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Title: The prehistory of material signification : tracing the nature and emergence of early body ornamentation through a pragmatic and enactive theory of cognitive semiotics
Author: Iliopoulos, Antonios
ISNI:       0000 0004 6497 6563
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2015
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This thesis explores the nature and emergence of early body ornamentation, which has long been at the forefront of the debate on modern human origins. According to most prehistorians, ornamental shell beads are unequivocal proxies for behavioural and cognitive "modernity", for they are considered the arbitrary products of symbolically-capable brains. In my dissertation, I argue against the "symbolic" dictum of reducing material signification to linguistic terms, and attributing its creation to a representational mechanism. For one, the significative meaning of material culture is not entirely arbitrary, because concepts can be founded on physical properties and affordances. Moreover, material signification is not the epiphenomenal product of innate cognitive modules, for the mind is not a computational device that processes internal representations before externalising them through behaviour. I thus suggest that these theoretical fallacies about the nature and emergence of material signification can be overcome by combining a pragmatic semiotic approach with an enactive theory of cognition. Briefly put, a pragmatic semiotic theory describes the nature of material signification by recognising that significative concepts can be founded on physical qualities and relations, whereas an enactive theory of cognition accounts for the emergence of material signification by explaining how significative concepts are brought forth via the constitutive entwinement of mind and matter. Through the synergistic fusion of these theoretical tenets, the origins of early body ornamentation can be examined from a developmental perspective that treats the generation of significative meaning as the emergent product of material engagement. In its light, the preoccupation of most evolutionary archaeologists with the notion of "modernity" appears to be inherently problematic. It is therefore ultimately proposed that the dominant symbolic interpretation of material signification need be replaced with a pragmatic and enactive theory of cognitive semiotics that is suitably geared to trace the evolution of prehistoric material signs.
Supervisor: Malafouris, Lambros Sponsor: Greek Archaeology Commitee (UK)
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Evolutionary archaeology ; Semiotic archaeology ; Cognitive archaeology ; Early body ornaments ; Symbolism ; Material Signification