostereo-
typicexpressionsofsocialspacewhicha priori are
determinedbythesocialrelationstheyhouse(Perlès
2001:174)?Thingsarehardlyasstraightforwardas
archaeologistswishtopresentthem.
 AlthoughIconcedethatstatementsliketheseareof
keyimportanceforanykindofrelevantarchaeological
reconstruction,Iamwillingtoaccepttheirchallenge
andthediscussiontheyevokeashypotheseswhich
havetobetested,emphasizinginparticulartheneed
toelaborate onthe manydialectics of the specic
socialcontextsinwhichtheyareset:thehistorically
specicformsofsocialrealitytheyconstituteinpart.
Howeasyitistoacceptstatementslike:“…thevery
permanenceofthe(Neolithic)settlementmayactually
havecontributed tomaking individual differences
sociallyacceptable” (Perlès2001:199),unlessthey
arefollowedbyatleastsomehintsastotheuidity
ofthesocialphenomenathatareinvolved.Iamnot
sayingthatarchaeologistsareunawareoftheseinter-
connectionsbetweensocialphenomenainthecontext
ofagivensocialreality.Nevertheless,asfarasIam
concerned,thequestionremainsastohowopenlywe
reporttheseinterconnections,andhowsystematically
weattempttopinpointthemandengagewiththem
inourdiscussions.I amafraidthatthedebate that
developsinthiscontextisoftenveryshortandtoo
aphoristic(Efstratiou2012:33).Tomentionanother
example:quiteoftenthexed(default?)socialunits
thatarethoughttobeatworkinprehistory,likethe
postulatedconcept ofthe “Neolithichousehold,”
presupposespecic, undeviating,and long-lasting
expressionsofsocialspaceand,ultimately,formsof
socialinteraction.Thisleadstostatementslike“the
spatialpromiscuityofthedifferenthouseholds…may
havebeenwhatpromotedthedesirefordifferentia-
tion”(Perlès2001:199).Theissuehere,inmyview,is
321
21 - Social Interaction in the Farming Communities of Neolithic Greece
notwhetherthissuggestionisvalidornot,butrather
theexuberanceanddynamicsofthearchaeological
inquiryintothesocialrelationsandphenomenathat
eventuallydriveandconguresocialdifferentiationin
thecontextofthespecicsocialrealitythatwestudy
(thatis,theNeolithiccommunity);andby“dynamics
ofthearchaeologicalinquiry”Iamreferringbothto
thepotentialitiesofarchaeologyitselftodetectthese
phenomenaempiricallyinthe material record, and
alsototheinevitabilitythatthesevery phenomena
areofferedforobservationinagivensocialreality.
Andwhiletheformer—thechancetodetectspecic
phenomenaempirically—iseasytoreportormanage
asitisexclusivelyabouttherecoveryofdata,eld
practices,andmethodsofanalysis,etc.,thelatter—
thatis,thesuggestionthattherearesocialphenomena
thatarenotofferedfordirectdetection—constitutes
amatterofseriousconcernanddebate.
 Thepoint thatI wouldlike tounderline here
referstothebenet,inmyopinion,ofthedialectics
inregardtosocialresearch,andmorespecicallyto
notionsofsocialrealityandsocialinteraction.Itis
preciselythisdialecticnatureoftheconditionsthat
ultimatelypertainstothephenomenaofsocialinter-
actionthatoughttobe,inmyopinion,ourfocusof
attention.Forinstance,ithasbeenarguedthatsocial
phenomenaareinaconstantstateofacquiringaform
fromarealmofpotentialities,andtheyhavebeen
describedasbeingalwaysbothpotential andreal-
ized,bothdeterminantanddetermined,andsubject
toconstantmovementandchange(Carchedi2011:7);
by“potentialities,”followingCarchedi(2011:8),I
mean“actually-existing aspects of objective real-
ity”thatatanygiven moment intime areutilized
bythegroupitself,acquireadeniteformandare
thusrealized.Thisperhapssimplistic(initsinitial
perception)statement,while undoubtedly tosome
extentself-evident(whocandeny,forinstance,that
realityisinconstantmovement?),shouldbedealtwith
asacriticalreferencetoformsofsocialinteraction
(processesandrelations)inprehistory.Thisreal—
andinaway,provocative—temporaldimensionof
aphenomenon(thepotentialphenomenabecoming
bothrealizedandopposite)istwofold:itemphasizes
thecontinuousinterplaybetweenthesetwomodes
(potentialvs.realized),settingthelimitsforarchae-
ologyof adirect vis-à-visindirect archaeological
(empirical)observation.Onemaywonderwhether
this,inasense,“directvs.indirect”detectionofso-
cialinteractionsisconditionedultimatelynotsimply
bytheirchancesofsurvivinginthearchaeological
record—usuallythroughtheirmaterialpresence—but
primarilybyanarrayofpotentialitiesembeddedina
historicallyandsocially-specicreality(inthiscase,
theNeolithic).Inotherwords,howweasarchaeolo-
gistscopewiththesuggestionthattherearecertain
socialphenomena andforms ofsocial interaction
intheNeolithicthataretobeapprehendedandac-
countedforinanindirectway;thatis,phenomena
whichareinastateofacquiringtheirformfroma
realmof Neolithicpotentialities, aprocess which
islikelytobeobservedonlyindirectly.Whatthese
potentialitiesandmeansare,andhowtheycanbe
detectedinthearchaeologicalrecord,arechallenging
questionsthatundoubtedlytranscendtheself-evident
andsoshouldnotbetreatedassuch.
 Letmedrawtwoadditionalexamplesfromthe
Neolithicinthehopethattheywillcontributetothis
argument.Therstreferstothesuggestionthatthe
circulationoflithicrawmaterials,ceramicproducts,
gurines,andconsumergoodswithinacommunity,
inaregion,orbetweendistantplaces—usuallypre-
sentedintheformofadistributionmaporastatistical
analysis—signiessomethingbeyondanempirically
constructedarchaeologicalreality(Efstratiou2014:3).
Does,forexample,thesimplepresenceorthevolume
ofdispersionofsimilarmaterialsorobjectsinneigh-
boringprehistoriccommunitiesconveyameaningful
indicationofsocialinteraction?Moreover,istherea
possibilitythatunderdifferenttemporalcircumstances
orsocial andhistorical conditions,two particular
parameters—inthe abovecase, distanceand vol-
ume—canbeboththedeterminantanddetermined
factorsof thisverysame socialinteraction? Is the
qualitativerelationship betweenthese twoparam-
etersstableandundifferentiatedintime?Shouldwe
acceptthispotentiallyqualitativediversity?Which
ofthetwo(distanceorvolume)—bothofwhichare
detectedempirically—isaneventualitythatweshould
appraise?
 Mysecondpertinentexample,whichIamsure
youarefamiliarwith,focusesontheobservationthat
wetooreadilyresorttosymbolicexplanationswhen
weare unableto explainspecic formsof social
interactionintermsofdirectcauseandeffect;Iam
surethatmanyofyouwillrecallsomeinstancesin
GreekNeolithicnarratives.Quiteoften,forexample,
specicceramictypewaresdonotappeartoserve
practicalusesordisplaysomeunorthodoxcorrelations
ofnumbers, forms,shapes, decorativepatterns, or
stateofpreservation(beingoutofcontextorfound
fragmented,etc.).
 Shallweconcede,then,thatonlyformalcausal
determinations(like thosementioned above)can
explainsimilar socialphenomena(processes, rela-
tions),whichsubsequentlyshape social space ona
strictly“cause-and-effect”basis?Orshouldweinvest
moreinadialecticlogicwhichsuggeststhat“Aand
322
Nikos Efstratiou
Barealways boththecauseandeffectofeachother”
(Carchedi2011:18,emphasisadded).Andifwesustain
theformer(astraightforwardcorrelation),isitperhaps
becauseofthefactthatthiskindofcausalrelation-
shipissimplymuchclosertoaformalarchaeological
observation,constructedandjustiedbyastandard
andacceptable empirical documentation (control)
process?Weshould becautious when quantitative
methods,suchascountinginmathematicsandstatis-
tics,areusedexclusivelytoportrayasocialreality.I
canalreadyhearthecounter-argument:“Okay,butthis
isallwehavetobaseourarchaeologicalreconstruc-
tionofpastsocialrelationson.”Howevertrue,this
isonlypartofthestory.Theobjectionhereisthat,
sincetheseparametersusuallyserveformallogic,they
cannotmeasureorexplainqualitativechangesand,
moreimportantly,donotallowforthepossibilityof
acontradictoryreality.Shallwethenacceptthatany-
thingappearingtotaketheformofaninconsistency
orcontradictioninsocialinteractionprocessesshould
betreatedasamistake?Theanswer,Ibelieve,isno,
unlessofcoursequantitativesizes—oftendescribed
as“auxiliarymethods” (Carchedi2011:43)—areat
theserviceofadialecticallogicverication;thatis,
whentheytrytodescribenotastaticbutadynamic
andcontradictorysocialreality,wherethefocusison
changesinthesocialcontentofphenomenaembedded
inahistoricallyandsocially-specicreality(inour
case,theNeolithic).This,Isuggest,shouldbeatthe
coreofourarchaeologicalresearchagenda.
 Needlesstosay,ofcourse,Ifullyacknowledge
thechallengesofsuchaventure,notforamoment
underestimatingthedifcultiesinvolved.Iwouldalso
concedethat archaeologicalfrustrations likethese
arenotnew,andthatremediesarealreadyathand.
Theyusuallytaketheformofanumberofcontingent
determinantsorpredominateswhichaspiretogive
contenttothesocialphenomenathatareengagedin
socialinteraction.Iamreferring,amongotherthings,
tosomenotionsandexpressionsthatarealreadyused
butstillvaguelydened, likeindividual decisions,
contingentevents, cultural norms, and collective
identities,which,althoughtheyhavebeenemployed
quiteregularlyinNeolithicnarratives,retainageneric
content,oftengivingtheimpressionthattheyrelish
andrely on theirgenerality.In anycase,these are
conceptswhich oftencause confusionand require
clarication.
 Althoughthisisnottheplaceorthetimetoexpand
onthis,Iwouldliketouseanexampleanddrawyour
attentiontothekindofsocialanalysisthatproceeds
withadistinctionbetweenconceptslikesocial and
individualphenomena(relationsandprocesses),and
thereforeformsofsocialinteraction.Thisdistinction
referstopeoplewhoarebothindividualsandatthe
sametime membersof asocial group;in Marxist
terms,they areconcrete and abstract individuals,
respectively(Marx1967[1867]).Concreteindividuals
dependontheircapacitytodifferentiateindividually
andthereforetobeunique,whileabstractindividuals
arecontingentontheirabilitytosharecommonsocial
featureswithothermembersofacommunity;amale
farmer,withthenameX,amemberofafamilyof
ve,livinginacommunityinnorthernGreece(indi-
vidual),andworkingasaNeolithicfarmer(abstract).
Theprimaryquestionhereiswhetherconcreteand
abstractindividuals—toborrowthesetwotermsfor
amoment—areexclusivetoeachotherinrelationto
thesocialphenomenawithwhichtheyareengaged.
Inrealitytheansweris“no”sincetheycanbeboth,
butinanalyticaltermstheansweris“yes”:theyare
eitherconcreteorabstract.Thisisbecauseconcrete
individualsare engagedin individual phenomena,
wherethe emphasisis onrelations and processes
thatarespecic,unique,andsubjective(theactions
hetakes inhissociallife,suchasmakingfriends),
whileabstract individualsare involvedin social
phenomena,wheretheemphasisisontheobjective
conditionsunderwhich social relationsarecarried
out(heisafarmer cultivating a pieceof land).As
aresult, concreteindividuals areunique andtheir
interactionsdependontheir individuality,whilein
thecaseof abstract individualstheemphasis is on
thefeaturestheyhaveincommonwithothergroup
members—forinstance,theyareallfarmerscultivat-
ingelds—andinthissensetheyarenotuniquebut
replaceable(Carchedi2011:29).
 This,Ibelieve,constitutesacleardistinctionfor
thewayweasarchaeologistsactuallychoose—orin
therequisitionofapost-processualdoctrine,weoften
havealreadypredetermined—to conceptualizeand
addressformsofsocialinteractionsinthepast.IfI
mayventuremyownopinion,Iconcurwiththesug-
gestionthatsocialphenomenareproducethemselves
throughabstract individuals who carry “specic
socialrelations and engage in (those) processes”
(landlabor)and,therefore,areseen“fromthepoint
ofview ofsome commonfeatures” (havingbeen
farmers)(Carchedi 2011:24),andirrespectively of
concreteindividuals(Carchedi2011:35).AlthoughI
emphasizethatbothindividualandsocialphenomena
(andtheirdialecticalinterplay)constitutetwodimen-
sionsofthesamesocialreality,itisobviousthatthe
criticalquestiontobeaskedinrelationtotheform
ofsocial interactionthat weaddress every time is
whetherthedescriptionofaphenomenoncarriedby
aconcreteindividual—withitsapparentsubjectivity
andspecicity—couldrevealthosesocialrelations,
323
21 - Social Interaction in the Farming Communities of Neolithic Greece
inthecontext of whichbothconcrete and abstract
individualsfunctioninprehistory,andnotsimplythe
uniqueindividual relationstheydevelop; andhow
balanced,asaresult,wevalueboththeformerand
thelattersincetheybothconstitutethesocialspaceof
aNeolithiccommunity.Thisisafocalquestion,forit
seemsthatinarchaeologicalreasoningthecategoryof
concrete individualsandthedescriptionofindividual
phenomenahavewontheday.
A Final Note
 Inconclusion,whatIthinkwecouldconcurwith,
everytimewetrytorelatearchaeologicalobserva-
tionswithsocialinteractioninprehistory,isthatwe
aredealingwithformsthatareuid,dynamic,and
temporal,andthereforeinaconstantstateofchange,
andthathavethepowertotransformsocialrealityand
itsbasicunit:socialphenomena.Atthesametime,
socialinteractiontendstoformpartof the volume
andintensityofsociallife,intermsofquantityand
intersectionsofsocialrelations,respectively,andthey
thereforeplayadeterminingroleinprehistoricsociety.
Iamparticularlykeentosee—inviewofthethoughts
expressedintheshorttheoreticalnoteabove—how
someofthepresuppositions(intheformofsomevery
specicandrecurring themes)currentlyatworkin
thereconstructionprocessofthedifferentformsof
socialspace,whichIamsurewillbediscussedinthe
conference,operateintheGreekNeolithic.
References Cited
Carchedi,Guglielmo
2011 Behind the Crisis: Marx’s Dialectics of
Value and Knowledge.Brill,Leiden.
Efstratiou,Nikos
2012 EarlyCypriot Prehistory in the Light of
RecentDevelopments.InStudies in Medi-
terranean Archaeology: Fifty Years On,
editedby JenniferM. Webb and David
Frankel,pp.33–43.StudiesinMediterra-
neanArchaeologyVol.137.PaulÅstrőm
Főrlag,Uppsala.
2014 Reachingthe Island.What Next? Mate-
rialLifeandSocio-historicalProcessesin
EarlyCyprus.InStructure, Measurement
and Meaning:Studies on Prehistoric Cy-
prus in Honour of David Frankel,edited
byJenniferM.Webb,pp.3–11.Studiesin
MediterraneanArchaeologyVol.143.Paul
ÅstrőmFőrlag,Uppsala.
Karamitrou-Mentessidi,Georgia,NikosEfstratiou,
JanuszK.Kozłowski,MałgorzataKaczanowska,
YiannisManiatis,AntonioCurci,Stefania
Michalopoulou,AnastasiaPapathanasiou,and
SoultanaMariaValamoti
2013 NewEvidenceontheBeginningofFarm-
inginGreece:TheEarlyNeolithicSettle-
mentofMavropigiinWesternMacedonia
(Greece).Antiquity 87:336.Electronic
document,http://www.antiquity.ac.uk/
projgall/mentessidi336/,accessedAugust
8,2016.
Marx,Karl
1967[1867] Capital: A Critique of Political
Economy,Vol.I.InternationalPublishers,
NewYork.
Perlès,Catherine
2001 The Early Neolithic in Greece: The First
Farming Communities in Europe.Cam-
bridgeUniversityPress,Cambridge.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.