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Mind over Matter, and Matter over Mind: An archaeology of object attachment

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Published on Mar 2, 2019

From a precious wedding ring to an old battered teddy bear, it is widely accepted that humans are capable of forming strong emotional bonds with objects which can last a lifetime. This phenomenon should be of great interest to archaeology, a field based around the study of material culture. Yet, current archaeological analyses demonstrate little, if any, understanding of the emotional significance of everyday objects, giving the impression that past populations had no emotional connection to material culture. However, by drawing on recent work in psychology and neuroscience, we can gain fascinating insights into the relationship between the mind, emotion and material culture. This paper will discuss the cognitive mechanisms of object attachment, explaining why we grow attached to certain objects and why this is an important avenue of research for archaeologists. It will focus on the impact of object attachment upon human prosociality and exploration, as well as discussing how an object attachment framework might be incorporated into existing approaches to material culture. An understanding and appreciation of object attachment provides a new way of studying the mind in the past, realising the complicated emotional nature of our attachments to objects.

Taryn Bell (University of York)

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