Monday, April 17, 2017

"Anthropology of a Prospector" Melheim and Prescott - part 2

Returning again to the chapter "Exploring new territories - Expanding Frontiers..." which seeks to understand the exploration of Scandinavia by Bell Beakers if interpreting their activity in this region as prospecting.

A Klondike Prospector with Chilkoot (?) Indian packers. (University of Washington)
Melheim and Prescott look to the memoirs of a Klondike prospector, Bill Jones, to gain insight into the high-risk and often unproductive world of prospectors.  They believe the dynamics of exploration, exploitation and relationship-building as a useful guide for the 2nd millennium.
"A striking feature in Jones's account is the often friendly encounters with the local sea mammal- and reindeer-hunting semi-nomadic Chutchki population.  The Chutchki were themselves uninterested in the mineral resources, but provided the prospectors with food, shelter and local clothing (Jones 1927:100-2).  They were already familiar with the English language, guns and alcohol.  Although Jones was a stranger in a new land, the many traders, prospectors and adventurers who had traveled this landscape before him had prepared his way, through information that flowed in the networks between prospectors.  Although not temporally and spatially related, there are shared environmental and material challenges which legitimise using this recent narrative as an analogy for how a BBC prospector on the Scandinavian Peninsula may have gone about his business."
The authors delve into the phases of prospecting, emphasizing that much of actual work is front-loaded into preparatory tasks, such as exploration and surveying.  Makes sense when you compare the time and resources to drill an oil well.  Much of the time is spent in the exploration and geological survey phase.  Even more time is spent firmly establishing legalities such as legal conveyances, easement and mineral rights and sometimes - security.

Bell Beakers traveling outside their core settlements into the distant reaches would have been confronted with similar primitive realities.  At least initially:  easement privileges, permissions to exploit resources, right to trade, logistical support, security.  Remember that Beakers, despite their prowess and pioneering spirit, are throughout their cultural existence numerically disadvantaged and unfamiliar with the territories they enter.  

Like the Chutchki, North Sea farming and fishing societies may have welcomed, or at least tolerated, adventurous foreigners eager to exploit resources and establish better trade.  At least for metal resources, Melheim and Prescott emphasize that Scandinavian metal prospecting didn't require success, and in fact, like the story of Bill Jones and so many Klondike adventurers, it appears that these ores were not fully exploited.

Here's some of the key points that the authors believe would have been important for these explorers.  I've shorten these, but each one is expanded upon in the text.

(1) To look for colourful bedrock typical of copper deposits...
(2) To follow river valleys and river beds
(3) To read the vegetation (for evidence of heavy metals)
(4) To read the geology
(5) The ability to relocate resources after their discovery
This takes us beyond the retarded, two-dimensional understanding of 'priest-kings' digging scary metal out of the ground.  These were highly specialized and time-consuming tasks that required considerable negotiations with the local nations, probably through interpreters.  Many of these efforts proved fruitless, at least the intended industry.
Melheim, Anne Lene & Prescott, Christopher (2016). Exploring New Territories – Expanding Frontiers: Bowmen and Prospectors on the Scandinavia Peninsula in the 3rd–2nd Millennia BC, In Anne Lene Melheim; Håkon Glørstad & Ann Zanette Tsigaridas Glørstad (ed.),  Comparative Perspectives on Past Colonisation, Maritime Interaction and Cultural Integration.  Equinox Publishing.  ISBN 9781781790489.  10.  [Link]

See also "Slettabo: Europe's northernmost beaker.  The BBC in Norway - from black box to historical watershed" 

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