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Book review: Places in Between

The concept of the border as a metaphor has been widely exploited. “Border Theory” is a concept that has been developed, critiqued, and rethought over the years.

According to David Mullen, it is remarkable that this body of theory has largely been ignored by archaeologists, who have instead preferred to examine social and cultural boundaries, frontiers, marginality, and ethnicity as defining concepts to, in particular, hard borders.

This book, which grew out of a session at TAG in 2008, explores some of the possibilities offered by the study of borders from an archaeological point of view and presents new perspectives on borders, both metaphorical and geographical, from locations as diverse as Somerset and China, from the Neolithic to the Cold War.

Places in Between: The Archaeology of Social, Cultural and Geographical Borders and Borderlands

Mullen reminds the reader of some of archaeology’s swing-and-miss attempts at defining the indefinable. Quoting easily from Anthony Cohen, he reminds us that some places have no true structural borders and that it’s the communities of meaning that matter.

Social, cultural, and geopolitical separations are fluid, even porous. The stories contained in this book are the stories of these regions … and the people within.

Table of contents

1. Border Crossings: the archaeology of borders and borderlands. An introduction. (David Mullin)
2. All quiet on the eastern front. (Anna McWilliams)
3. Defining conflict-zone health: The impact of stress on Medieval border populations in Britain. (Jaime Jennings)
4. Barrows and the boundary between the living and the dead. (Elise Fraser & Richard Bradley)
5. The Neolithic and Bronze Age use of caves in western Britain. (Jodie Lewis)
6. Sleipnir and his siblings: some thoughts on Loki´s monstrous offspring. (Anne Monikander)
7. Constructing and deconstructing Roman city walls: the contribution of urban enceintes to an understanding of the concept of borders. (Isobel Pinder)
8. Historical and archaeological views of the Liao borderlands in NE China. (Naomi Standen & Gwen Bennett)
9. Towards an archaeology of borders and borderlands. (David Mullin)

When reading one must remember that one person’s frontier is another person’s homeland (Lightfoot and Martinez. 1995).

Culture, ritual, ethnicity, even habitus, matter. But to what extent? And why do we group certain peoples together?

Mullen wags his finger at shoddy archaeological “truisms” and asks for a deeper understanding of these regions, the people that have dwelt there (at least for a time), and the work that is being done to study them.

It’s a diverse and complex read for a diverse and complex topic.

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