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Part 1. Introduction: Life in Miniature

Bodily skill and the aesthetics of miniaturisation

Habileté physique et esthétique de la miniaturisation
Sheila Kohring
p. 31-50

Résumés

Jusqu’ici l’interprétation de la signification des objets miniatures s’est penchée sur l’étude des rites qui accompagnent la fin de leur utilisation. Pourtant la biographie culturelle de ces objets miniatures peut nous apprendre beaucoup sur ceux qui les ont façonnés, utilisés et classés par catégories. Les techniques de production de ces objets doivent faire partie de leur étude car l’acte même de production des miniatures est la création d’une conceptualisation du monde et donne la raison de leur emploi et destruction ou la raison de l’abandon de leur usage. La production de miniatures doit être séparée du reste de la culture matérielle car les miniatures requièrent souvent des classements par catégories spécifiques mais aussi des techniques de production bien particulières. Cet article a pour but d’explorer les techniques du corps et pratiques qui accompagnent la manufacture et l’usage de ces objets.

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1. Introduction

  • 1 Gell, 1992, 1998.
  • 2 Dobres, 2000; Ingold, 1993, 2000, 2001; Latour, 1994, 2000; Lemonnier, 1986, 1989, 1993.

1In this article I explore two interdependent concepts as they pertain to miniaturisation: bodily practice in terms of skill and the enactment of a specific production aesthetic. Both concepts arise from recent work on technology and aesthetics. Specifically, Alfred Gell’s work on art, agency, enchantment, skill, and aesthetics has opened up new discourses within archaeology, which seek to understand the social inculcation of aesthetics, choices, and bodily movement through active engagement with material culture.1 This goes hand-in-hand with a refocus on material culture in object:subject relationships and, in particular, mediated through technology and technical engagements.2 What has emerged from these discourses is a clear dialectic between objects and subjects, or people and their material culture. In effect, even while we make objects, the objects actively make us who we are as well. Every material engagement—in production or consumption—shapes our future actions, our bodily movement, and an appropriate understanding about the way things should be in the world.

  • 3 Bailey, 2005; Mack, 2007; Stewart, 1993.
  • 4 Mauss, 1936 [1979].

2How do these issues pertain to an understanding of miniature objects? While the use of miniatures may be highly charged, symbolic, and special,3 I want to focus hereon how the act of production contributes to the categorisation process of miniatures. A specific corpus of technical and practice-based research and concepts clearly link techniques to social norms and may be useful for understanding the challenges associated with the production of miniature objects more generally. Marcel Mauss first highlighted how bodily gesture becomes inculcated through repeated socialisation and enactment.4 These rote gestures, or techniques du corps, are evident in everyday life, especially in the enactment of technological practices. Inculcated technical practices ensure the social reproduction of material traditions at a non-discursive, often non-conscious, level. Thus, movements in production activities are often performed by rote, as the body “knows” what to do. In the act of miniaturisation, however, the production of the miniature requires different bodily engagements, practices, intimacies, and relationships than those used when producing objects in their normal relational size. This break in inculcated technical practices forces production choices to be more discursive and leads towards a production trajectory that differs from standard practices.

  • 5 Lemonnier, 1986; van der Leeuw, 1993.
  • 6 Dobres 2000, p. 154-5; van der Leeuw, 1993, p. 241.

3At the production stage, miniaturisation requires different precisions leading on to different choices in technical practices. These alterations in practice are reflected in the operational sequences, or chaîne opératoire, involved in the production of miniatures and their normal-sized counterparts. The concept of chaîne opératoire references both the physical possibilities allowed by the raw material and the technical steps required to transform the raw material into a manufactured object.5 Importantly, social rules further structure the producer’s engagement with the material and dictate technical possibilities beyond what is feasible or functionally rational based only on the raw material. Thus, while the chaîne opératoire can refer to the methodological process by which a single object is made, it is increasingly used as a conceptual framework to explore how technological activities are socially structured to reproduce socially appropriate material culture.6

  • 7 Bourdieu, 1977, p. 78.

4Repeated engagement with specific chaînes opératoires create a certain technique du corps, which can be difficult to challenge or alter spontaneously. The concept of habitus, as defined by Pierre Bourdieu, provides flexibility to practical engagements suggesting routine actions can be improvised but only within historically defined structure.7 A history, as referred to here, comes about through social inscription on embodied actions. This has repercussions for the production of miniatures because miniature objects do not permit the same habitus of engagement that you would use with a normal-sized object. In use and practice, the way you handle and move miniatures around—in essence, what you can do with miniature objects—must be altered.

5Size is important. It can restrict certain acts and create new ones; it can transform daily practices and engagements into something special, magical, personal and enchanting. In the case studies presented here, I will explore miniaturisation through an evaluation of potting choices and constraints during production. While pottery technologies may start with a generally shared chaîne opératoire, differences between normal-sized and miniature vessels necessitate shifts in certain technical sequences during the production act. The following of specific choices, and the skill required to accomplish them, creates an idealised, or appropriate, aesthetic practice to which social meaning, such as enchantment, can be attached and carried with the object into its use and deposition. While with these examples I only evaluate potting technology, I would argue the need for reorganising practices surrounding miniature manufacture is not restricted to any single technological arena.

2. Miniatures as a category of material culture

6Miniatures, like all material culture, are created through the producer’s physical engagement with the raw material within a structured repertoire of technical practices. After production, the newly crafted object can be integrated into new contexts, new suites of practice, and ascribed new social meanings. Raw materials and the technologies employed in production, however, are the starting point for the categorisation process, which is materialised further through use and deposition. Clay as a resource is often ubiquitous and its physical properties make it easy to manipulate; it can be reworked and recycled throughout much of the production sequence. The act of firing the clay is an important transformative moment in production, however, as it makes what was once malleable fixed in form (although, even afterwards fired clay can be fragmented or re-used as temper in later activity). The chaîne opératoire of clay technologies may involve a number of steps, yet, the basic level of skill required to produce a functional object may be minimal. For example, an inexperienced or novice producer may still make a useful vessel or figurine by simply pinching, coiling, or moulding the clay into rough shape, then firing it in an open bonfire. Following the production steps to achieve a positive outcome does not necessarily demand high levels of skill. That said, clay is also used to create objects of great, or even evocative, beauty and symbolic meaning produced through the labour of highly specialised and skilled craftspeople. These objects can enchant or create an altered sense of reality and become objects of prestige, special significance, or reified as “art”. In essence, clay technologies span from the simple, extemporaneous, and mundane to the elaborate, thoughtful and “sacred”.

  • 8 Bailey, 1994, 1996, 2005; Chapman, 2000; Hofmann, 2005; Knapp, Meskell, 1997; Lesure, 2002; Meskell (...)
  • 9 Hofmann, 2005; Meskell, 2007; Nanaglou, 2008.
  • 10 Bailey, 2005.
  • 11 Mack, 2007; Stewart, 1993.
  • 12 Although see Tomaz, 2005 as an exception.

7Within European prehistory, the study of miniature objects, especially in clay, has focused on figurines and a well developed literature has emerged within the last two decades.8 Many of these approaches have asked interesting questions regarding the materiality and embodiment process specific to figurines as human representations.9 A few have also considered the act of miniaturisation and enchantment,10 which converges with current anthropological and art historical approaches exemplified in the work of John Mack and Susan Stewart by considering skill in production.11 Hence, while the literature on prehistoric figurines in Europe is well developed, there has not been the same level of analysis and discussion for miniature clay vessels.12 Issues specific to figurines have justly dominated their social interpretation, with the comparative nature of the figurine body and the human body prioritising an understanding of the importance of representation. Other topics regarding miniaturisation practices more generally have been less developed and by focusing on miniature objects like pottery vessels instead of figurines, we can remove representation from the discussion and address issues surrounding embodied production practices and how the act of miniaturisation creates categorical problems starting with the chaîne opératoire.

  • 13 Bailey, 1994; Knapp, Meskell, 1997.
  • 14 Chapman, 2000; Hofmann, 2005; Meskell et al., 2008; Talalay, 1993.
  • 15 Talalay, 1993.
  • 16 Bailey, 1996; Meskell et al., 2008; Talalay, 1993.
  • 17 Gdaniec, 1996; Tomaz, 2005. See also Kamp, 2001; Kamp et al., 1999; Park, 1998 for comparisons beyo (...)

8The interpretation of miniatures can be problematic, as they often fall between clear functional object categories; miniature vessels are pottery, but they do not function as normal-sized pottery. Perhaps this also explains why there is greater interpretation and theorising around figurines: vestiges of “functional” objects do not need symbolic rationales for their manufacture and use. In effect, we are required to challenge and question our categorisation of miniatures; we have to find alternative rationales or meaning for their production. We can compare the rich interpretative approaches surrounding prehistoric European figurines with those used to discuss non-representational miniature objects to demonstrate that, while there are aspects shared between miniature categories, there are also differences in how miniatures may be made, used, and given meaning within society. Specifically drawing on embodiment and representational theories, figurines have been viewed as representations of individuals or of specific identities,13 as apotropaics or surrogates for relationships or other objects14, as children’s toys and learning instruments15 and—as part of that catch-all category—ritual paraphernalia.16 Some of these interpretations, particularly those viewing miniatures as toys, learning instruments or ritual paraphernalia, can also be attributed to non-representational miniatures.17

  • 18 Meskell, 2008, p. 140.
  • 19 See Kamp, 2001 for an exception.

9As Lynn Meskell et al. have noted, figurines are part of a cluster of clay technologies and, as such, should be contextualised with reference to other clay forms, such as pottery.18 It is rare, however, that the technological basis of figurines and miniature vessels are drawn together in analysis.19 Yet, many of the interpretations regarding figurine classification can easily be ascribed to miniature vessels as well. This does not mean that miniatures as a material category can be encapsulated by one or any of the above interpretive rationales. As many of the other contributions in this volume demonstrate, miniatures often act, especially at the end of their life history, simultaneously as symbols, representations, and votives. I want to make the point, however, that the symbolic use of these objects, representational or non-representational, begins with the choices producers make during the production process, which characterises them as special, enchanted, or ritually charged.

  • 20 Gell, 1992; Latour, 1994; and see van der Leeuw, 1993 specifically regarding pottery production.
  • 21 Gosden, 1999; MacCannell, 2005; Pollard, 2001; but see Lévi-Strauss, 1962 for specific linkage betw (...)
  • 22 Gell, 1992, 1998.
  • 23 Pollard, 2001, p. 318.

10I suggest we take a step backwards and look at the category of miniatures more generally. Categorical boundaries are often defined through technological activity, which frames how and why things are made in certain ways. These practical associations of production create an abstracted idealisation of particular forms, styles, and objects that then filters into conceptual frameworks of appropriate use.20 If we accept the importance of technological practice in creating categorical boundaries, miniature objects as a material genre can be understood in relation to a specific set of aesthetic practices.21 Aesthetics in this context take account of Gell’s critique of their use as a universal discourse and instead focus on aesthetic ideals arising from technical skill and creativity.22 The concept of aesthetics does continue beyond technical production and is reflected throughout the object’s life history in “knowledgeable forms of action”.23 The concept of aesthetics permits a different approach to miniatures as parts of sets and assemblages and it opens up a new way for understanding the actions, as well as interactions, between individuals and miniature objects.

  • 24 Gell, 1998.
  • 25 Gell, 1992.
  • 26 Bailey, 2005; MacCannell, 2005, p. 95.
  • 27 Lévi-Strauss, 1962, p. 23-25.
  • 28 Gell, 1992, p. 44.
  • 29 Mack, 2007; but see also Kelly, 2007 for similar approach on the agency of miniature images.

11Building on the idea of action and interaction, Gell has argued for the secondary agency of objects: their ability to affect us and to make us act in certain ways.24 Gell goes further considering how objects can influence our responses by creating a sense of enchantment or how they can elicit particular ways of responding: awe, wonder, disgust, or surprise.25 Douglas Bailey, addressing the corpus of Neolithic Balkan figurines, recently questioned the way figurines—as miniatures—have such particular evocative effects and Dean MacCannell pointed out the craft and skill used to create a miniature of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecturally impressive “Falling Waters”, which is only visible with an electron microscope.26 Claude Lévi-Strauss might emphasise the universal aesthetic produced by the technical aspects of miniaturisation as part of art and knowledge systems,27 but I want to focus instead on what Gell calls the enchantment process.28 John Mack’s recent work has specifically explored this relationship between enchantment and miniatures through the relationship between materials, skill, and craftsmanship.29 Through an analysis of technological practices, we can see how the production of miniatures reflects specific aesthetic qualities making it a potential technology of enchantment.

  • 30 Lévi-Strauss, 1962, p. 24; see also Mack, 2007.
  • 31 Tomaz, 2005.
  • 32 Ibid, p. 263.
  • 33 Bailey, 2005, p. 42, 83; Stewart, 1993, p. 46.
  • 34 Renfrew, 2007.

12Two key aesthetic qualities of miniaturisation as a technology of enchantment must revolve around size and detail.30 Alenka Tomaz, in assessing the meaning of Neolithic miniature pottery vessels, starts by questioning dimensionality and production detail.31 She uses “regular pots” as a comparison point and delineates miniatures from regular vessels based on their size, with miniature vessels having diameters or heights less than six centimetres.32 While this may pertain to Tomaz’s assemblage, setting quantified boundaries around miniatures as a material category can be problematic. Instead, dimensionality must be viewed as a relational concept, although the body often acts a fundamental reference point.33 Colin Renfrew’s analysis of human representations in the Neolithic repertoire on Malta draws attention to how the life-sized, miniature, and monumental bodies vary through different choices in representation, contexts, and materialities (stone and clay).34 This reinforces the importance of dimensionality in the creation of an aesthetic of production (determining appropriate media and techniques of production) as well as an aesthetic of later practice (the contexts and end-of-life deposition and destruction).

  • 35 MacCannell, 2005, p. 96; Stewart, 1993, p. 38-39.
  • 36 Bailey, 2005, p. 33, 86; see also Mack, 2007, p. 72-74.

13The aesthetic choices surrounding the question of detail refer specifically to the precision or abstraction of the visual imagery of the miniature. While precision and attention to detail in miniaturisation enchant through the deployment of skilled craftsmanship, as the miniature is a representation of an ideal, certain characteristics can purposefully be omitted or left ambiguous.35 With regards to prehistoric figurines as miniatures, Bailey differentiates between how precision and abstraction create separate categories: miniatures and models. Models represent accurate replication of normal, or life-sized objects, while miniatures depend on abstraction and compression of details and features.36 This abstraction allows the imagination to fill in gaps and allows the miniature to reference both real and altered worlds. While Bailey argues that models and miniatures follow different mental templates, differences in their technical production seem to be a primary division between the two. As categories of material culture, there is significant overlap between models and miniatures and in both circumstances the choice on how to use miniaturisation as a technology of enchantment is tied to dimensionality. The skill and techniques employed to make the smaller than life-sized object result in an object that is meant to inspire enchantment or delight, moving it beyond the meanings and engagements pertinent to their more mundane life-sized versions—be they human bodies or pottery vessels—and adding a sense of empowerment to the viewer and user of these objects.

  • 37 Mack, 2007.
  • 38 Scarre, 2007.

14Miniatures utilise different aesthetics and mechanisms in their creation and these extend into their techniques of production as well as into their categorisation. In both production and usage, the body must handle the miniature in different ways than the life-sized object. This leads to a suite of different movements, making engagements more personal and intimate: hunching over during production events, enclosing the production space while forming the object, placing the object in enclosed places away from view and maintaining privacy in activities as miniature utilisation would not be conducive to public viewing events. The private versus public nature of miniatures is immediately linked to their size and affects both production and use of the objects.37 In a prehistoric context, Chris Scarre noted this when discussing the construction of megalithic forms in comparison to figurines, pointing out that while megalithic construction demands group participation and engagement, figurines and other miniature objects allow more private manipulation and an intimate, tactile engagement between user and object.38 This intimate, tactile use (and production) of miniatures is fundamental to the aesthetic as it creates a sense of personal action, individual habitus and uniqueness within a social structure; miniatures provide private actions within society.

  • 39 Gell, 1992.
  • 40 Ibid, p. 47.
  • 41 Pollard, 2001.

15The aspects of dimension and detail suggest that miniatures force us to engage with these objects in very specific ways. Their materiality, physicality, and scale become interwoven characteristics shaping an appropriate aesthetic of use and practice, but we can consider other mediating factors as well. Objects become enchanted because of the technical qualities and skills invested and imbued in each object throughout the production sequence.39 Investment, labour, choices and care all contribute to making an object that transcends the mundane, or the life-sized in this case, as though the object appears only to have come about through magic.40 Both the production and consumption of these objects follow a specific aesthetic of practice. If something is enchanted or made for and by magic, it cannot, of course, follow the typical mundane pathways of use and deposition. Following Joshua Pollard’s use of the concept, the miniature object must be fitted into different material-based categories than its life-sized, or normally functioning, counterparts.41 This categorical difference structures appropriate, or aesthetic, engagement, use, and deposition. Let me briefly expand on how production and technical practices begin the categorisation process affect later aesthetics of practice.

3. Bodily skill and production

  • 42 Mauss, 1936 [1979].
  • 43 Dobres, 2000; Leroi Gourhan, 1964.

16Marcel Mauss outlined a fundamental theory about the socialisation of bodily movement, or a theory of techniques du corps.42 The basic premise was that bodily movement was socially learned and inculcated through repeat practice. This leads to competency and skill in both producing and using objects in socially appropriate ways, although the resulting bodily comportments were non-discursive and often unconsciously enacted in mundane, repetitive acts (i.e. how one walks, uses a shovel or brushes one’s teeth). An understanding of the inculcated, non-discursive bodily techniques of production can be made explicit in analysis through the formulation of a chaîne opératoire, or operational sequence, which is followed by the producer and which structures the choices made during the production of a particular objects.43 It is important to emphasise that there is great latitude in the choices available to individual producers when they first engage with a raw material but that the choices are not infinite. The material itself provides certain constraints and boundaries to production choices, while the social context of the individual narrows the field of choices even more significantly, so producers make objects that are socially appropriate. Hence, the chaîne opératoire can be utilised to construct a specific set of choices employed when making a specific object or it can be used more as a template to understand the suite of socially constrained or acceptable choices within technological frameworks. Both approaches, however, highlight the possibilities and allowances in the sequencing of activity and how the bodily movement becomes routinised. The implications for acts of miniaturisation are substantial.

  • 44 See Kelly, 2007; Mack, 2007; Stewart, 1993, for comparative historical and ethnographic examples.
  • 45 Stewart, 1993, p. 38.

17When changing dimensionality, the techniques required for producing an object, such as a miniature vessel, are necessarily altered from their life-sized counterparts. Thus, a set of different production sequence choices is mandated. Some of these choices may mirror or be slight variations on already prescribed choices pertinent for the material and technology, such as making miniature and life-sized vessels with similar hand thrown techniques, or they may follow a completely different sequence depending on how the object is categorised. Recent work in art history and anthropology has discussed craftsmanship and the technical skill employed by craft specialists in terms of modern miniature production.44 While these studies do not focus on craft specialisation per se, they can provide valuable insight into embodied technical skill and chaîne opératoire decisions. In discussing micrographica and religious texts, for example, Stewart emphasises how minute writing pushes skill by experimenting with the limits of bodily comportment. She argues, “Minute writing is emblematic of craft and discipline: while the materiality of the product is diminished, the labour involved multiplies, and so does the significance of the total object”.45 Micrographica may have a similar chaîne opératoire to that of writing, however, by pushing bodily limits, it requires different choices regarding resources, time investment and the need for detail.

18What emerges from the technical experience is a very different object than that of regular written texts, so we cannot presume a priori that miniatures have a fixed categorical relationship with their life-sized counterparts. Different aesthetics of making and using them emerge and become important clues for understanding the meaning of miniatures as objects unto themselves. Thus, categorisation of objects is often set in the making process and by changing the sequence in integral ways different bodily movements and different skill sets are required. More fundamentally, it means the producer must change the habitus of typical production activities. Changing habitus may reflect a different categorisation process whereby miniatures are a specific genre of material culture with different production acts directly leading to different uses and social meanings. In this way, the chaîne opératoire of miniaturisation requires a different set of aesthetic qualities and practices than those used for life-sized or standard-sized objects.

  • 46 Kopytoff, 1986; Mauss 1923[1967].
  • 47 See also Gosden, Marshall, 1999; Joy, 2009; Papadopoulos, Smithson, 2002.
  • 48 For examples see Ingold, 2000, 2007; Latour, 2000; Miller, 1997, 2005.

19As the chaîne opératoire associated with production may follow a different aesthetic principle, so too does an object’s use and life biography. Igor Kopytoff, building on Mauss, has led the way on life history approaches for the interpretation of material culture.46 Such biographical approaches prioritise the object and how value and meaning are renegotiated as the object moves within different social relationships.47 Object oriented approaches have also opened up the field of practice, relationality, and contingency to our understanding of object:subject engagement.48 For miniatures, the reality of how subjects may engage and use them is circumscribed by their physical materiality. The objects do not facilitate certain activities or relationships and may be difficult, awkward or even impossible to use in certain contexts and settings (figure 1). The miniature object exerts a certain degree of agency over the user and viewer during engagement. This combined with the potential for enchantment or magic already imbued in it through production, creates the aesthetic, or idealised appropriateness, for its context of use. As previously mentioned, these engagements tend to be more intimate and personal due to size and reflect the need to shift dimensions in the bodily engagement between miniature and the life-sized user. The miniature object, its biography of production, and the enchantment process all contribute to a specific set of aesthetic practices, which may vary significantly from those of its life-sized counterpart. There is an appropriate set of production, use, and depositional aesthetics for life-sized objects and potentially distinct and separate sets of aesthetics for miniatures, even if we categorise them as part of the same material genre.

4. The act of miniaturisation: A case study in pottery

  • 49 Hurtado Pérez, 2004. I would like to thank Victor Hurtado Pérez for his support and granting me acc (...)
  • 50 Kohring, 2008.
  • 51 al-Kuntar, 2010; Gibson et al., 2002. I would like to thank Salam al-Kuntar for her contributions a (...)

20In order to evaluate the potential of differential categorisation between life-sized and miniature vessels (or any other material culture), we can look for divergences in the chaîne opératoire and life biographies of the two sets of objects in order to determine if different techniques, skills, and aesthetics emerge. This study will draw on two examples to highlight points in production, use, and deposition of miniatures where different bodily skills and techniques would be required. The first example comes from the Chalcolithic site of San Blas in western Spain (figure 2).49 The typical pottery assemblage for this period and location includes a variety of open and carinated bowl forms, deep, open, and slightly closed-mouth cuencos and large closed-mouth storage jars.50 A few examples of small, fine-walled vessels were recovered and their chaîne opératoire is evaluated in this example in order to determine if these smaller vessels were produced in specific ways distinct from other pottery vessels. The second example briefly highlights production variation and aesthetics related to distribution and use. The Late Chalcolithic and Akkadian period site of Hamoukar in northeast Syria (figure 2) has produced miniature vessels from the 4th and 3rd millennia BCE.51 The pottery assemblage is highly varied in form, produced by wheel and hand thrown techniques, and is found in great quantity across the site. The production and use of miniatures at Hamoukar changes over time and the context of deposition, as an aesthetic of social practice, may provide social meaning to technical practices surrounding miniatures during these different periods. In combination, the examples interlink the conception of the miniature through technical practices, use, and deposition, demonstrating the link between bodily comportment, aesthetics, and the creation of categorical meaning for miniature objects.

4. 1. Technical choices and categories: Miniaturisation and divergent chaînes opératoires

  • 52 Kohring, 2008; Kohring, Odriozola, Hurtado, 2007.

21Starting with a general chaîne opératoire for pottery production activity at the Chalcolithic site of San Blas, each step in the sequence can be delineated (figure 3). Resource procurement refers to the location and methods used to acquire the raw material for production, in this case, clay and grit for the paste and temper. Differences in resource procurement would signal a distinct separation between miniature and standard-sized forms from the very beginning of production, perhaps associated with the special qualities and uses associated with miniature forms. It would suggest that the resources used for regular vessels were not appropriate for miniature ones. At San Blas, however, there does not appear to be any differentiation in clay or temper resources between the small fine ware vessels and the rest of the assemblage.52 Tracking the other choices through the production sequence, however, suggests certain technical skills and the sense of an aesthetic standard did differentiate miniature or smaller forms from standard-sized vessels.

22In terms of vessel form, the San Blas vessel formation process can be split into three different conceptual categories elaborating on the basic bowl form. Most vessels fall into the first two categories, which include rounded, open-mouthed bowls and closed-mouthed jars. The third category of vessel is more diverse and is composed of forms that require greater skill and time for their production as it includes more complex forms such as widely flaring walls, carinations, and orientation breaks in the formation of the walls. The small vessels fall into this category along with vases, other fine wares and campaniforme beakers. From the onset, these miniature and small vessels were conceptualised around a specific aesthetic necessitating a categorisation process alongside other specialised pottery types in the assemblage. This categorisation process can be followed throughout the production sequence. Other formation processes were greatly affected by both the category aesthetic and the practical realities of producing small, fine-ware vessels. For example, the majority of vessels in the assemblage have wall thicknesses ranging between 7mm and 11mm, yet with the fine-ware (including the miniatures) vessel wall thickness ranges between 1mm and 3mm. Concomitantly, the miniature forms appear to have very well sorted temper. This may not be surprising due to their size and fine-walled formation processes, but it highlights that certain decisions have repercussions for other production choices; the choice to make small, but elaborate thin-walled forms requires greater investment in temper sorting. What emerges from the formation sequence choices is a strong correlation between production techniques for fine-ware and miniature vessels and suggests these two types of vessels converged within a fine-ware aesthetic.

23The techniques du corps of individual potters is also evident within these categorical aesthetics and should be addressed. Potters, when completing vessel formation, may smooth the rim, fold the clay over or flatten the lip, depending on their individual habitus. This creates a wide range of variation in lip and rim formation. The lip and rim are part of the aesthetic preferences for specific types of vessels, but they also reflect an individual bodily aesthetic shaped by techniques du corps, learning environment, skill, and personal preference. At San Blas the variability in rim and lip formation was divided into four aspects: mouth orientation, rim shape, lip style, and lip shape (figure 4). Most vessels in the assemblage are open-mouthed with simple rounded rims and the miniature vessels do not show any aberration from the general assemblage pattern. In terms of lip style, miniature vessels have both thickened and thinned lips rather than the most common production choice for neutral lip styles, although all three styles are well represented in the general assemblage. Interestingly, other fine-walled vessels tend to have thinned lips, meaning that this is one arena of choice in which the miniatures vary from other fine-walled aesthetic and where they overlap more with the general assemblage. Is this elaboration of lip shape an aesthetic quality of miniatures? It probably is not. What is being reflected is the habitus and skill of bodily practice in making pottery. Miniatures and fine wares follow specific routes in the chaîne opératoire, but certain bodily actions are enacted without specific reference to the ideal aesthetic. The diversity and free-flow of rim and lip variables across the assemblage suggest it was not a fundamental categorical characteristic for defining any pottery category in the community.

24The final production choices to consider are surface finish and the firing of the vessels. The majority of the pottery in the assemblage shows polishing or slight burnishing over the entire exterior surface. In this instance, the smaller vessels are intensely burnished, which separates them from the rest of the assemblage (including fine wares) by production choices favouring a greater intensity of surface finish. Perhaps their size, as much as any aesthetic, facilitated this finish, as the labour involved would have been less than if they had been regular-sized vessels. Nevertheless, the choice does result in a shiny and marked visual aesthetic once fired. Reduced atmosphere firing of pottery is the predominant firing technique used in the San Blas community, so its use with miniatures should not be surprising. Pyrotechnology intersects with potting technologies, but also exists as independent technological knowledge and, as such, it can be utilised differently depending on the material and categorical (pottery, metallurgy, or cooking) needs. Furthermore, the consistency of firing provides insight into who is firing these objects, as maintaining control over pyrotechnologies requires experience and skill. The prevalence of reduced atmosphere firing for miniatures suggests they were fired within the framework used for the rest of the pottery assemblage, possibly being fired together with the rest of the pottery in particular events. The choices in these last two production steps exemplify how production choices balance between an individual’s production habitus and the explicit use of specific techniques, skills, and labour to create distinct aesthetics for certain categories of pottery.

  • 53 After Hurtado Pérez, 1999.

25To further highlight different aesthetics we can compare campaniforme vessels, a pottery tradition introduced to the region at the end of the Copper Age, with the fine wares and miniatures to which they were conceptually linked at the beginning of the production process. While in form and use campaniforme pottery is linked to fine wares and miniatures, their aesthetic categorisation depends strongly on decoration and diverges from fine wares and miniatures in terms of temper, lip formation, surface finish, and firing. Campaniforme vessels are variable in their temper sorting, sometimes having very large inclusions sticking out of their surface, and firing strategies, resulting in the most irregularly fired vessels in the assemblage. What the campaniforme vessels demonstrate is that there can be very distinct categories of vessels within a pottery technological system. These may overlap with other categories such as fine wares and miniatures—in conceptual frameworks regarding shape or elaboration of surface, or even in use as “prestige” wares53—but they follow different chaînes opératoires, which suggests that there are different aesthetics and concomitant practices associated with different pottery categories. The miniature vessels—although they are very rare in the region during the Copper and Bronze Ages—overlap significantly in their production practices with the other vessels in the assemblage. There does not appear to be a distinct category of miniatures separated from the pottery assemblage: they follow the same chaîne opératoire as much of the pottery but the aesthetic choices and practices in this sequence fall along a continuum. The miniatures, like the rest of the fine wares, represent a level of skill and finish suggesting an aspect of Gell’s enchantment process. The choices and investment in these objects, unlike the rest of the assemblage and campaniforme, suggest the producer was making them to be visually impressive through their skill, crafting, and size.

26This example demonstrates the importance of understanding miniaturisation within its production context. Understanding how miniatures are produced allows significant insight into perceived use and importance in the society, as it provides an understanding of their conceptualisation and categorisation. By comparing the chaînes opératoires used by the potters at San Blas, distinctions between pottery categories and aesthetic choices can be made visible. The campaniforme vessels show a strong division along most production choices suggesting a categorical break between them and the rest of the pottery assemblage. In comparison, on close examination of the chaîne opératoire for the few miniature vessels present in the assemblage, there appears to be consistent overlap with the regular pottery assemblage, suggesting cohesion within their categorisation as pottery. Miniatures fall into a category of fine-ware vessels, however, which deliberately chose to emphasise technical skill and labour investment across production choices and in contrast to the majority of the vessels in the assemblage. This creation of enchantment through special fine wares and miniatures would have affected their life biography in consumption and deposition. The very low numbers of miniatures in comparison to campaniforme or the rest of the assemblage makes it difficult to construct a life biography, but their location in structures and within specific contexts may provide clues to their ritual or practical importance.

  • 54 Tomaz, 2005.
  • 55 Valera, personal communication. I am grateful to Antonio Carlos Valera, director of ERA Arqueologia (...)

27The use of miniatures in the western Iberian Copper Age is very limited. What we have seen with the few small fine-ware vessels in the San Blas pottery assemblage is that, while their production drew on skill, detail, and time investment, their aesthetic of production overlapped the wider continuum of pottery production. Tomaz found a similar result in her analysis of miniatures at the site of Catez-Sredno polje, Slovenia.54 The technical steps used for miniature production in this Neolithic community linked them closely to the rest of pottery production and it was their use and distribution that created a categorical distinction between miniatures and regular sized vessels. Similarly, at San Blas, we find miniatures in contexts with other material suggesting certain practices and uses. These contexts are restricted and may have had a special aesthetic of practice associated with them, as they include small fine-ware vessels as well as exotica and campaniforme vessels. The context suggests a restricted practical aesthetic of appropriate use ascribed to the miniature vessels. The discovery of five miniature zoomorphic forms from the nearby and contemporaneous site of Perdigões, Portugal provides further insight into the categorisation associations of miniatures in the western Iberian Copper Age. These five different figures were found associated with individual burials within the collective tholos tomb at Perdigões and are completely unique.55 Considering the rarity of any material category of miniaturisation, we can emphasise the magical qualities and specialness of these types of objects during the Copper and Bronze Ages. Their production drew on many existing material techniques, although the skill and time required to complete them imbued them with enchanted qualities, creating a categorical aesthetic for appropriate use and deposition.

4. 2. The life biography of miniatures: Aesthetics of practice and deposition

  • 56 Per Bailey, 2005, p. 29; MacCannell, 2005, p. 95.
  • 57 al-Kuntar, personal communication. This is based on the excavators’ functional designation of the c (...)
  • 58 Examples in Kelly, 2007; Mack, 2007.
  • 59 Gell, 1992, p. 55, 61; Stewart, 1993, p. 38.

28Turning to the Chalcolithic, Akkadian site of Hamoukar, Syria, the use of miniatures can be seen to vary depending on time and context and also provides insights into how aesthetics are created through acts of deposition as much as they are through production activities. The first assemblage of miniatures is from the mid-fourth millennium BCE. These miniatures are wheel thrown and appear to adhere to a chaîne opératoire similar to their larger counterparts (figure 5). They are a good example of what was described earlier as models,56 because the miniature vessels appear to replicate the larger versions in form and possibly also in function. Both miniature versions and their larger counterparts were recovered from a storehouse structure with presumed administrative functions.57 Replication at a different scale forces the producer to utilise similar techniques even if reproducing them in miniature is difficult, as it challenges bodily movement and skill and is time consuming. An example of this detail in crafting is evident in the reproduction of the systematic ridging pattern seen on the life-sized version and the miniature variant in figure 5a. The location of these vessels in a public, or state-controlled, storehouse context suggests a functional, yet more personal, use although this need not preclude a sense of enchantment created through their skilled technical production and craftsmanship.58 The precise replication of larger storage vessels carries with the miniature a particular enchantment, encapsulated in the technical skill and labour involved in its creation and extending it through use into a suite of social relationships.59 Within a broader social context, the miniatures might be linked to the early state and new social institutions: the big storage vessels juxtaposed with the miniature create a sense of self and state, public and private. In this sense, the comparability in technical application and use between life-sized and miniature vessels is purposefully situated to inform and impress the users about the power of the emergent state.

  • 60 al-Kuntar, 2010.

29The second set of miniatures from Hamoukar follows a very different trajectory in production and use than their earlier counterpart. The second set comes from the mid-to-late third millennium BCE and demonstrate a great degree of variability in their techniques of production. Some of these vessels replicate the larger forms found within the Akkadian period assemblage, although overall the forms, styles, and production techniques demonstrate great heterogeneity in miniature production. The chaînes opératoires deployed to make this set of miniatures include partial wheel-throwing, hand-building, and pinch-pot production of vessel walls to create a variety of different forms (figure 6). Across this assemblage, the skill in production is highly variable compared to the earlier period, suggesting many hands were at work in their production and the set only came together as a cohesive assemblage through use or in deposition. The context for these vessels is, like the earlier vessels, a public building, but one the excavators have labelled as having religious rather than storage associations.60 The variability in production and form of the miniatures provides clues to the practices enacted at the structure in which they were deposited as well as providing insight into an aesthetic of deposition associated with miniature objects. Whereas the production of the earlier miniatures was meant to replicate and act as models thereby enchanting the users into new state actions, these miniatures represent more personal, intimate activities. The diverse chaînes opératoires and different degrees of skill evident within the assemblage suggest miniatures were meant to produce a magical outcome created through individual acts of production. In this instance, the aesthetic of practice is not in technical virtuosity, but in the personal act of the making. The intimacy of production would have direct implications for appropriate deposition. The bringing together of these personal miniature acts within a specific aesthetic of deposition may reinforce the religious aspects of this building. The work at Hamoukar is continuing and much more evaluation of the production activities and chaînes opératoires for standard vessels and miniatures will be carried out in the future.

5. Conclusions

  • 61 Bailey, 2005; Kelly, 2007; Lévi-Strauss, 1962; Mack, 2007; Stewart, 1993.

30There has been significant study on the evocative power of miniatures and some of these have focused on the craftsmanship required to work at a diminutive size.61 The case studies discussed above help us to understand how the social value of miniatures is created through a sequence of production and use choices. Often, the deposition of these types of objects is viewed as associated with ritual activity and the aesthetic of deposition is certainly an important aspect of miniature use. Depositional acts are, however, only one part of the rich life biography of miniature objects. Production activities must be integrated into analyses of such objects as they have a direct effect on how the miniatures are categorised, used and deposited. These discussions must include issues of skill and craftsmanship, but they must go to the fundamental roots of production in order to understand how miniatures become social categories within society. While the chaînes opératoires presented here are general, they can be expanded to further analyse steps in a more precise sequence and with greater specificity to certain sites and assemblages. The goal here, however, is to demonstrate how the process of production is necessarily altered both due to the bodily skill and habitus of individuals when producing miniature rather than life sized vessels and how this process creates a different perception of miniatures as a material category. Together, production and use reflexively construct an aesthetic in which miniatures take on significance and meaning.

31Focusing first on how the conscious action of bodily movement necessitates an awareness of the decisions in miniature production, the analysis of the San Blas pottery chaîne opératoire demonstrates how production choices are manipulated to maintain miniatures as a pottery category but as a discrete aesthetic ideal based on the skill and labour invested in their creation. The aesthetic of production sets the tenor for the appropriate use and deposition of these vessels within a few, very restricted contexts. Focusing then on the context of deposition as an aesthetic of practice, the different Hamoukar assemblages demonstrate how both the personal aspects of production and the skill and investment put into production can make miniaturisation a technology of enchantment visible and understood by users creating the miniature’s life biography.

  • 62 Stewart, 1993, p. 46.

32Stewart notes, “The miniature has the capacity to make its context remarkable” and this is perhaps why the focus on miniature objects has been on their evocative meaning.62 This is most certainly true, but an approach integrating the continuum of production and use enables the creation of a coherent aesthetic for miniatures. Those with the bodily skill to create and the social knowledge to use them could enchant a mundane context.

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Annexe

Figure 1. Dimensionality, functionality and enchantment.

Figure 1. Dimensionality, functionality and enchantment.

Photo author

Figure 2. Location of sites discussed in the text.

Figure 2. Location of sites discussed in the text.

Courtesy of C. Petrie

Figure 3. General chaîne opératoire for pottery production at San Blas, Spain and general forms for small fine-ware vessels in the Copper Age assemblage.

Figure 3. General chaîne opératoire for pottery production at San Blas, Spain and general forms for small fine-ware vessels in the Copper Age assemblage.

Figure 4. Lip and Rim choices within the chaîne opératoire for pottery production, San Blas.

Figure 4. Lip and Rim choices within the chaîne opératoire for pottery production, San Blas.

Figure 5. Late Chalcolithic miniatures/models and their regular sized counterparts, Hamoukar.

Figure 5. Late Chalcolithic miniatures/models and their regular sized counterparts, Hamoukar.

Photographs courtesy of S. al-Kuntar

Figure 6. Diversity and individual nature of the Akkadian period miniatures, Hamoukar.

Figure 6. Diversity and individual nature of the Akkadian period miniatures, Hamoukar.

Photographs courtesy of S. al-Kuntar

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Notes

1 Gell, 1992, 1998.

2 Dobres, 2000; Ingold, 1993, 2000, 2001; Latour, 1994, 2000; Lemonnier, 1986, 1989, 1993.

3 Bailey, 2005; Mack, 2007; Stewart, 1993.

4 Mauss, 1936 [1979].

5 Lemonnier, 1986; van der Leeuw, 1993.

6 Dobres 2000, p. 154-5; van der Leeuw, 1993, p. 241.

7 Bourdieu, 1977, p. 78.

8 Bailey, 1994, 1996, 2005; Chapman, 2000; Hofmann, 2005; Knapp, Meskell, 1997; Lesure, 2002; Meskell, 2007; Meskell et al., 2008; Nanaglou, 2008, 2009; Talalay, 1993.

9 Hofmann, 2005; Meskell, 2007; Nanaglou, 2008.

10 Bailey, 2005.

11 Mack, 2007; Stewart, 1993.

12 Although see Tomaz, 2005 as an exception.

13 Bailey, 1994; Knapp, Meskell, 1997.

14 Chapman, 2000; Hofmann, 2005; Meskell et al., 2008; Talalay, 1993.

15 Talalay, 1993.

16 Bailey, 1996; Meskell et al., 2008; Talalay, 1993.

17 Gdaniec, 1996; Tomaz, 2005. See also Kamp, 2001; Kamp et al., 1999; Park, 1998 for comparisons beyond prehistoric Europe.

18 Meskell, 2008, p. 140.

19 See Kamp, 2001 for an exception.

20 Gell, 1992; Latour, 1994; and see van der Leeuw, 1993 specifically regarding pottery production.

21 Gosden, 1999; MacCannell, 2005; Pollard, 2001; but see Lévi-Strauss, 1962 for specific linkage between miniatures and their universal aesthetic quality.

22 Gell, 1992, 1998.

23 Pollard, 2001, p. 318.

24 Gell, 1998.

25 Gell, 1992.

26 Bailey, 2005; MacCannell, 2005, p. 95.

27 Lévi-Strauss, 1962, p. 23-25.

28 Gell, 1992, p. 44.

29 Mack, 2007; but see also Kelly, 2007 for similar approach on the agency of miniature images.

30 Lévi-Strauss, 1962, p. 24; see also Mack, 2007.

31 Tomaz, 2005.

32 Ibid, p. 263.

33 Bailey, 2005, p. 42, 83; Stewart, 1993, p. 46.

34 Renfrew, 2007.

35 MacCannell, 2005, p. 96; Stewart, 1993, p. 38-39.

36 Bailey, 2005, p. 33, 86; see also Mack, 2007, p. 72-74.

37 Mack, 2007.

38 Scarre, 2007.

39 Gell, 1992.

40 Ibid, p. 47.

41 Pollard, 2001.

42 Mauss, 1936 [1979].

43 Dobres, 2000; Leroi Gourhan, 1964.

44 See Kelly, 2007; Mack, 2007; Stewart, 1993, for comparative historical and ethnographic examples.

45 Stewart, 1993, p. 38.

46 Kopytoff, 1986; Mauss 1923[1967].

47 See also Gosden, Marshall, 1999; Joy, 2009; Papadopoulos, Smithson, 2002.

48 For examples see Ingold, 2000, 2007; Latour, 2000; Miller, 1997, 2005.

49 Hurtado Pérez, 2004. I would like to thank Victor Hurtado Pérez for his support and granting me access to the San Blas pottery data. Partial funding for the San Blas research was provided through University of Cambridge, Universidad de Sevilla and EDIA.

50 Kohring, 2008.

51 al-Kuntar, 2010; Gibson et al., 2002. I would like to thank Salam al-Kuntar for her contributions and allowing the Hamoukar assemblage data to be used in this paper.

52 Kohring, 2008; Kohring, Odriozola, Hurtado, 2007.

53 After Hurtado Pérez, 1999.

54 Tomaz, 2005.

55 Valera, personal communication. I am grateful to Antonio Carlos Valera, director of ERA Arqueologia, SA (Portugal) for making this data available.

56 Per Bailey, 2005, p. 29; MacCannell, 2005, p. 95.

57 al-Kuntar, personal communication. This is based on the excavators’ functional designation of the complex.

58 Examples in Kelly, 2007; Mack, 2007.

59 Gell, 1992, p. 55, 61; Stewart, 1993, p. 38.

60 al-Kuntar, 2010.

61 Bailey, 2005; Kelly, 2007; Lévi-Strauss, 1962; Mack, 2007; Stewart, 1993.

62 Stewart, 1993, p. 46.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1. Dimensionality, functionality and enchantment.
Crédits Photo author
URL http://pallas.revues.org/docannexe/image/2079/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 312k
Titre Figure 2. Location of sites discussed in the text.
Crédits Courtesy of C. Petrie
URL http://pallas.revues.org/docannexe/image/2079/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 444k
Titre Figure 3. General chaîne opératoire for pottery production at San Blas, Spain and general forms for small fine-ware vessels in the Copper Age assemblage.
URL http://pallas.revues.org/docannexe/image/2079/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 116k
Titre Figure 4. Lip and Rim choices within the chaîne opératoire for pottery production, San Blas.
URL http://pallas.revues.org/docannexe/image/2079/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 112k
Titre Figure 5. Late Chalcolithic miniatures/models and their regular sized counterparts, Hamoukar.
Crédits Photographs courtesy of S. al-Kuntar
URL http://pallas.revues.org/docannexe/image/2079/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 240k
Titre Figure 6. Diversity and individual nature of the Akkadian period miniatures, Hamoukar.
Crédits Photographs courtesy of S. al-Kuntar
URL http://pallas.revues.org/docannexe/image/2079/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 522k
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Pour citer cet article

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Sheila Kohring, « Bodily skill and the aesthetics of miniaturisation », Pallas, 86 | 2011, 31-50.

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Sheila Kohring, « Bodily skill and the aesthetics of miniaturisation », Pallas [En ligne], 86 | 2011, mis en ligne le 30 octobre 2011, consulté le 21 juillet 2017. URL : http://pallas.revues.org/2079 ; DOI : 10.4000/pallas.2079

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Auteur

Sheila Kohring

Affiliated Lecturer
Department of Archaeology
University of Cambridge
sek34@cam.ac.uk

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Pallas – Revue d'études antiques est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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