Vasić’s law of periphery

  • Monika Milosavljević Department of Archaeology Faculty of Philosophy University of Belgrade
  • Aleksandar Palavestra Department of Archaeology Faculty of Philosophy University of Belgrade
Keywords:
Miloje M. Vasić, Vinča, ritual, periphery, continuity, archaeological epistemology, history of archaeology

Abstract

The understanding of the ways in which the pioneer of Serbian archaeology Miloje M. Vasić explained cultural changes is important for the archaeological tradition we work in. Consequently, the aim here is to detect the weak spots in the epistemological foundations of the Serbian archaeology and to enable the improvement of the conceptual tools we use. Vasić’s entire interpretive concept of the praehistoric Danubian valley periphery was constructed before the World War I, and stated that it was decisively influenced by the religious ideas from the cult centres of the Aegean, and by the direct contact with the Greek colonists as well. Searching for the explanations for the then unknown material culture of Vinča, he chose cult objects because he believed these objects preserved conservative practices and reflected conservative tendencies of communities. The conclusions founded upon cult objects Vasić transformed into generalizations related to all other phenomena. Having chosen his sample, he used specific methods for analysis of archaeological material, developing a complex mechanism to explain how in the periphery these original ideas were transformed beyond recognition. He used stylistic analysis and method of groups, proceeding to the Kopienkritik method, developed by his teacher Adolf Furtwangler. Just like written sources are valorised by their place in the chain of reproduction form the original, in the same manner certain objects represent forms whose distance from the centre can be estimated. However, Vasić further complicated his equation, by introducing at least one more force operating upon the degeneration of objects on the periphery – the influence of deep substrate levels of the peripheral cultures. This intersection of forces may be labelled as Vasić’s “law of periphery”, according to which the corruption of material culture in the periphery is influenced by the distance from the centre and the conservatism of the deeper popular layers. Although he linked this profound traditionalism of population to the survivals, in Vasić’s interpretive key these in fact represent the mutated form of the concept of survivals, borrowed from unilineal evolutionism, and are more linked to substrate, according to which continuity is supposed to be monitored, than to evolutionary phases of development. He identified this mutated concept of survivals and substrate in folk customs, the most famous being the recognition of the Dionysian ritual in the ethnographic present of his time. This manner of chronologically and spatially unlimited analogical reasoning inevitably led to erroneous interpretations, with long-lasting epistemological consequences in Serbian archaeology.

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Published
2016-11-02
How to Cite
Milosavljević, Monika, and Aleksandar Palavestra. 2016. “Vasić’s Law of Periphery”. Issues in Ethnology and Anthropology 11 (3), 775–808. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.21301/eap.v11i3.7.

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