The experience of change has a decisive influence on all spheres of modern life. Not only gradual change, but the need for reforms and the unceasing search for innovations amid global competition shape consciousness within society and politics. Innovations are regarded as vital if the future is to be successfully managed and if standards of living and social stability are to be maintained, and therefore enormous efforts are invested in the pursuit of such advances. These days, innovations are primarily conceived of as being technological; the criticism of naïve faith in technology, which was more pronounced in the recent past, has given way to a more differentiated attitude which supposes that urgent problems are indeed to be solved above all by new, 'intelligent' technologies. At the same time broad sections of the population today feel uncertain and anxious about the future because of the pressure for change that is being brought to bear on central structures which have hitherto been taken for granted. These observations draw attention to the fact that technology and innovations are embedded in a social context and their acceptance is dependent on the prevailing mentality.
In marked contrast to the situation today, pre-modern cultures appear slow or all but static as regards their development. In many cases the actual circumstances of life remained virtually unchanged within individual generations. Static, of course, is not to be confused with stable: economic capacity often permitted nothing more than the preservation of a fragile status quo with little crisis tolerance, meaning that wars or natural catastrophes could result in drastic setbacks. Progress that had been laboriously achieved over generations could be wiped out at one fell swoop.
Nevertheless, development impulses and innovations of all kinds play a central role in pre-modern societies, too. They are indeed a particularly interesting phenomenon on account of their rare occurrence. For where the pace of development is essentially slow, the question of what the necessary conditions are for the creation and diffusion of innovations is all the more intriguing.
There is no doubt that innovations played an important role in early human history. The set of new technologies collectively referred to by Gordon Childe's pithy term Neolithic Revolution radically transformed prehistoric man's way of life and means of subsistence. The invention of the wheel in the 4th millennium is felt to be so fundamental indeed that it has entered the language in the form of idiomatic expressions. The 'invention' of democracy in classical Athens is a fixed element in the traditional narrative of European history. The emergence of Christianity in the early Roman imperial era marks the beginning of long conflict with the traditional cults, which ultimately helped bring about profound change in all spheres of the ancient world. So while the importance of innovations to the emergence of social and political organization is uncontested, in modern archaeological research the connection between them has hardly been explored. The various branches of archaeology are however eminently well suited to the task, given the long-term perspective that is necessary in order for new comparative insights into the difference of innovative processes to be gained by means of cultural comparisons.
Rather than a traditional progressive history of technological inventions, what we will seek to clarify is the significance various kinds of technology have for cultural systems. Hence the term 'innovation' here does not only denote technological innovations in the strict sense, but rather any new thing that comes into being in other cultural spheres. The emergence of new religious cults is part of this as much as the development of types of buildings or the creation of new public institutions. We propose that technological and other innovations should be considered from the point of view of cultural history, not primarily as functional solutions to problems, but rather in terms of their social and symbolic dimension. Social structures and innovations are interdependent. The possibility, and concrete development, of an innovation is contingent upon the structures of a given society, and the application and dissemination of the innovation has an impact on the social fabric. A judgemental way of thinking and the notion of linear progress should be avoided. What is deemed to be 'progress' is in fact an expression of period-specific values both in the context of the period being studied and in the researcher's own perspective, and should therefore be subjected to critical reflection. Consequently our approach will also look at the rejection of innovation and opposition to it. The strong traditionalism of many pre-modern societies must be borne in mind in addition to the importance of innovation as an engine of social change.
In view of the concrete working procedure it is advantageous to focus on two chief areas.
This area will be devoted to the study of the history of technology in the narrow sense. Concentrating on two central natural resources and man's exploitation of them is consistent with the envisaged cross-linking of research projects already underway within the DAI. It is clear that archaeology will have to draw on current discussions about the cultural history of technologies in other cultural sciences.
a) Water as a resource
Great importance has always been attached to the control of water, a basic precondition of life, in the crystallization of social formations, as is shown by the ongoing debate about the role of the irrigational economy in the emergence of states in Mesopotamia. The mechanisms and technologies, the social prerequisites and consequences of ancient water management in the civilization centres of the great alluvial river valleys (e.g. Nile, Euphrates/Tigris, Indus, Yangtze, etc.) and the major oases are generally well known thanks to archaeology, construction history research and/or written accounts. There were far-reaching consequences for nature and mankind resulting in particular from hydraulic engineering innovations in arid regions of Egypt and Mesopotamia where water resources were not available all year round. The early high cultures that flourished there were dependent on irrigation, and yet corresponding find-assemblages frequently are not identified or their significance in terms of cultural development is underestimated.
Within the DAI, projects concerning the issue of water management are in progress above all in the Commission for the Archaeology of Non-European Cultures and the Orient Department. Several ongoing projects in a variety of different cultures are examining similar questions pertaining to water management, and they could benefit from a comparative perspective. What appears particularly worthwhile is a transregional comparative study of the adaptation of human behaviour to specific environmental conditions. As an extension of the cluster, consideration could be given to the question of whether knowledge about hydraulic engineering in the ancient world could be of any use in solving present-day water management problems.
b) Metal as a resource
Metalle spielten in der Prähistorie und der Antike eine bedeutende Rolle für die Verbesserung von Geräten und Waffen und als Darstellungsmittel sozialen Rangs. Die Epochenbenennung in der Prähistorischen Archäologie ist seit dem 19. Jh. an die jeweils charakteristische Verwendung einzelner Metalle angelehnt (Kupfer-, Bronze-, Eisenzeit).
In prehistory and antiquity, metals were important in manufacturing improved tools and weapons and also as a means of demonstrating social status. The classification of periods in prehistoric archaeology has been based since the 19th century on the characteristic use of certain materials - copper, bronze, stone - in certain epochs. Technological innovations in metallurgy and resulting from metallurgical advances were often of far-reaching significance. The crucial role played by metals in the fundamental transformation of the Neolithic economy and the development of political power has been a matter of debate for a long time. In later periods, too, great importance attaches to the control of natural resources, the extraction of metal from ores, the methods of working it and its use. Here a variety of projects can be brought together in a debate that seeks to determine to what extent innovations in metallurgy impacted on society. Research projects with a bearing on these issues are already being conducted, in particular by the Eurasia Department and the Madrid Department.
Given the great breadth of this field it would be reasonable to concentrate on two central areas where the interdependence of technological-functional innovation and socio-economic development is central.
a) Social and political institutions
The emergence of institutionalized chiefs in Neolithic acephalous societies was an innovation which was probably crucial for the organization of mining or the mobilization of labour. The development or adoption of writing is of particular significance as a decisive developmental step by early societies. The state or certain forms of polity such as the Greek polis were innovative organizational units with lasting consequences for further cultural development. These examples - and many others that could be cited - underline the importance of institutional innovations throughout historical periods. Several projects within the DAI are concerned with individual aspects of innovative processes of this sort, and could benefit from intensified exchange.
b) Mobility and knowledge transfer
Innovations are sometimes the consequence of genuine inventions in the sense of a conscious creative act by particular individuals; in other cases they come about within a certain period as the sum of many small steps, the result of which ultimately makes itself felt as a definite development. Innovations of the latter category enjoy broad social acceptance from the beginning as collective developments; they originate from everyday practice, so to speak, and are incorporated effortlessly into it. By contrast, inventions are often products of individual minds or of an intellectual avant-garde and in order for them to be adopted they require a certain amount of deliberate promotion. The inventors themselves may moreover be uninterested in any practical application of what they have devised. From today's perspective it might seem puzzling that so many important inventions and discoveries made by scientists in antiquity should never have been realised and put to practical use. This example illustrates the fact that the diffusion of innovations can be impeded not only by distrustfulness or opposition, but also by plain indifference. Why some innovations are willingly adopted and others not is an interesting aspect of the history of mentalities. In the diffusion of innovations, media of mobility such as the wheel or the domesticated horse can play a role, as can institutional forms of mobility. Mobility moreover is connected with knowledge transfers on various levels - from technological and social innovations to religious knowledge. It is important not to lose sight of the possibility of parallel development at different places.