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Subject:

Ethnogenesis of the Slavs (was women in archaeology)

From:

"Paul Barford" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Sat, 27 May 2000 09:51:41 +0200

Content-Type:

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Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (154 lines)

Florin's letter about the ethnogenesis of the Slavs coming as a spin-off
from the discussion of women in archaeology ends with an exhortation to
"talk about the political and/or social circumstances of these
developments". While accepting that discussion of archaeological approaches
to these ethnic issues (and their relationship to international and national
politics and social pressures and needs) is important in the face of
political and social changes taking place in Europe today, I feel that in
this particular case there is little need to go over these issues again.
I think that there are grounds for believing that the whole modern
discussion of the issue of the ethnogenesis of the Slavs had its origin in
Polish archaeology from the 1930s. In recent years a number of Polish
scholars have been (over) eager to turn their faces to the west to beat
their breasts publicly in penance for the ethnogenetic (?) 'original sin' of
post-War Polish archaeology, [perhaps as the price of establishing
themselves as 'spokesmen' for Polish archaeology in the west ? - one may
note that production of this type of article seems to be predominantly in
English], one may list a selection of the most accessible:

A. Bursche and T. Taylor 1991, '[Introduction,] A panorama of Polish
archaeology', Antiquity 65(248), 583-592.

P. Barford 1993, 'Paradigms lost: Polish archaeology and post-War politics',
Archaeologia Polona 31, 257-270

Z. Kobyliński 1996, 'Early Medieval archaeology in Poland: successes and
failures', World Archaeological Bulletin 8, 238-254.

W. Raczkowski 1996, ''Drang nach Westen'?: Polish archaeology and national
identity', in M. Diaz-Andreu and T. Champion (eds) Nationalism and
archaeology in Europe (Madrid) 189-217.

J. Lech 1997-8, 'Between captivity and freedom: Polish archaeology in the
20th century', Archaeologia Polona 35-36, 25-222 (with extensive [!]
bibliography).

These articles deal mainly with the political side of the problem, shifting
frontiers, Teheran, Yalta and Potsdam (though tend to skip round the issue
of the actual status of the territories assigned from the Reich in the
Potsdam agreement and the expulsion of the German population), the
legitimisation of the new state and the political agreements which brought
it into being etc. etc.

Poland in fact forms a text-book case of the use of archaeology for a wide
agenda of contemporary needs, perhaps not as well-known in the west as it
should be, on account of the obvious linguistic barrier to detailed research
on the primary material.

 The articles cited above do not deal so much with the social aspects, that
is they treat the problem "from the top looking down" rather than "from the
bottom looking up". The reasons for the latter are obvious, it is easier to
schematise from the former method, and also allows the placing of the
'blame' on an imposed political system (by definition in present
socio-political conditions in Poland negatively assessed). The perception of
archaeology by the Polish public and the ways in which this has changed over
the past decades are subjects worth examining in more detail.

Pace Florin, I rather get the impression that the adoption by Soviet
archaeology of the idea that the Przeworsk Culture and those preceding it
were the archaeological indicators of the *Protoslavs was in fact initiated
by the Poles rather than the Soviets who in fact had really to adapt to the
version propagated by the Poles, and is in part due to the specific nature
of Soviet archaeology. By the time Soviet archaeologists were able to
examine this problem the Poles were able to marshal a whole number of
arguments to support their case. Primary among these were the archaeological
ones (apparent 'proof' of an unbroken continuity of settlement going back
millennia), though the linguistic ones were also important (remember that
before 1950 Soviet linguistics were to a great degree straightjacketed by
the concepts of Marr, and after 1950 Stalin threw in a new conceptual scheme
which was to be followed which delayed proper discussion by Soviet
archaeologists for another five or six years). One feels that the effects of
Marrism and Stalin's pronouncements on ethnogenetic studies have yet to be
fully explored or appreciated (in both east and west). One notes that much
of the Soviet literature Florin cites comes from the last few decades, there
is very little from an earlier period (when the Zarubinets Culture was the
main candidate).

I think that Stalinist policies of the mid and late 1930s concerning
ethnogenesis had a different origin than that suggested by Florin (who
suggests that it was a response to Nazi propaganda). The latter could have
had very little influence in the Soviet Union before the Nazi invasion of
1941. Just as the Nazis however Stalin and his advisers used the past to
serve the needs of the present state, and were to use the same Pan-Slavic
past to cement Stalin's new hegemony after 1945.

I thus suspect that one of the motives lying behind Polish insistence on a
Polish "homeland" for the *Protoslavs was as much as a strategy to resist
Stalinist Pan-Slavism as Nazi Pan-Germanism, and thus directed against the
Soviet Union (I think I wrote about it somewhere).

The question of whether the emphasis was placed on the Przeworsk or Lusatian
Culture is to some extent irrelevant in a situation when (as the Polish
autocthonists did) one sees (an ethnic) continuity between them. The point
is however that the Przeworsk Culture is the real sticking point for the
Polish autocthonists simply because it "looks" so "Germanic" (and - since in
effect we are really dealing with the origin of a linguistic group -  one
also had to ignore their rare but undeniable use of Germanic runes not only
on their weapons but also occasionally on their pottery). If one wished to
prove a pre-Slav homeland in Poland, one had to explain away (or ignore)
these problems, hence the denial of the suitability of material culture as
ethnic indicators (i.e., the separation of 'material' [technical] from
'spiritual' [social] culture).

Of course it is very easy to take the baggiest Przeworsk Culture vessels and
show that they look like the (baggy) Early Slav pottery, a baggy pot is
after all just a baggy pot, the issue that such an approach avoids is why
late Przeworsk pottery assemblages as a whole should change from a
technologically and formally very diverse character to one containing just
these baggy forms, also what happened to all the other elements of the
diverse and relatively rich material culture of the Przeworsk Culture?

Also, is it actually true to say as Florin does that Godłowski and
Parczewski have given "the final blow to ideas that Slavs were native to
Polish territory"? and that former models have "just died out"? I think this
is a simplification of a debate which is still ongoing in central European
and especially Polish science as a whole (not just archaeology). This is not
just caused by the old guard stubbornly resisting conceptual changes but a
general realisation among those who have carefully considered the issues
involved in the that there are problems in the relatively simplistic
migrationist model proposed by Parczewski. The colonisation of such a vast
area by a population from such a small starting area is a demographic
impossibility given the social conditions of the communities involved. The
question of models of linguistic replacement, of cultural replacement and
change are far from resolved (and often ignored or obscured by adoption of a
vague terminology by those accepting a simplistic diffusionist approach). It
is also assumed (wrongly) that Early Slav culture is relatively homogenous
across huge areas and not all of the phenomena accepted in central Europe as
'Early Slav' have an origin in the area pinpointed by Parczewski. Central
European arguments on this problem tend to skate over the issue of the
formation of a widespread Slav 'ethnos' (if one may call it that) in Eastern
Europe too (Ukraine, Belarus, Russia).

The chronology of this process is unknown (but many guestimates have been
attempted) and in the search to justify "homelands" I feel that the
relationship between the formation of a Slav (linguistic) identity and the
formation of Slav states in the ninth and tenth centuries has been
underestimated in the past.

In terms of the discussions on the ethnogenesis of the Slavs I think a very
important role was played by the International congress of Slav Archaeology
initiated mainly though of course not exclusively by Polish archaeologists
(I- Warsaw 1965; II- Berlin 1970; III- Bratislava 1975; IV- Sofia 1980;
V-Kiev 1985; VI- Novgorod 1996) and also the prestigious Polish journal
Slavia Antiqua.

Paul Barford
(Warsaw, Poland)


(PS: by the way Florin - as you probably know, Tadeusz Lehr Spławiński was a
philologist and not an archaeologist)



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