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Inked: Human-Horse Apprenticeship, Tattoos, and Time in the Pazyryk World

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Abstract Prior interpretations of the tattoos of nonhuman animals etched upon the preserved human bodies from the Pazyryk archaeological culture of Inner Asia have focused on solely human-generated meanings. This article utilizes an ethnoarchaeological approach to reassess these tattoos, by analogizing the nature and possibilities of human-ridden horse intersubjectivities in the present with those of the past. As enlightened by people who live with horses, including the author, the process of learning to ride can be seen as an interspecies apprenticeship process, where both humans and horses pass along social knowledge as thoughtful actors with defined roles. From this perspective, the horse tattoos are presented as polysemic materializations of the bonds between particular Pazyryk horses and people, of blended identities, and of cosmological values related to time, memory, and belonging. The article concludes that exploring smaller-scale human-nonhuman animal interactions in the present allows for fresh interpretations of similar interactions in the past and provides a means for archaeology to move beyond the objectification of animals as sets of resources or symbols.

Affiliations: 1: Eastern Kentucky University


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