Preprint / Version 2

How to open the gift box? Archaeology and the transfer of goods



When it seeks to understand the way in which the goods it uncovers were transferred, archaeology is entirely dependent on a theory and a typology developed by social anthropology. In contrast to the traditional approach dating back to Marcel Mauss, which considers that the whole of the "primitive" world is marked by an undifferentiation between gift and exchange, Alain Testart has proposed, on the contrary, to rigorously delimit these concepts by using the criterion of legal exigibility. This analysis, which also reveals the existence of other forms of simple transfers, can be deepened by exploring complex (combined or indeterminate) forms. In the end, archaeology, because it approaches social relations from their material traces, cannot hope, in the absence of writing, to reconstruct directly the way in which goods were owned and transferred. This knowledge can nevertheless be approached insofar as archaeology can provide the elements that make it possible to identify a social type and, in turn, the predominant modes of transfer that prevailed within this type for a given category of goods.


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2021-11-30 — Updated on 2022-05-03