The Performativity of Measurement

Author(s): Robert Schon

Year: 2015


This paper examines the archaeological traces of measurement in light of the roles of mensuration in quotidian rituals. Most archaeologies of performance emphasize public spectacle, coordinated by elites, usually taking place in highly visible ceremonies. While some instances of measurement do fall under this rubric, most occur with less fanfare. Nevertheless, even mundane acts of measuring may be accompanied by some amount of pageantry. Differences in context, furthermore, yield varying archaeological traces. For example, the act of weighing goods privately requires little more than a somewhat accurate scale. The act of weighing in a public market, on the other hand, requires instruments of greater precision. More importantly, these instruments must appear standardized and precise in order to maintain trust between exchange partners. They may even show signs of verification by third parties, such as agents of a state authority. By considering the contexts and materiality of acts of measurement using cases from the Old World Bronze and Iron Ages, this study aims at improving our understanding of ancient metrology as well as the public performance of daily ritual.

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The Performativity of Measurement. Robert Schon. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 398215)

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Spatial Coverage

min long: -11.074; min lat: 37.44 ; max long: 50.098; max lat: 70.845 ;