Making Space for the Invisible

Lecture | February 20 | 12-1 p.m. | 101 2251 College (Archaeological Research Facility)

 Michael Chazan, Professor of Anthropology, University of Toronto

 Archaeological Research Facility

This talk will consider the role of the invisible in human engagement with artifacts. This discussion draws heavily on comparative psychology research on the capacity of chimpanzees for abstract though in both the social (sense of self) and physical realms, as well as on Tim Ingold’s critique of hylomorphy. The first context in which hominins drew on invisibles was in the use of fracture for stone tool manufacture. It is argued that fracture unlike crushing requires an understanding of an invisible force as opposed to an appreciation of cause and effect relations. Examination of the earliest evidence of stone tool manufacture suggests that by 2.5 million years ago hominins were adept at propagating fracture. The discussion then shifts to the challenge by Paul Bloom who argues that water can be an artifact. It appears that the extension of artifact status to a liquid is actually based on containment of the liquid in a vessel, suggesting a certain ‘stickiness’ to artifact status that can extend to materials a vessel contains. Containment is like fracture a mechanical force and consideration of containment leads to combustion and the prehistory of hominin engagement with fire. The archaeological record from sites including Wonderwerk Cave is discussed to bring out the evidence for a long development of hominin relation with fire.