Petrified life or living stone? The problems of categorisation exemplified by fossils found at Stone Age sites in Rogaland, Norway

Astrid Johanne Nyland


During archaeological excavations, artefacts are collected, tagged and stored. Based on these, archaeologists interpret peoples’ social identity, relations and even world view. However, a narrow range of ‘natural objects’ are also collected, often if perceived as essentially different from the surrounding gravel or debris; that is, if odd or beautiful enough to the excavator. Fossilised Sea-urchins (Echinoidea) are such objects and have been recovered from hunter-gatherer-fisher coastal sites dated to Mesolithic and Neolithic. They are predominantly found in refuse layers and floor contexts. In this brief article, based on finds of fossils at recent excavations in Rogaland county, Norway, the fossils are considered as illustrative of the fluidity and transformability of life in a Mesolithic ontology that avoids the separation of nature and culture. Hence, life is stone, and stone is life. Contrasting this is the archaeological practice of separating ‘cultural’ from ‘natural’. Does this limit our understanding of life in the Stone Age?

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