Frontiers are contact zones between cultures. The upper Rhine river valley was just such a contact zone when the Romans arrived in the first century BC. Over the next 500 years the Romans engaged in a complex cultural interaction with the non-Roman inhabitants that eventually resulted in a creolized frontier society. A model derived from Roman authors suggests that this society was replaced by the arrival of the Alamanni in the late third century AD who, in turn, were replaced by the Merovingians in the sixth century.
The replacement model of cultural interaction in the upper Rhine is tested using a methodology based in Darwinian and meme theory. Seriations were created of stylistic elements from ceramic vessel assemblages from 14 archaeological sites in southwest Germany. The seriations suggest that non-Roman inhabitants in the first century AD did adopt aspects of Roman culture but only in the realm of emotionally charged ritual. For their day-to-day existence, the artifacts they used appear to have changed little and they maintained an identity adopted centuries before. In evolutionary terms, these practices had a high fitness relative to the cost of learning new ceramic manufacturing techniques.
In the third and fourth Centuries, the Alamanni arrived and in the archaeological record, we see a proliferation of new style elements and forms. Now it appears that peoples readily adopted new means of expressing identity overturning the old forms. However, no one element had fitness great enough to invade and dominate as Kammstrich had in the first century. With the infiltration of people from central Europe and the continued presence of a Mediterranean culture on the Rhine the dynamism of this frontier context increased on a grand scale. Finally, with the arrival of the Merovingians in the sixth and seventh centuries, the number of style elements is almost too great to count and, while reflecting a reduction of overall fitness of the memes, the means to express identity expanded.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. May 2010. Major: Anthropology. Advisor: Peter S. Wells. 1 computer file (PDF); x, 282 pages, appendices I-II.
Bangs, Eric William.
Threads of identity: the persistence and change of expressed memetic variants of the Suebi and Alamanni in Southwest Germany, the first century BC through the sixth century AD..
Retrieved from the University of Minnesota Digital Conservancy,
Content distributed via the University of Minnesota's Digital Conservancy may be subject to additional license and use restrictions applied by the depositor.