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Picture of The Power of the Line

The Power of the Line

Metaphor, Number and Material Culture in European Prehistory

Author(s): Aleksander Dzbyński

Book Description

Extensive research in the fields of anthropology, archaeology, and cognitive science clearly suggests that the development of a material culture in prehistory was a serious contribution to the mathematization of the human mind. An underestimated interface in this process, as cognitive and philosophical studies suggest, was the capability to perceive the external world in a metaphorical way.

This book uses several examples to tell this story. It does not claim the right to present a universal story, applicable for the whole human species, although it also questions that universality. The cornerstone of the story is structured by the relationship between body, language, and material culture. The examples presented in this book, however, also allow us to contemplate a less universal phenomenon; the similarities and differences between Near Eastern and European culture in the period of the development of farming. As such, this book also investigates whether clay tokens – an invention originated from Near Eastern societies – were also responsible for the development of mathematical abilities in prehistoric societies in Europe.

In Europe, however, the lack of material representations of numbers in the form of small objects was replaced by linear concepts. Linearity, from its simple manifestations in the monumental form to its complex use in later megalithic structures, requires more thought because it served not only as an ephemeral symbol and a metaphor, but also as a practical tool in building anthropogenic spaces. Only when we see a metaphor in the omnipresent linearity can we understand it properly in combination with the cosmologic aspects of architecture, the role of the human body, and the concept of numbers. As such, the book distinguishes between two dichotomous development paths of mathematization and numerosity in Europe and the Near East – the birthplace of farming: the measuring stick metaphor and the object collection metaphor. The book also discusses further transformations of the measuring stick metaphor into more rational concepts throughout the course of technological developments in Europe.


ISBN-13: 978-1-4438-4921-0
ISBN-10: 1-4438-4921-9
Date of Publication: 01/08/2013
Pages / Size: 199 / A5
Price: £39.99


Dr Aleksander Dzbyński was born 1972 in Warsaw and studied Prehistoric Archaeology, Anthropology and Ancient Art History at Warsaw University, the University of Basle and the University of Freiburg. He received his PhD degree from the University of Basle in 2004. He is currently working as a Senior Lecturer in Archaeology. His research interests are centered on archaeological theory, anthropology, and philosophy. His previous books include Metrologische Strukturen in der Kultur mit Schnurkeramik und ihre Bedeutung für die Kulturentwicklung des mitteleuropäischen Raumes; Ritual and Understanding: Rational Bases of Communication and Exchange in Prehistoric Europe; and Mr. Blademan and the World-Machine: Man vs. technology – from the stone to the computer.