Studies on diffusion processes

→ Dr. Silviane Scharl

The diffusion of ideas, techniques and cultural behaviour contributed essentially to the formation of human societies. For the main part, mobility forms the basis of these dispersal processes. In doing so, different forms of mobility have to be discerned. At the one end of the spectrum mobility is based on migration, defined as irreversible movement of a population from one area to another. On the other end of the spectrum the transfer of ideas and knowledge are to be found, including mobility based on returning to the point of origin.

These different types of mobility closely correlate with the concrete course of transfer processes. They influence the rate of diffusion as well as different stages, which are to be passed. Next to mobility, further factors have to be considered affecting this process, as for example population density, connectivity between population groups or social differentiation within a society. These aspects are tied to the overall question whether diffusion processes exhibit regular patterns. For prehistoric contexts, neither of these questions has been analysed systematically, yet. So far, few papers on the diffusion of selected technological or economic innovations have been published. Notably, the diffusion of metallurgy (e.g. Pernicka 1990, Snodgrass 1980, Strahm 1997) – copper as well as bronze or iron – and the diffusion of agricultural techniques beyond the central European loess belt (Rowly-Conwy/Zvelebil 1984) have been analysed in this regard. Yet, archaeological research lacks in a systematic research of innovation transfer in prehistoric societies which could form the basis for the development of a super ordinate model for diffusion processes.

The cursory study of existing diffusion models, however, uncovers a comparable underlying structure. In the case studies cited above, innovation transfer is reconstructed as a process, which does not proceed continuously but in definable steps or stages. Moreover, the course of the process shows a comparable structure, generally starting with a phase of sporadic import or first knowledge transfer which finally leads to an independent manufacturing or full implementation of the innovation.

The aim of the current study is the development of a super ordinate model for diffusion processes based on the comparing analysis of selected case studies. For this purpose the course of the diffusion process itself, underlying patterns as well as particular determining factors have to be analysed in detail. The focus is on chronological and spatial development patterns as much as on the specific environmental, economic as well as social and cultural context of prehistoric innovation diffusion. The interaction of diffusion and determining factors constitutes a central question.

The contribution of this study to the research objectives of the SFB 806 is twofold: the study of innovation transfer contributes to the understanding of different forms of mobility in human societies on the one hand. We have to be aware, that the transfer of knowledge can stimulate migration. Specific knowledge of agrarian techniques has, for example, encouraged the colonisation of new regions and landscapes. On the other hand, theoretical concepts on diffusion processes provide an important basis for different case studies analysed within the CRC 806.