Fellow Talk | Maria Choleva

Date: Thursday, November 17 2022
Time: 11am EDT

Hybrid Format: The in-person portion of this talk will take place at the Center for Hellenic Studies, in House A. Online attendees can register and join via Zoom, or watch the YouTube live-stream.

‘My body technique is what I am’: (wheel)shaping identities in the Bronze Age Aegean 

Is technology a dis-embodied entity estranged from the socio-historical human experience, as the Western modern view of production would assert? Are techniques and tools adopted and transferred as neutral technical information or as socially and culturally significant practices? How is the body-material-tool relationship shaped by culture, materializing human behavior, social relations, and worldviews? These are some of the questions I will explore in this paper through the lens of a major technological innovation in the prehistoric Aegean: the potter’s wheel. The appearance of this highly specialized craft device was, until recently, subsumed in an abstract interpretative narrative according to which the new tool was adopted by virtue of its allegedly techno-economic advantages over hand-forming whereas it was considered as a “technical advancement” within a linear, evolutionary trajectory of technological change. By challenging this deterministic and instrumentalist view and drawing upon the French anthropology of technology and social theories of praxis and embodiment, this paper will outline an anthropological, socio-historical understanding of the potter’s wheel: the one which sees tools and techniques as material agents of the craft praxis that are enmeshed in the cultural embodied experience of making.

The results of a multi-site interdisciplinary study of pottery assemblages will be presented by emphasizing the bodily knowledge enacting the use of the tool in time and space. By adopting as interpretive device the notion of body technique as a culturally learned and socially meaningful kinaesthetic behaviour, I will examine diachronically and synchronically the cultural and material transformations of the body-tool-object relationship, with the aim of tracing the appropriation, transmission, and recontextualization of the new craft in the changing socio-historical realities of the Bronze Age. It will be shown that knowledge of the potter’s wheel entails an entirely new kinaesthetic “paradigm” that emerges as the embodied habitus of artisans who build facets of their identities through a unique body technique and conception of making.

About Maria

Maria Choleva is an archaeologist specializing in Aegean prehistory, pottery forming techniques, and the anthropology of technology. She holds a BA from the National University of Athens and a MA and a PhD in prehistoric archaeology from the University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne. From 2020-2022, she worked as a postdoctoral IKY (Greek State Scholarships Foundation) researcher at the University of Athens whereas she has been a postdoctoral fellow of the Fyssen Foundation at the Catholic University of Louvain (2016-2018) and of the Institute for Aegean Prehistory at the Fitch Laboratory, British School at Athens (2019-2020). In 2021, she was a teaching fellow at the University of Thessaloniki. Her projects investigate the technological innovation of the potter’s wheel in the prehistoric Aegean combining archaeological inquiry, anthropological theories, and scientifically based methods. Her research focuses on the role of embodied practices in the constitution of social identities and reproduction of cultural categories while looking at the interface body-tool-object as an ontology of making. She is involved in various field and other research projects in Greece and Turkey and she is a co-editor of the Greek journal on human sciences called Krisi-Biannual scientific review. At the CHS, she is working on her first monograph on the (pre)history of the potter’s wheel in the Bronze Age Aegean.