Adornment, Personal Ornamentation, and the Construction of Identity: A Global Archaeological Perspective

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 82nd Annual Meeting, Vancouver, BC (2017)

Items of personal adornment are found in archaeological contexts all over the world. While the specific meanings ascribed to these objects likely varied widely in the past, their social values are generally interpreted in relation to individual or group identity. Recent research highlights the ways in which personal ornaments served integral roles in the creation, maintenance, and negotiation of different aspects of identity, such as gender, age, social status, ethnicity, lineage or group affiliation, and participation in ideological and power structures. In some cases, these objects were vital to social transactions, ritual performances, the creation of social memories, the legitimation of authority, or the renewal of the existing social order. In contemporary work, these research issues are increasingly examined within the frameworks of embodied practice and materiality. In these approaches, the production, circulation, and discard of material objects create, reproduce, and transform the contours of the social world, defining relationships between individuals, social segments of various scales, and both the natural and cultural landscapes. The papers in this session present recent research on objects of adornment from a variety of geographic and temporal contexts, focusing on the ways they were used to construct and negotiate different elements of social identity.

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  • Documents (9)

  • Beads, Myth, and Ritual Practice: Tracing Traditions of Ornament Use in Ceremonial Deposition and Costuming in the Northern U.S. Southwest (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Hannah Mattson.

    As early as the sixteenth century, Spanish explorers noted the abundance of turquoise and shell jewelry adorning the Pueblo residents of the Rio Grande Valley and southern Colorado Plateau. In addition to serving as aesthetically pleasing objects of bodily decoration, these ornaments figure prominently in Pueblo creation and migration stories and are vital to the performance of various ritual practices, including ceremonial dances and the making of offerings and prayers. Archaeological research...

  • Costume and Identity in Pacific Nicaragua (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Geoffrey McCafferty. Sharisse McCafferty.

    Sixteen years of archaeological research along the shore of Lake Cocibolca in Pacific Nicaragua has yielded a wealth of material culture relating to domestic practice and mortuary rituals for the period from AD 500 to 1250. Among these are numerous objects of adornment, such as pendants, beads, and ear ornaments. Additional costume information is found on small ceramic figurines, primarily of females with painted decoration indicating clothing, hairstyle, tattooing, and jewelry. Based on initial...

  • Forging Identity: The social and symbolic significance of torques in the Iron Age Castro Culture (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Nadya Prociuk.

    The Iron Age Castro Culture of northwestern Iberia was steeped in the crosscurrents of disparate cultural influences. Linked to areas of temperate Europe by Atlantic trade routes, the Castro Culture was also subject to the encroachments of Mediterranean powers moving through the Iberian Peninsula. These diverse influences manifested in the Castro Culture in a variety of ways, including in methods of personal adornment. The gold and silver torques left by the Castro people are the best example of...

  • From Beads to Biographies: a Microwear Study of Late Pre-Colonial Ornaments from the Dominican Republic (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Catarina Guzzo Falci. Annelou Van Gijn. Corinne Hofman.

    Bodily ornaments are found throughout the Greater Antilles and have been generally regarded as items belonging to high-status individuals. Many studies have focused on their iconographic designs, meaning, and exchange among so-called "Taíno" societies (AD 1200-1500). However, much of the biography of stone and shell ornaments is poorly known, as raw materials, technologies of production, systems of attachment, and modes of deposition have not received comparable attention. This is partially...

  • Garnets for the Vikings: Charismatic jewellery and family memories in early Viking Age Scandinavia (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Zanette Glørstad.

    The paper presents how continental-inspired elite jewellery from the Merovingian period (550-800AD) continued to play an important role in the Viking Age Scandinavia (800 -1050 AD).The so-called "disc-on-bow" brooch were covered with garnets, and is one of the most spectacular jewellery types we know from this period in Europe. They nevertheless appear in a number of female graves from the Viking Age, revealing traces of having been used a long time, most likely passed down through several...

  • Linking Beads, Linking People: A Social Network Approach to Exploring Identity in the Colonial Southeast (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Elliot Blair.

    Beads and other ornaments were important objects involved in early colonial entanglements between Europeans and Native Americans, with the color, texture, and physical properties of these objects fostering the embodiment of new social roles within changing colonial worlds. In this paper I discuss how such objects were involved in the material manifestation of social identities as pluralistic native communities aggregated in the Spanish missions of La Florida. Looking specifically at the...

  • Making amber beads: technological insights into a Late Neolithic and Bronze Age craft activity (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Annelou Van Gijn. Matilda Sebire.

    Experimental research of different ways of shaping and perforating amber beads has provided insight into the signatures of different manufacturing techniques and the character of the tools involved. Using stereo and incident light microscopy it was for example possible to distinguish the features from the use of metal tools from the traces resulting from flint implements. Perforating amber with drills made of different raw materials like wood, metal, flint and antler, also show considerable...

  • Material elaboration and monumentality: Mortuary beads, pastoralists, and social innovation in northwest Kenya (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Carla Klehm.

    Megalithic architecture appeared suddenly in northwest Kenya 5000 years ago in tandem with the earliest pastoralists in the region. As Lake Turkana’s levels dropped, these people built "pillar sites" – massive feats of labor and coordination that represent one of the earliest instances of monumentality in Africa – in a brief explosion of material and architectural elaboration. The burials associated with these pillar sites are highly ornamented, with thousands of beads made from stone, bone, and...

  • The materiality of life and death: Dress ornaments and shifting identities at Hasanlu, Iran (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Megan Cifarelli.

    The site of Hasanlu, Iran, was destroyed thoroughly by a marauding army in approximately 800 BCE, leaving a hulk of smoking rubble that was a virtual tomb for the hundreds of residents and combatants who weren’t able to escape its citadel. The excavations of Hasanlu, led by Robert H. Dyson of the University of Pennsylvania Museum, took place between 1956 and 1977, and uncovered a remarkable range of contexts containing personal ornaments within the relatively narrow historical horizon of...