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By Stephen Shennan

Examines the serious implications of cultural identification from quite a few views. Questions the character and bounds of archaeological wisdom of the prior and the connection of fabric tradition to cultural identification.

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Precisely which is relevant at a given time depends on the context and conditions, as Wiessner points out. This further emphasizes the argument presented above that it is impossible to regard what goes on within social groups as independent of what happens in the relations between them, and again brings home the importance of detailed analysis of archaeological data and their social and economic implications. Darwinian models for style and isochrestic variation Archaeology has usually taken as the limit of its brief the description of the patterns of variation, most often in terms of ‘cultures’, and the explanation of the specific patterns observed in particular cases, traditionally on the basis of a ‘culture=people’ hypothesis.

This kind of imitation may operate at various levels of consciousness, and at the conscious level may be accompanied by another phenomenon, which Boyd & Richerson (1985) called ‘indirect bias’: this is a tendency to imitate those who appear particularly successful in their society, not just in the specific aspects that are relevant to their success, but also in other aspects of their behaviour and appearance. Wiessner’s account explains why people should want to use ‘assertive style’; ‘indirect bias’ explains why the content of ‘assertive style’ is not unique to each individual, but shows widespread patterns of similarity in particular places at particular times.

However, the idea of the importance of such criteria for German identity goes back earlier than this. Hegelian concepts of history no doubt played a rôle (cf. Gellner 1987b), while Muehlmann (1985, p. 11) has indicated other factors, including an extensive misuse of Tacitus’ Germania as evidence for the German past: Tacitus’ ‘Germania’, discovered in 1455, played an important role in the ethnocentric self-definition of the Germans. Fichte’s ‘Talks to the German People’ of 1807–8 had a similar influence on a concern with ancestry and origins, especially the idea of a primaeval German people and of a primaeval language.

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