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Places of transformation: building monuments from water and stone in the Neolithic of the Irish Sea

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Chris Fowler


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Using the Irish Sea area as a case-study, we argue that both sites and landscapes can be understood as containing a series of components procured from the landscape and from human, animal, and object bodies. These components were organized in a way that commented on and related to specific cultural relationships between these different locations and through the substances found within them. This idea is explored by examining Neolithic monuments, material culture, and natural materials in southwest Wales, northwest Wales, the Isle of Man, and southwest Scotland. We trace some metaphorical schemes which were integral to Neolithic activity in this part of the Irish Sea. In particular, we highlight the metaphorical connections between water and stone in places associated with transformation, particularly the repeated transformation of human bodies. We suggest that the series of associations present in the Neolithic were not invested with a uniform meaning but, instead, were polyvalent, subject to conflicting interpretations, contextually specific and variable through both space and time. The relationship between these elements was therefore dependent on the contexts of their association. Nevertheless, the association of water and stone can be found repeatedly throughout the Neolithic world and may have been the medium of a powerful trope within broader conceptions of the world. This article is intended as a preliminary consideration of these issues (particularly the links between stone, mountains, water, quartz, shell, and human remains) and is offered as a thinking-point for ongoing research in this area.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Fowler C; Cummings V

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Year: 2003

Volume: 9

Issue: 1

Pages: 1-20

ISSN (print): 1359-0987

ISSN (electronic): 1467-9655

Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing Ltd.


DOI: 10.1111/1467-9655.t01-3-00001


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