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Putting Things into Practice: Pragmatic Theory and the Exploration of Monumental Landscapes

Furholt, Martin; Hinz, Martin; Mischka, Doris

The Neolithic and Bronze Age burial ground of Flintbek provides a well-documented case study of a monumental landscape, whose shaping and development through ritual practices of monument building can be studied over the course of centuries. The minute excavation and data analyses (Mischka 2011a) enable a discussion of the interrelations between collective social practices of monument building and modification as well as the practical effects those individual monumental features – and the monumental landscapes as a whole – would have had on those social collectives. We want to explore pragmatic theory as a tool to better understand the dialectic between the creation and recreation of landscapes and the reproduction of social organization in the course of social practices.
This paper aims to highlight how an inquiry into prehistoric social practices based on semiotic pragmatism, as was formulated by Charles Sanders Peirce, provides a theory on how meanings and social relations are created and recreated in the course of social practices, a model explaining how these practices as material and spatially situated phenomena can be used to explore the interrelation of social practices and their material outcomes, which have practical consequences for subsequent practices and social relations. We exemplify this by the reconstruction of building activities on the megalithic long barrow Flintbek LA3, Northern Germany, 3500‐3400 BCE. Here, it can be demonstrated how construction activities over the course of a century are both shaped by and actively shape social relations. New developments can be explained by a creative recombination of already existing singular components. A process of complexification and enlargement of building activities is set into motion, including inter-group competition. This development is terminated around 3400 BCE, whereafter grave construction activities are re-directed towards a smaller number of collectively used passage graves, which further enhance the level of complexity of design, but dispense with the unequal, competitive component. This represents a process of social collectivisation paralleled with the establishment of first larger villages in the region.

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