Life on a Neolithic Site: Bylany - A Situational Analysis of Artefacts by Ivan Pavlu
Prague: Institute of Archaeology. 2000. 340 pages, 17 photographs, 3 maps. ISBN 80-86124-24-X.

         Bylany is one of a mosaic of Neolithic sites located virtually throughout all of temperate Europe, and is representative of a collective which is crucial to understanding the Neolithisation of Europe. This volume comes at a time when this subject has yet again sparked the interest of scholars, many of which seem to be either attempting syntheses of Linienbandkeramik (LBK) emergence, or experimenting with various methodologies and interpretive techniques in order to arrive at the most comprehensive analysis of this phenomena.

         Bylany is the largest Neolithic site studied in Bohemia to date. Initial research at the site was focused on pioneering efforts to develop a descriptive codex largely based on field documentation and descriptions of more than 100, 000 ceramic artefacts from on-site house complexes. This in turn served as the basis for the development of a chronology, which with minor modifications over the years, remains accurate to the present day. Since the first test pit was sunk in 1956, a continual series of papers and publications, based on fieldwork and excavation at the site, has been in press but at times difficult to access in the Czech Republic, particularly during the Communist regime. The consequent volume of information, data and interpretation that has been generated by this site, and comprehensively presented within this volume, has few parallels elsewhere in Europe. Virtually anything and everything that may be of interest to a scholar of the LBK has been included, from stone tools to housing structures. Furthermore, the author's insightful use of situational analyses of the artefacts yields both surprising interpretations, as well as observations not often considered.

         The author begins by arranging attributes into a frame of questions and problems. He then defines a matrix of nine areas of situational analysis using physical existence, subjective experience and theoretical process. Each category is then in turn used to organize questions regarding different aspects of the artefacts. Since the physical features of artefacts are primarily characterized by individual finds, the answers to other questions require an analysis of the structure of artefacts within specific contexts. Similar procedures are used for individual artefact types (including flaked stone tools, polished stone tools, querns, pottery decoration, housing structures and the settlement area), starting with the basics of size and shape, leading up to design attributes, and concluding with the symbolic attributes of style. Attributes are further quantified within the context used. Simple statistical methods such as frequency distributions, correlations between attributes and frequency tables are used for this process of quantification. These tables further involve correspondence analysis, deemed as the most suitable multi-statistical method by the author. The vast majority of interpretations within this volume are based on the results of such analyses.

         Details of the individual situational analyses conducted, are described in detail in the introduction to every chapter. To assist in the comprehension of the reader, the text of every chapter is fully supplemented with illustrations of schematic diagrams, tables and graphs, thereby making the text accessible to readers without a profound understanding of statistical reasoning.

         Each artefact is discussed in its own chapter, and is evaluated in minute detail. The fist chapter involves flaked stone tools. The usual data is given, such as tool classification, blades versus flakes, raw materials and their sources, and so on. However the remainder of the chapter explores issues such as the identification of activities within households, implement function, the gender and age of household members, the formation and preservation of cultural tradition, and many other interesting considerations, each of which is based on interpretations of the flaked stone industry.

         In a similar manner and with similar considerations, the following chapter is dedicated to the polished stone tool industry. Once again the usual information is presented: classification of adzes/ axes, characteristics of size, raw materials and their sources, use wear, quality and much more besides. The remainder of the chapter however, involves interpretive conclusions regarding kinship/ work groups, information and communication, as it can be derived from the understanding of the polished stone tool industry.

         The following chapter comprises a detailed description and analysis of mill stones excavated at the site. Data regarding the measurement of upper and lower stones, their chronological variability, raw materials and sources are all included. A sample of the interpretations found in the chapter includes: the subsistence system, division of labour, and an index of age of women in the household.

         The next chapter involves pottery excavated from the site. This artefact type is always difficult to represent since the variety of information and interpretation can lead to volumes upon volumes of data. Nevertheless the author has concisely presented data involving basic vessel characteristics including: the ratios of principal forms, wall thickness, height/weight, rim angle, knobs/handles, pedestals/feet, temper, firing and virtually every characteristic that can be measured on a ceramic vessel. This is followed by various interpretations that are sure to peak the curiosity of all scholars of the Neolithic: the skill required to produce different vessels, their function (short/long term storage, for serving food, to hold water etc.), as indicators of household activities, as a sign of prestige/ status, to sample but a few.

         Due its complexity in both description and analysis, pottery decoration has been given its own chapter. As before the chapter begins with the presentation of basic data: the Bylany codex used to describe pottery decoration (technical, incised, and relief decoration, red slip, painting, motifs), fineware versus coarseware, frequency, etc. Interpretation of this media leads the author to an exploration of "pottery sociology," in other words, "reflections on the possible relationships between primary design motifs and the genealogy of the inhabitants at Bylany" (p. 167). The content of the remainder of the chapter is sure to spark the interest of all scholars of the LBK.

         Housing structures are the subject of the following chapter. As with the other chapters, the data is presented first. In this case the author cites the house classifications, ground plans, and the interior sections. A vast range of interpretations are then offered, of which the construction materials and their volume, as well as interpretations of activities in different sections, are only a small sample.

         The final chapter of this volume includes interpretations of Bylany as a settlement area. The temporal dynamics of asynchronic/ synchronic house clusters, space outside the houses, houses and their rebuilding, are a mere example of the considerations evaluated in this chapter.

         There is no doubt that this volume must be on the shelf of every scholar interested in the Neolithisation of temperate Europe. The above paragraphs represent only a small fraction of the information that is actually available within this book. It is rare to find such a vast source of data and interpretation in one volume. Scholars everywhere are sure to be inspired by this author's approach to seeking answers to questions regarding the LBK and the onset of the Neolithic in Europe.

Alena Lukes
Department of Archaeology and Prehistory
University of Sheffield

Review Submitted: July 2002

The views expressed in this review are not necessarily those of the Society or the Reviews Editor.

Home Page The Prehistoric Society Home Page