Dr. Andrea Babbi

E-mail: ababbi@uni-mainz.de

Project title: "Perception of humans and the Mediterranean Sea through the archaeological record and the written sources (early first Millennium BC): Theoretical reflections about the shaping, internalization, and dissemination of concepts"


The analysis of the early representations of both humans and nature, as well as their conceptualization, represent a real challenge when dealing with ‘cultural’ and chronological horizons almost completely lacking in philological sources. This is the case of the rich and varied archaeological evidence stemming from the Tyrrhenian and Aegean regions dating back to the Early Iron Age and the early Orientalizing Period (about 925-680 BC). Nevertheless, following the semiotic studies, the findings and their varied features can be considered as ‘morphemes’ of an unspoken and unwritten ‘language’. By interacting with each other and interplaying with the surrounding archaeological context, these morphemes set up varied and articulated ‘sentences’. Such sentences conveyed concepts and values that were easily understood by members of the social body because they shared the either sacred or secular practices on a daily basis through which concepts and values, i.e. the reality, were represented and communicated. Furthermore, thanks to their physicality such sentences guaranteed to permanently fix the transient conceptual framework in human existence which is reality itself. Following the above-mentioned reflections, the three following research themes will be taken into consideration.

Topic A: Perception of the body through the treatment of the corpse in ancient Italy

In ancient times, the corpse was the most powerful and unique remaining symbol of a person after his death, capable of reclaiming recollections of the same conceived as an aggregate of meanings (values, events, feelings, memories). The inexorable decay of the corpse entailed the capital risk of a fatal loss of this meaningful aggregate that jeopardized the existential balance of the survivors. According to these considerations, the survivors would undertake some representative strategies, and ritual practices that granted a new balanced relationship with the dead person. The human remains could be revered to ‘perform the presence of an absence’ (H. Belting, Image, medium, body: a new approach to iconology. Critical Inquiry 31, 2, 2005, 302-319) and, by doing so, the above-mentioned aggregates (the survivors) were preserved from oblivion which in turn enabled them to still assert ‘I was, I am, I will be’.

GOAL: to fathom the grounds for the different burial practices and procedures, and try to investigate the varied perceptions of the body through the human remains and their interaction with the realia in the middle-Tyrrhenian district of the Italian Peninsula.

Topic B: Perception of the body through the anthropomorphic figurines in ancient Italy and Crete

Between the very end of the Bronze Age and the Iron Age, the use of human figurines spread and thrived both in the Italian Peninsula and in Crete. Figurines’ typologies and features in these contexts vary significantly, and from their analysis, a quite multifaceted picture emerges. This evidence has never been considered in regards of the aim to ponder the perception of the body. Keeping this in mind, not only the objective features and specific details, as well as the archaeological context, will be taken into consideration, but a cognitive approach will be followed. Finally, reflections stemming from anthropological studies, intuitions elaborated in the psychological field, and the latest discoveries achieved by neurosciences, will be tested in order to try to approach the figurines from unusual perspectives.

GOAL: to enucleate recurrent iconological elements that could throw some light on both the perception of the figurines (i.e. the way in which they were handled), and the reciprocal entanglement between the objective reality and metaphorical realities (i.e. why the figurines were shaped in their specific ways and how the figurines in turn contributed to shaping reality).

Topic C: Perception of the Mediterranean Sea and its Islands through both written and archaeological sources

While approaching the perception of the Mediterranean Sea and its Islands through the prism offered by the written sources at disposal for the span of time considered by this proposal, a dichotomy of sorts rises. Both the sea and the islands can, on the one hand, be perceived as a sort of epitome of the beyond, on the other hand, they might present a network of long-lasting waterways connecting human and spatial nodes, the Network Theory, accordingly. In order to explain this polarization, the different passages drawn from the written sources will be examined and paralleled with the material evidence passed down by the communities settled ‘like ants or frogs around a pond’ (Plato Phaedo 109b).

GOAL: to go beyond the simplistic contraposition between the above-mentioned contrasting interpretations of the seascapes, and try to support a more polyhedric perception of the Mediterranean Sea and its Islands thanks to the archaeological Sources.