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Maritimity in Prehistoric Scandinavia: Cognitive Domain Formation and the Reconstruction of a Mesolithic Mindset

Christopher J. Cook
Thesis: May 2001
Chair: Dr. Frederick M. Hocker
Nautical Archaeology Program


Scandinavian maritime archaeologists are in agreement that the ship functioned as a powerful symbol for the peoples of the Bronze, Iron and Viking Ages, largely as an outgrowth of the nature of their seafaring society. This symbolism is a mature exemplification of 'maritimity', the conceptual process whereby the sum of cultural adaptations made by a coastal population becomes imbued with meaning. It is hypothesized that this conceptualization of maritimity began as early as the Mesolithic and that the rich, elaborate symbolism involving ships evident in later prehistoric Scandinavia developed in a continuous progression from these Stone Age antecedents. It is posited that this concept of maritimity and its development provided the template that ultimately enabled the ship to rise to its position of symbolic prominence. It is argued that conceptual categories, such as maritimity, form as the result of the feedback generated between the environment and a population's adaptation to it. By examining aspects of Mesolithic settlement and subsistence systems from southern Scandinavia, maritimity is shown to be operating as a functioning category of conceptualization among prehistoric coastally adapted populations. Furthermore this is then used to illuminate aspects of Mesolithic art and ornamentation to proved an interpretive framework for reconstructing their meaning. Additionally, it is felt that the investigation of meaning need no longer be the enterprise of the philosopher but that a proper perspective and focused methodology can enable progress to be made towards an empirical investigation of meaning.

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