The second level of the sense of time described by Braudel encompasses societal, economic and cultural history. At this level time passes more slowly than it does in the course of the previous level of events and a large part of these changes take place there that influence all the members of the society. In addition to changes regarding the nature of events, also included at this level are innovations of a subtler nature. It does not all need to be about the fateful changes that directly alter our life path; at first sight they might appear as minor, infrequent or imperceptible changes in the natural habitat. In terms of identifying the inception of such intervals it is worth noting that longer historical time periods may be associated with certain specific artefacts or with their characteristic parameters (e.g. their shape, material or design...). This fact can be used as the basis for a chronological breakdown of a past era, in regard to which no written records are available.
These periods of time represent a primary domain in regard to the study of archaeology. At its inception as a new discipline there normal human curiosity and interest in the “strangeness” of the material world already existed. It was not until the early 18th Century, however, that some scholars started to understand that these objects excavated from the ground were not the products of supernatural forces but remnants of the human past. The need to date these objects provided an impetus to attempting their additional analysis and systematisation. The resultant solution was based on the morphology of the artefacts. The shapes and the other formal properties of objects undergo changes over time, thereby when objects of the same type are lined-up adjacent to each other, it is possible to identify their sequential development. Their absolute age cannot be determined in this way, however, and it is also necessary to take into account the geographical context. Accredited with the creation of a basic relative chronology of artefacts is the Danish scholar Christian Jürgensen Thomsen, who, in 1836, formulated the theory of the sequence of stone, bronze and iron.
For additional classification that would also reflect the spatial distribution of archaeological finds the concept “archaeological culture” was defined. Thereby the chronology of cultures was then able to capture the typological changes in the technology and the character of the preserved material culture. Archaeological culture is described on the basis of the typological similarities of its artefacts in time and space. Considered as the maximum limit of the capacities of typological relative chronology is defining the shorter periods within the context of the archaeological cultures. This deeper study primarily seeks to capture minor typological changes to the character of different types of artefacts and to define them both chronologically and geographically. It is not clearly evident what small changes in the designs of artefacts should reflect in regard to interpreting the nature of their relationship to humans. Another question is to what extent do the spatial and the temporal changes to the artefacts reflect the actual structure and the dynamic phenomena in human society during that period.
In our material world the fashion or the style of the material culture demonstrate change. Changes of this kind are taking place all the time, even though this is rarely perceived. A typical subject associated with a specific period is clothing and the associated felt-need of people to adapt the appearance of their clothing in accordance with the current trends, while, generally speaking, still maintaining the established customs of the specific cultural environment. Both historically and in today’s world clothes undergo frequent drastic changes in style and therefore it is not difficult to identify trends that clearly define a certain period - for example, a Roman toga, Renaissance ruffs or a 19th Century top hat.
Want to learn more?
- Bahn, P. 2005. The Three Ages. In Archaeology. The Key Concepts, eds. C. Renfrew, and P. Bahn, 197-199. London and New York: Routledge.
- Trigger, B. G. 1989. A history of archaeological thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.