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Title: Materiality in numerical cognition : material engagement theory and the counting technologies of the ancient Near East
Author: Overmann, Karenleigh Anne
ISNI:       0000 0004 5548 1294
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2016
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Using the Material Engagement Theory of Cognitive Archaeologist Lambros Malafouris as its framework, the thesis offers a unique synthesis of data from neuroscience, ethnography, linguistics, and archaeology to outline how number concepts are realized, manipulated, and elaborated. The process is described as an interactivity of psychological processes like numerosity, behaviors that manipulate objects into concept-generating stimuli, and material objects with semiotic qualities distinct from those of language and agency distinct from that of brains and bodies. The counting technologies of the Ancient Near East (ANE) are then analyzed through archaeological and textual evidence spanning the late Upper Paleolithic to the Bronze Age, from the first realization of number concepts in a pristine original condition to their elaboration into one of the ancient world's greatest mathematical traditions, a foundation for mathematical thinking today. Insights from the way numbers are realized through psychological-behavioral-material interactivity are used to challenge three dominant conceptualizations of ANE numbers: first, the idea that the ANE numerical lexicon would have counted only to very low numbers; second, that Neolithic tokens were the first counting technology; and third, that numbers were 'concrete' before they became 'abstract'. Considering archaeological evidence from the Epipaleolithic Levant and drawing on linguistic and ethnographic evidence to characterize the regional prehistory, the thesis suggests that the numerical lexicon would have included relatively high numbers prior to the Neolithic; that finger-counting (linguistically attested) and tallies (archaeologically attested) would have preceded tokens; and that numbers are 'abstract' concepts whose content changes in conjunction with the incorporation and use of different material forms. The evidence provided to support these alternatives implies that numbers may have originated in the late Upper Paleolithic and arithmetic early in the Neolithic, pushing the onset of these capabilities further back than is commonly held. In addition to tallies and tokens, the thesis explores fingers and numerical notations as material artifacts, enabling an analysis of how materiality might structure numerical concepts, influence a number system's capabilities, limitations, and elaboration potential, and affect brains and behavior over cultural spans of time. Insights generated by the case study are then applied to the role of materiality in cognition more generally, including how concepts become distributed across multiple material forms; the reasons why materiality might be transparent (or invisible) in cognition; and the differences between thinking through and thinking about materiality.
Supervisor: Malafouris, Lambros ; Gosden, Christopher Sponsor: Clarendon Fund
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Social archaeology--Middle East ; Numeration ; Material culture--Middle East--History--To 1500 ; Cognition and culture--Middle East ; Neuroanthropology ; Middle East--Antiquities