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Semiosis in the Pleistocene Scene

Author(s): Marc Kissel ; Agustin Fuentes

Year: 2017

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One of the distinctive aspects of human behavior is the ability to think symbolically. However, the ability to track this capacity archaeologically is complicated by debates on what makes an object symbolic. Rather than initially asking if materials are symbols/symbolic, we offer that it may be better to ask if and how they are signs. A more nuanced view of "symbol" in the archaeological record, combined with aspects of Peircean semiotics, can help to bridge the gap between the material record of the past and current interpretive assessments. We argue that using the Peircean distinction between qualisigns, sinsigns, and legisigns provides support for this endeavor. The glimmers of early symbolic behavior (the sporadic occurrences of objects with embedded social meanings in the early/middle Pleistocene) can best be seen as sinsigns, ‘one-off' occurrences, whereas sites that show long-term presence of such materials are demonstrating the presence of legisigns, the codification of ideas. To illustrate this approach we apply these ideas to three classes of artifacts (ochre, engraved objects, and ornamentations), showing how this system can address issues of relevance to archaeologists who often fetishize the symbolic and think that is what makes us human. Communication, and meaning, are more than symbolic.

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Semiosis in the Pleistocene Scene. Marc Kissel, Agustin Fuentes. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 429679)


Geographic Keywords

Spatial Coverage

min long: -18.809; min lat: -38.823 ; max long: 53.262; max lat: 38.823 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 15970

Arizona State University The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation National Science Foundation National Endowment for the Humanities Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Institute of America