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'I am interested in how we simulate ourselves into the future'

It is a known trait in humans to anchor innovations in the past, so as to make new developments easier to accept. It is an aspect of humanity that can also be spotted in classical and prehistoric times. Archaeologist Daniel Turner will investigate the anchoring of monumental building in Greek Prehistory with an Anchoring Innovation OIKOS grant.

Daniel Turner, measuring a Mycenaean tomb.

Monumental fortifications

In the 3rd millennium BC (3000-2000 BC) monumental fortifications start to pop up on the Greek mainland, the Cycladic islands, and in Western Anatolia. These fortifications consist of massive walls, and they must have been huge projects for the people that constructed them. ‘The main case study of the project,’ Daniel explains, ‘is Geraki, in Southern Greece. It is a Late Neolithic to Early Bronze Age site where fortification started on a hilltop.’ Other sites that are similar to it are Lerna and Tiryns in the Argolid.

Then the great building period is over. ‘There is a collapse around 2200 BC, and the monumental building projects mostly just phase out.’ However, building big reappears in the second half of the second millennium BC. ‘The question is why they decided to rebuild or redesign these by then already old fortifications. I am going to investigate how people anchored their tolerance for monumental buildings in the ruins they could still see.’

The monumental walls of Geraki. Photo: Geraki Project

Anchoring innovation

But how does this process of anchoring innovation work? ‘The best modern example is when we spend large sums of money in the military. We name new, innovative machines after things we recognize, so it feels better to spend millions on it, like a Tomahawk [cruise missile] or an Eagle [fighter aircraft].’ Similar patterns can be seen in antiquity. Tombs, walls, and building types mimic older versions, finding a willingness to invest in a durable legacy.

Psychological perspectives

At the moment, Daniel is finishing his PhD on labor and memory in Mycenaean tombs. In a different Postdoc project, connected to Professor Ann Brysbaert’s SETinSTONE project, he is investigating the relative cost of Late Bronze Age fortifications on the Athenian Acropolis. ‘My new project is less about the mechanics of building, and more about the tolerance of building, and why we go about our daily routines.’ For when you may not live to see the end result of the building project you are involved in, what is your view on glory and legacy?

‘I am interested in how we simulate ourselves into the future. We use our own memories to predict what we are doing tonight, or in a week, or in ten years, or, perhaps, a 100 years after our death.’ Daniel is exploring the psychological perspective on these building projects, which is related to the place in the world we envision ourselves in, as well as our motivations to work.

Daniel’s one-year Postdoc will start in the summer of 2020.  

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