Posted by: Johan Normark | November 2, 2010

Water and material objects

The second level of my five “plateaus” of water as archaeological material focuses on water and material objects, buildings, etc. Water has been used to form more solid materials such as buildings (through the use of concrete, mortar, plaster and stucco) and ceramics. If the multiplicity of limestone marl is mixed with the multiplicity of water, they retain their morphologies. However, by intensive heating or prolonged slaking, their morphologies change and they reemerge as plaster which is a new multiplicity that connects with walls through intensive plastering activities (which of course includes human agents as constituent parts of the emergent assemblage) (Normark 2010; Villaseñor 2009).

The limestone itself is the result of sediment deposits on a Cretaceous and Tertiary seafloor that eventually became solid. Embedded in this bedrock are chert nodules that can be used to form lithic tools. Organic materials, such as wood and leather, that also contain water, were used to attach the lithics to shafts. The emergent tool combined several intensities and temporalities into a new assemblage, such as the axe. Hence, the durations of multiple parts in Chertan assemblage comingled in the formation of a new assemblage, what Serres and Latour (2002) calls a garland of time. Although water once was the catalyst for the formation of the parts of the axe, the new assemblage worked without water as a catalyst.

After the emergence of a ceramic vessel, as described earlier, it also became a container for water in the formation of assemblages of larger scales but shorter duration. Liquid water was used in a short-term ritual event or feasting (Lecount 2001). With a ceramic vessel water could be deterritorialized from larger bodies of water or be captured from rain and be reterritorialized at another location and with another material.

Focus will be on how materials merge into new material objects with water as a catalyst or ingredient. Although the manufactured objects in their turn also deterritorialized or territorialized water, the water sources also affected the morphogenesis of certain objects. For example, the presence of limited water sources in Yucatan made the water source a larger scale public domain which would have encouraged the use of higher-quality vessels as status markers (Fry 2003). Hence, water in scarce supply territorialized status as an expression of the water-ceramic vessel assemblage.

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