How Ancient Europeans Saw the World: Vision, Patterns, and the Shaping of the Mind in Prehistoric Times

How Ancient Europeans Saw the World: Vision, Patterns, and the Shaping of the Mind in Prehistoric Times

by Peter S. Wells


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How Ancient Europeans Saw the World: Vision, Patterns, and the Shaping of the Mind in Prehistoric Times by Peter S. Wells

The peoples who inhabited Europe during the two millennia before the Roman conquests had established urban centers, large-scale production of goods such as pottery and iron tools, a money economy, and elaborate rituals and ceremonies. Yet as Peter Wells argues here, the visual world of these late prehistoric communities was profoundly different from those of ancient Rome's literate civilization and today's industrialized societies. Drawing on startling new research in neuroscience and cognitive psychology, Wells reconstructs how the peoples of pre-Roman Europe saw the world and their place in it. He sheds new light on how they communicated their thoughts, feelings, and visual perceptions through the everyday tools they shaped, the pottery and metal ornaments they decorated, and the arrangements of objects they made in their ritual places—and how these forms and patterns in turn shaped their experience.

How Ancient Europeans Saw the World offers a completely new approach to the study of Bronze Age and Iron Age Europe, and represents a major challenge to existing views about prehistoric cultures. The book demonstrates why we cannot interpret the structures that Europe's pre-Roman inhabitants built in the landscape, the ways they arranged their settlements and burial sites, or the complex patterning of their art on the basis of what these things look like to us. Rather, we must view these objects and visual patterns as they were meant to be seen by the ancient peoples who fashioned them.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691166759
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 06/23/2015
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.25(h) x 0.68(d)

About the Author

Peter S. Wells is professor of anthropology at the University of Minnesota. His many books include Barbarians to Angels: The Dark Ages Reconsidered and The Barbarians Speak: How the Conquered Peoples Shaped Roman Europe (Princeton).

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations vii

Preface xi

Acknowledgments xvii

Part I: Theory and Method

Chapter 1: Of Monsters and Flowers 1

Chapter 2: Seeing and Shaping Objects 18

Chapter 3: The Visual Worlds of Early Europe 34

Chapter 4: Frame, Focus, Visualization 52

Part II: Material: Objects and Arrangements

Chapter 5: Pottery: The Visual Ecology of the Everyday 72

Chapter 6: Attraction and Enchantment: Fibulae 99

Chapter 7: Status and Violence: Swords and Scabbards 112

Chapter 8: Arranging Spaces: Objects in Graves 131

Chapter 9: Performances: Objects and Bodies in Motion 155

Chapter 10: New Media in the Late Iron Age: Coins and Writing 176

Part III: Interpreting the Patterns

Chapter 11: Changing Patterns in Objects and in Perception 188

Chapter 12: Contacts, Commerce, and the Dynamics of New Visual Patterns 200


Chapter 13: The Visuality of Objects, Past and Present 222

Bibliographic Essay 231

References Cited 249

Index 281

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