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This statement defines an arehaeologieaJ dilemma: a1though style is

integral to most arehaeologieal research, It lacks meaning. Either it is
explieitly defined as a negative category (e.g., aspects of artifaet variability
which cannot be attributed to other agencies such as productive advantage.
mechartieal Iactors, or ehanee), or itis unmanageably multidimensional (e.g.,
aspects of artifaet variability whlch are congruent with speciflc areas, time
periods, or sets of personnel regardless of the cause Ior this congruence).
It is a symptom of a more general malaise that most stylistic analysis
proceeds without a c1ear notion of what is being measured and what this
may be sensitive too Style is commonly treated as if it neither articu-
lated with other cultural variables nor bestowed any adaptive advantages on
The meaning of style has so many ramlflcations that an attempt at a compre-
hensive definltion must either arrive at a vague theoretical statement or become
Involved in an extenslve review of speciflc usages (Whallon, 1968:224).
"Style" and "Stylistic" Analysis
Much of what archaeologlsts eommonly label "stylstic" behavior may
be viewed as a strategy of information exchange. Thls interpretation accorn-
modates the traditional archaeologicaJ notions of style, but it is more
inclusive. It overcomes sorne of the conflning theoretical perspectives of
traditional styllstic analyss, and It may stimulate research
nto the evolution and multiple articulations of stylistic behavior. I wiJ I
review sorne of the shortcomings of traditlonal approaches to this area of
artifact variability, draw attention tu sorne of the functions of stylistic
behavior, and evaluate these functions against a set of ethnographic mate-
rials. Stylistic analysls has beco me a boring routine whlch rests on shaky
foundations. Thls paper is an attempt to offer an alternative and to add
sorne perspective to the traditionaJ approaches.
H. Martin Wobst
Unlversity of Massachuset ts
Like other populations, human populations maintain thernselves by ex-
changing matter, energy, and inforrnation with their environment (l.e.,
Material Culture and Style
enculturation or acculturatlon; by disturbances in previously existing encul-
turation equilibria (temporal dlmension); and by breaks In communication
density (spatial dlmension).
This line of reasoning does not requlre operational Inforrnation about
the enculturative milieu in which a particular style is perpetrated and
passed along, if we want to dernonstrate the persisten ce or disturbance of
cornrnunicative horneostasls. Rather conveniently, the paradigm perrnits us
to measure the degree of communicative equilibrium directly, I.e., by
rneans of the temporo-spatial distribution of stylistic form and structure.
So equipped, we can rnake and support statements about cornmunication
density or socio-cultural isolation, and about disturbances in these variables.
And we can utilize style lo identify temporal and spatial socio-cultural
discontinuities, and even socio-cultural units. At ths point, the goal of
"stylistlc" analysis has been achieved, and we can tum our research efforts
to more Interesting behaviors.
This fairly standardized, though polerncally exaggerated, routlne leaves
IIttle If any room to questlon the articulations of styllstic form In the use
lfe of an artifact; to elicit the potential advantages that stylistlc behavior
of different sorts may bestow on its practltloners; to investigate the
processes by which stylistic behavior is calibrated and equilibrated arnong
interacting individuals; to determine why there are rnarked differences in
stylistic variability between different c1asses of material culture even within
a given society; and to find out why sorne artifacts, more than others, are
predestined to covary with socio-cultural boundaries. Even the rnost irnagi-
native uses of style in archaeological research designs of the last decade (for
exarnple, Deetz, 1965; Hill, 1968; Longacre, 1968; Whallon, 1966) have
contributed J ittle to our general knowledge of stylistic dynamics and
stylistic behavior. As long as we do not know more about the functions of
styJ istic behavior, in terrns of Its systemic articulations, the use of stylistic
variability in archaeological research rests on shaky foundations. This know-
ledge will not be accumulated as a by-product of tradi tional stylistic
analysis. Rather it will be generaled only by means of problem directed
research in which styJ istic behavior is the explanandum, and in which style
is more realistically inlegrated into the systernic rnatrix of which it Iorrns a
Stylistic Beavior and lnformation Exchange
human populations. While archaeologists tend to interpret much formal
variability in artifacts as "functional"-in the sense of systemic articulation,
in a rnathematical sense, or in terrns of adaptive value-"stylistic" varia-
bility ls usually contrasted with functional aspects of artifact form (for
example, Sackett 1973: 321). The "non-functionality" of style is reinforced
by other considerations: archaeologist_s __ d~riy~tyle. alrnost _exclusj_vl,!lyf~QITl_
the communication contexts of enculturation and acculturation, via learn-
ing-ti;~orY. -'-lltis derivation discourages us f;om investigating the articula-
tions of style in the production and in the use J ife of an artifact. For, if
style is appJ ied by a Skinnerian automaton and thus given before an
artifact is made , nothing is gained by pondering the articulations of style
during the use J ife of artifacts. Style then becornes a strangely sclf-
contained, a-cultural, a-systemic variable within the system that is culture.
It relates solely to processes which precede its sociocultural articulations,
so rnuch so, that these articulations are irrelevant to the persis-
lence and change of particular stylistic regularities. In this sense, the
traditional paradigrns of stylistic analysis are self-fulfilJ ing and circular:
style is "acquired" before itis applied to artifacls and before these artifacts
articulate with other cultural processes; therefore , the articulations of style
are irrelevant lo the dynarnics of stylistic behavior, and style can be treated
as if itwere a phenornenon without function.
If the styles that individuals or social units perpetrale were acquired
quasi-aulomatically and if style lacked function, it would require rather
complex logical constructions to bring stylistic hypotheses within the reach
of archaeological test implications. On the other hand, the contexts of
enculturation (as, for exarnple , child training and education) are so weakly
and remotely reflected in archaeological rernains that alternative hypotheses
could not be confidently rejected as predictors of a given "stylistic"
archaeological form and structure. Thus, stylistic behavior would be virtu-
ally naccessible to archaeological problem solving at the operational level
cornrnonly assume d by style analysts (enculturation and learning) and the
paradigrn would be alrnost irnpossible to falsify through archaeological
Instead, stylistic behavior is usually investigated at such a broad level of
generalization that enculturation and learning are alrnost irnmaterial lo the
lruth value of stylistic hypotheses: the rnaintenance of particular styles
lhrough time is dclegaled to horneostasis in cornrnunication processes
within a given social unit; uniforrnity through space is taken lo imply high
communication density over the area in question. Given this paradigrn,
changes in particular styles can be accounted for by random errors in
H. Martin wobst
The Distinctive Features of Stylistic Behavior
The working definition 1 will employ in the remainder of this paper
equates style with that par of the formal variability in material culture
that can be related lo the participation of artifacls in processes of informa-
tion exchange. This definition does not cover Ihe totality of phenomena
presently included under the definltion of style in the archaeological
literature. Yet it removes a significant proportion of stylislic behavior from
its present , custornary pedestal of processual isolation and makes it condu-
cive to problem solving research. lt avoids the semantic muddle of counter-
posing "style " and "function" by explicilly acknowledging Ihal rnuch
stylistic behavior does have functions, at least in the sense of articulation
with other variables in the cultural and ecosyslem; it also invites investiga-
tions into Ihe adaptive advantages style may convey and into the stresses
Ihat act upon it. Since rnost animals engage in inforrnation exchange, Ibis
definition allows for a broader ecological perspective on stylislic behavior ,
and accommodates research on the evolution of this mode of cornmunl-
cation among the horninlds.
Information exchange includes all those communication events in which
a message is emitted or in which a message is received. For any given
message emitted there is at least one polential receiver who may intercept
the message (including iIlegitimate receivers; compare wilh Otte, 1974:
385). While the emission of information of necessity precedes its reception.
reception does not actually need to take place (as long as there is a
potential receiver], and emission and reception may be separated from each
olher spatially and temporally. If we restrict ourselves to the intrahuman
realrn, the rnodes of reception include at least the senses of vsion, hearing,
smell, taste, and touch, while the rnodes of emission range from verbal
energy and matter exchanges, and these processes contribute lo artifact
formo But there is very Iittle explicit theory lo assure archaeologists Ihat
the articulation of artlfacts in prehistoric information exchange is
knowable, and even less is known about speclfic relationships betwecn the
form of artifacts and their roles in information exchange. When Itcomes to
the "adaptive advantage" (as defned here) that artifacts bestow in informa-
tion exchanges, one encounters an alrnost complete void in the archaeolo-
gical literature. It is my contention that this void offers sorne promising
avenues for archaeological research, particularly if we realize that mueh of
the stylistic behavior archaeologists are accustomed to measure and inter-
pret is congruent with information exehange.
321 Stylistlc Behavior and Information Exchange
other human populalions, and the biologieal and abiotlc world around
thern) as well as among their members (Flannery, J 972; Rappaport, 1971).
For human populatlons, these life-supporting exehanges are facilitated by
the ability to symbol (White, 1959), which eonsiderably enhanees the
amount, diversity, and dynamism of learned behavior relative to genetically
inherited behaviors, Learned behavior and symboling ability greatly inerease
the eapacity of human operalors to interaet with their environment
through the medium of artifaets. This eapacity in turn allows human
populalions to respond more readily to environmental stress; it improves
their abilily lo harness and process energy and matter; and it diversifies
their options for information exchange. Material culture thus participa tes in
and enhances exchanges of energy, matter, and information in the human
populatlons that fashion it.
The role of material culture in exchanges of rnatter and energy, for
exarnple in the extraetion, proeessing, use and consumption of raw mate-
rials and processed items, has received rnuch attention from archaeologists.
Arehaeologieal theory and practice are heavily dependen t on the assurnp-
tion that these reas of artifact articulation contribute in a major way lo
the formal variability and structure of material culture. That this assurnp-
tion Is reasonable within limits has been demonstrated frequently (for
hunter-gatherer arehaeology see for example: Binford, 1972; Binford and
Binford, 1966; Clark and Haynes, 1970; Feustel, 1973; Sernenov, 1964;
1968). Most archaeologists would agree that the articulation of artifacts in
exchanges of energy and matter is definable; that we can isolate the aspects
of form contributed by. this articulation; and that we can generate testable
hypotheses either about the systemic context given their formal variability,
or about formal variability given their prehistoric systemic context. Equally
broadly shared is the assumption that artifacts convey "adaptive advantage"
on their users in exchanges of matter or energy. By this 1mean that they
help to assure survival, they help to satlsfy vital needs and indispensable
requirernents, and they help to provide for, and equilibra te, certain optirnal
conditons of mantenance in the face of random, cyclical or directional
change in the variables people interact with (compare with Rappaport,
We are leaving the area of archaeological consensus when we consider
the role of artifacts in information exchange as, for example , in the
symboling of territory or social boundaries, in the context of ritual, in
the support of ethnicity, or in maintaining and strengthening mating
networks, exehange relationsltips, and structural poses. No doubt most
artifacts articulate wth inforrnation exchange processes, in addition to
H. Martin Wobst 320
These distinctive features suggesl a relatively narrow range of informa-
tion content for stylistic messages. Although potentially any message could
be expressed in this mode, only simple invariate and recurrent messages will
norrnally be transrnitted stylistically. The following broad Iypes of informa-
tion appear to satisfy these reslrictions particularly well: ~es~ages of
emotional stale, dentication (c1ass affinity, social group affiliation , and
position along ranked scale), messages of authorship and ow~~rship, ~es~a-
ges of pre- and proscription, messages of religious and political objectifi-
cation, and deictic messages. While these categories are not exhaustive, they
do include the most cornrnon contents of stylislic messages. Table I
counterposes each type of message content with sarnple messages and with
some American artifacts which convey these messages.
It is interesting that the utility of styJ istic messaging decreases the c1~scr
emilter and potential recelvers are acquainted with one another. For , if,a
nurse or a general were communicating their occupational status lo their
family in the stylistic mode , the message soon would becorne re.dundant.
There are few rnessages which would not be known already, or wluch could
not be communicated at lower cost in other modes of messaging, in the
contexl of the household. Stylistic messages gain in value, if the potential
receivership is nol partial to the most intimate life experiences and ,b~-
havioral peculiarities of the message emitter. Regardless of cont~nl, styl_'stlc
messages gain in utilily relative to olher modes, if the polenllal recelvers
have little opportunity to receive the message otherwise, bul neverlheless
Content and Functional Matrix of Stylistic Behavior
the cost of both reception and emission will be relative to alternative
modes of informalion transfer. ,
The frequency of the anticipated message events is only one of t.he
variables that delimit the relative COSIS of stylistic behavior. The cornplexitv
and- variability of the message are al least as important. l f the messages t?
be conveyed are highly variable, the cost per message event becornes prohi-
bitively expensive in the stylistic rnode, since modification of artifact form
(the cost intensive aspect of stylistic behavior) would have to accompany
each message modification. The more standardized the rnessage, the more
the frequency variable reduces the cost per message evenl. If the message
conveyed is very complex (and neither frequenl nor standardized), both the
inilial cosl of artifact produclion and the cost of decoding the message
rnay become prchibitive. Thus, the simpler the message, the lower the
relative cost per message event will be.
Stylisttc Behavior and lnformatian Exchange
behavior through a variety of non-verbal behaviors. With their vocabulary
of signs, signals, and syrnbols, rnessage contents satisfy the totality of
human cornrnunicative needs. Any human behavior involves at least poten-
tial information exchange. Thus, the context of message transmission is as
diversified as human behavior (see Otte, 1974 for a general review of
signalling systems).
Since artifacts contribute heavily to human survival in energy and matter
exchanges, and since artifact production and use involve at least potential
information exchange, it is not surprising thal human populalions .should
avail thernselves of the option to transrnit messages in the artifact mode,
and that artifact form should be utilized to carry a variety of messages.
There are important differences, however, between the artifact mode and
most other modes of human communication. For example, in the artifact
mode, ernitters can produce messages in the absence of ally receivers, and
these messages can be received without any ernitters physically present.
Once produced, these messages change slower than in other modes. Thus
they require more of a commitment on the part of the ernitter. Conversely,
once the message ls in artifact Iorm, its maintenance does not require
further energy and rnatter. Both emission (artifact use and produclion) and
reception (access to artifact) require access to energy and matter, besides
access to information. This makes it easier to monopolize information
exchange in this mode via certain .artifacts and lo control the ernission of
messages (if this is defined as originally cornrnitting a signal lo the artifacl
mode) by specifying rare matter or costly energy for the signal. Coupled
with the relatve longevity of artifact signals, it also facilitates slandardization
of certain Iypes of rnessages. Finally, messages in artifact mode are received
almost exclusively through the sense of vision, if only because all artifacts
have at least a visual dimension, and the visual dimension of artifacts is
most easily manipulated to take on a rnessage function.
To delineale sorne of its potential functions within the cultural matrix
lt is useful to establish the costs of emission and reception in the stylistic
mode, relative to other rnodes of human information exchange. If ernission
s deflned as the initial production of an artifacl that carries a rnessage
(usually in addition to energy and matter exchange functions), the cost of
message ernission is greater than in the non-stylistic modes. Subsequen tly,
however, the artifact takes over the rnessage emission at J ittle further
energy and matter cost. This greatly reduces the cost of emission and
reception, since the signal has great .relative longevity, does not change
rapidly, and can be made portable and thus broadcast widely. The more
frequent lhe message event in wruch a given arlifact is ulilized, lhe lower
H. Martin Wobst 322
Goodyear Blimp. Exaggeralion
of messages 1 through 6.
are lik.ely lo encounter it and are able lo decode it. This circumscribes a
potential !arget of receivers in!ermediale in social distance lo the emitter of
the message: not loo c1ose-since the message usually would be known
a.lready or generally could be more easily Iransmitted in other comrnunica-
!ton modes, and not too distant-since decoding or encounlering the
message could no! be assured (Fig. 1). This larget group, the personnel that
communicates stylistic messages to it, the artifacts that convey these
rnessages, and the processes and relationships that link these individuals
beyond stylistic communication constitute the functional matrx for the
majority of stylistic behaviors.
The presence, and if present, the size of this target group should be of
immediate relevance lo the presence and prevalence of stylistic behavior.
Imagine a society in which all mernbers fell inlo calegories 1, 2 and 3 in
Fig. I and never encounlered indivlduals In category 4. Irr such a sociely,
most slylistic behavior would represent a dysfunclional waste of energy and
matter. Ir we increased the size of this social network so that more and
more people were tied lo each other in economic and other relationships, it
7) Deicfic
J esus Christ ls waleh- Crucifix
ing over you
Zebra slripes on Toad
6) Religious or political
objectiflcation .
does nol have mueh : chance lo encounter Ihe
message, cannol decode Ihe message
Figure l. The target groups of stylistlc messages.
SI ay away from here Skull and erossbones
Evil spirts, keep Pennsylvania Dutch hex sgns
little slyllstlc behavior
messages ofherwlse knowable
messages known
messaging acflvl'y
potential1y receive message and can decode It
LQVE cosrnetics, distinctive
Relaflves e lose frlends 3
4 SOclally distan'
Target group
5) Proseriplion
Walk here
4) Preseriplion
This is brand X by
cornpany XYZ
\\le the Shakers man- dislinelive shape of Shaker
ufactured this furniture
callle brand
heavy, irnpractically shaped attach-
rnent lo motel key
display of Rolls Royce, mink coat,
or platinum jcwelry
number of stars on shoulders
nurse's dress
wedding band
Immedlale Household
5 4
3 2
1& .: ,1
2 3
4 5
few slylistic messoges
3) Authorship
This eow belongs
lo fanner XYZ
This key is not any
key but belongs to
the lasl motel you
slept in.
2) Ownership
Iam a general
Iarn wealthy
e) positon along ranked
Iam a nurse
I am rnarrled
b) social or ceonomie
class affilia tion
black armband, flag al halfrnast
I am mourning
1) Identification
a) ernotlonal state
Type of Informalion Conveyed Example of Message Example from American Malerial
Culture Whieh Shows This Behavior
Non-fargef group
Very dlstant
Stylistic Behavior and Informa/ion Exchange
Message Content in Stylistlc Behavior
H. Martn wobst
ture should reflect an off-en behavior in regard to stylistic Iorrn, wilh more
and more categories switching in a step-like progression from stylistic
neutrality (off) to stylistic ubiquity (on).
The more appropriate contents of stylistic messages (Table 1) circurn-
scribe sorne of the potential advantages which stylistic messaging rnay
confer in information exchanges. As stylistic messages should be particu-
lady appropriate in contexts where category 4 is frequent (Fig. 1), the
majority of functions of stylistie behavior should relate to processcs of
social integration and social differentiation. Stylistic messages of identifi-
cation, ownership, and authorship link efficiently those members of a
cornmunity who are not in constant verbal contact and who have little
opportunity to observe each others' behavior palterns (to make their
reciprocal behavior on encounter predictable). StyListic messages establish
the mutual bona [ide, in visual mode, before any verbal conlacl has
taken place or in the absence of any verbal contact. In this context, stylistic
mcssaging defines mutually expectable behavior patterns and rnakes
subsequent intcraction more predictable and less stressful. If such indivi-
duals (categories 1 and 4) were solely surrounded by stylistically neutral
and rnessageless material culture, behavior patterns to be expected during
initial encounter would either have to be estlmated through lengthy prior
observation, or they would nol be predictable al all. Thus, an important
function of stylistic messaging derives from the fact that t makes social
intercourse more predictable: it reduces the stress inherent in first or
intermittent encounters, and it broadcasts the potential advantages or
disadvantages to be realized from a more intimale eneounter, before sueh
encounter has taken place.
By summarizing an individual's economic and social situation, stylisl ic
messages rnay play a more active role in the integration of social groups.
Stylistic messages are there for anyone to see: the message content of the
malerial culture that individuals surround thernselves with forms a sorl of
check list. lt helps other mernbers of the group to evaluate how closely a
given individual is subscribing to the behavioral norms of that group.
Wilhout having to observe the details of an individual's behavior, the othcr
mernbers of the group can read the abstracts of these behaviors as they are
expresscd in the stylistic messages that individuals enter into social con-
texts. This grearly reduces the cost of rneasuring, mainlaining and enforcing
conformity and compliance wlth behavioral norms and facilitates the recog-
nition of deviance. If, through the messages on his clothing, home, and
other artifacts, an individual says: "1 arn an individual who belongs lo
social group X," he is a1so saying that he is in conformity wilh the othcr
327 Stylistic Behavior and lnformation Exchange
is particularly category 4 in Fig. I which increases. The more mernbers
there are in this category, the more efficien I slylistic behavior becomes
relative lo the other communication modes. Thus, in the absence of other
factors, the amount of stylistic behavior should positively correlate with
the size of the social networks that individuals participa le in. Beyond this,
given our cost considerations aboye, it should also positively correlate with
the amount of replication in message content: the more individuals in
category 4 have to be reached by the same (simple) signal, the more
advantageous it becomes to convey the message content stylistically. It is
not surprising to find that certain aspects of band society 'material
culture show so little evidence of "stylistic" elaboration. Either category 4
is completely lacking in the societies in question so that the functional
matrix for slylistic behavior is only weakly developed, or few messages are
sufficiently replicative to justify the energy and rnatter investment required
by stylistic communication. As societics increase in size and complexity,
more and more aspects of behavior becorne intertwined with personncl in
category 4, and more and more of thcse bchaviors bceome repetitious and
anticipated. lt is in the latter societies that stylistic behavior struetures
important aspects of artifact form.
The fact Ihal artifacts lend themselves lo the Iransmission of simple
messages, coupled with the capacity of all artifacts to potentially carry
rnessages, raises the specter of misinformation by means of artifacts. Misin-
formation becomes a problcm as soon as a few artifacts in a category of
material culture are utilized to transrnit rnessages. For, al this point, all
similar artifaets lose their original signalling neulrality: they either do or do
1101 carry messages, but they have lost their signalling innocence. Those
arlifacts which have messages affixed to thern can contribute relatively
little misinforrnation: .given verbal behavior , encoding and decoding can be
sufficiently standardized to prevent gross errors in decoding. But it is
exceedingly diff1cult to prevent artifacts without rnessage content frorn
emitting a message,' as long as sorne such artifacts do carry a message. Thus,
given a category of material culture, stylislic messaging is either absent
altogether or it is all-pervasive. This sct of considerations has some interesting
irnplications for the evolution of signalling in the artifact mode. For
exarnple, it argues for the sudden appearance of slylistic form in malerial
culture, instead of the gradual incremental evolution often anticipated: a
state of no-styllstic-messaglng should suddenly be replaced by a stale in
which stylistic form has pervaded at Ieast one (or more) categories of
material culture. In the sanie vein, as the functional matrix of stylistic
behavior beco mes more complex, the different calegories of material cul-
H. Mar/in wobst 326
such items for broadcasting social group affllialion, It would be unrealistic
lo expect society-specflc stylstc forms on these Items: for Ihe number of
individuals which potentally could recelve this message is so srnall, and Ihe
number of these items that are seen by a given individual through his
lifetime is so insignlflcant, that it would be impossible lo achieve a uniform
expression of Ihe message throughout the entire group. As a result, what-
ever the message content, stylistic form on these iterns would be distri-
buted c1inally across the given local group and, very likely, also across its
On the other hand, those sets of material culture which potentially are
visible to all mernbers of a given social group are much more likely lo show
a society specfic expression of stylistic Iorrn, if they carry stylislic rnessages.
Unfortunately, material culture does not contan many iterns that are
broadly visible and that enter a rnultitude of social conlexts. Examples of
more comrnon items in this category inelude, for example, the outer layers
of clothing and the outer surfaces of living structures. Any stylislic rnessages
affixed lo artifacts in this category are exposed conlinuously to the
critical eyes of a large number of rnembers of the given social group, Any
syslematic deviations in the expression 01' a given stylistic message, among
different sets of group members, would disrupt cornrnunication and give
rise to dysfunctional misinformation wlthin the social group. Al the sarne
lime, the fact that polentially any or alI rnernbers may be exposed lo the
stylistic message rnakes it much easier to fine-tune the stylistic signals so
Ihat they will either be uniformly expressed thoroughoul the entire group
in question or show only random deviations around a norm.
'DIere is still no guarantee under these condtions thal a given
slylistic signal would differ from those in surrounding social groups. This
assumption becornes more realistic only if an ilem carries a signal which
explicitly broadcasts social group affiliation and if this itern is entered into
processes of boundary rnaintenance. We would expect to find social-group-
specificity of stylstic signals particularly in those instances where all
members of a social group potentially encounter a given stylislic
message (and thus its expression would be standardized among al! the
rnembers of Ihe group), and where tltis message enters into contexts of
boundary maintenance (so thal jt will be maintained in contrast lo similar
signals of surrounding social groups). It is nol surprising tha! only a
relatively small number of items in a malerial cullure inventory shows
group-specific distribution of stylistic foml, since only a subsel of Ihe ilems
polentiaJ ly seen by any member of a social group is regularly enlered jllto
boundary mainlaining contexls.
329 Stylistic Behavior and lnformation Exchange
behavioral norms and with the ideology behind these norms. Aside from
costly ritual, compliance to norrns and conformity in ideology are difficult
to . observe .and :ven more difficult to dernonstrate unambiguously. As
art~facIs errut their messages continously (even in the absence of any other
actron on the part of their users), the cornpliance of individuals is confin-
uously advertised and a continuous control on it can be rnainlained.
:o~1Versely, stylistic rnessaging adds support to processes of social differ-
entlatJ ?n. It allows individuals to sumrnarize and broadcast the uniqueness
of ~helr r.ank or status wi~hin a matrix of ranks or statuses, or to express
t~elr social. a~d econor~lc .group affiliation toward outsiders. Cornplex
differences m ideology , Ul niche-space, or in other group specifc features
can be reduced lo, and adverlised as, simple and unambiguous stylistic
messages. (cf. Table 1, categories lato c). lt is particularly advantageous
that artlfac~s will ernit their rnessages even without direct inleraction
b~tween ermlters and receivers, and that rnessages can be decoded before any
direct contacl has t.aken place. This renders superfluous more explicit and
c~stly boundary mantenance and competitive behaviors. Where a nurnber of
dlff~rent so~io-economic groups competes for niche-space, stylistic messages
~ur~l~h predict ors for the behavior that may reasonably be expected from
tndlVJ .dualsof the diffcrent groups. Style helps to mark, rnaintan, and further
the differences between these groups at little cost.
Some Predictions for Stylistic Form
, Traditional.ar,chaeological practice is heavily dependent on the assurnp-
!.lOn tha~, stylistic .for'm, to a major extent, is coincident with social or
cultural . boundaries. Based on our discussion aboye, more realistic and
more sensitive ~redictions for stylistic form can be advanced. If stylistic
messa~cs on arltfacts are received in lhe visual mode, the distance at which
an artifact becornes visible, the number of people by whorn it is potenlially
seen, the, nurnber of contexts it is entered into, and the content of the
message Itself. all len? to argue against an overly simplistic relationship
between any single varrable and stylistic formo
For example" the ,Ie~s an artifact is visible to members of a given group,
Ihe, less appropnate It IS to carry stylistic messages oLany kind, Classes of
artlfacts which never leave the contexts of individual households and wltich
a~e nol usual,ly visible to members of other householcls (such as ordinary
k_.tchen ,utensl~s, underwear, bedding and mattresses, lools ulilized by indio
VJ d~als 111 solltary, t,ask pllr~uits, ~tcJ are unlikely lo carry messages of
social. grollp affillallon, Nellher 15 it likcly that this kind of arUfact
conlalns messages of, any sort that would be expressed in society-specific
stylistic formo Even If the members of a given sociely explicitly utilized
H. Mar/in Wobs/
arca of levelland surrounded on all sides by mountains; such units are usually
not self-sufficient beyond basic subsistence, necessitating strong local special-
ization and heavy dependence on markets, Thus, the functional matrix for
stylistic rnessaging should be strongly developed, heavily involving people of
our category 1 in Fig. 1 with those in category 40
The test required a category of material culture which would play a
part in information exchange in as rnany different contexts as possible
-from the confines of a household to encounters between different ethnic
or social groups. Folkdress is the only category that satisfies these restric-
tions. At the sarne time it is well recorded in the literature , Folkdress is
worn insi de the household, it is worn during work within the settlement,
and it is worn at the rnarket and in all other contexts that articulate
mernbers of the same or different social groups, ] lirnited myself, at leasl
initially, lo male dress, since Y ugoslavia is a strongly patriarchal society
and the role of women in public is severely limited.
The following literature was utilized in this analysis of stylistlc form in
folkdress: for Albanians: Cabej, 1966, Degrand, 1901; Durharn, 1909;
Grothe, 1913; Hecquard, nodo; Kuha, 1892; une, 1924; Louis, 1927;
Lutovac, 1935; Smiljani, 1900; Trifunoski, 1953/4; Urofevic, 1953/4,
1965; for Croats: J :uli, 1957, 1959; Gavazzi, 1936; Karger, 1963; Krauss,
1885; Ku~-Nikolajev, 1958; Markovi, 1954; Tornasi, 1942; West, 1964;
for Hercegovinian Croats or Serbs: M ilojevi , 1937; Vlahovi, 1953; for
Montenegrin Serbs: Durham, 1928; Grothe, 1913; Karger, 1931; Lutovac,
1933, 1935; Milojevi, 1937; Srniljani and Lutovac, 1932; for Hungarians:
Kresz, 1956; Michaelis, 1940; for Romanians: Dunre et al., 1963; lonescu,
1955; Irimie, 1964, 1965; Lutovac, 19600 Michaelis, 1940; for Serbs:
Arandjelovi, 1966; Bjeladinovi, 1966/7, tUli, 1957, 1959; Djordjevi,
1923; Dra~ki and Panteli, 1965/6; Djordjevi, 1958; Goff and Fawcett,
1921; Halpern , 1958; Krauss, 1885; Lutovac, 1933; 1935; 1953; 1960;
Markovi, 1952; 1954; Mijatovi, 1911; Nikovi, 1953/4; Petrovi, 1953/4;
Tomasi, 1948; for Slovenians: Brejeva, 1933; Novak, 1952; Orel, 1953;
for V1achs and other herder populations: Aranjelovi, 1966; Atlas, oo, 1949;
1954; Capidan, 1942; Dunre , et al. 1963; Goff and Fawcett, 1955;
Kopozyska, 1961; Mamow, 1961; Simonjenko, 1961; Vladutiu, 1961;
Wace and Thompson, 19140 These sources are supplemenled by personal
observation in Y ugoslavia and eastern Europe in 1959, 1962, 1967, 1968,
1970, 1971, 1974 and 19750
In terms of our predictions from the last chapter, mate dress items worn
in the area can be c1assified by a simple, sensitive and objective criterion,
namely, in terms of the distance at which they become visible to an
331 Stylistic Behavior and Information Ex change
An Evaluation of the Expectations
o ] decidedoto e~aluale tohese predictions in southeastern Europe, specifically
In Y ugoslavia with which I arn most familiar in terms of the ethno-
gr~phic literaoture and ~ersoonal observatons. Y ugoslavia is particulary appro-
pnate for this evaluation smce folk material culture has becn studied there
al least since the period of romanticismo Many local societies have recorded
H faithfully , But, especially after the first World War, folklore study,
human and cultural geography and ethnohistory have documented the
traditional material culture that was rapidly dsappearing.
Y ugosolavia al so forrns an appropriate testing ground for rny hypotheses
because it has been, and continues to be, an extremely segmented social
rnosaic of almost Near Eastern cornplexity . Within prescnt borders of the
country there are thrce rnajor religions (Orthodox and Catholic Christians
a~ld Moslems), four rnajor nationalities (Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Maccdo.
nians), and three omajor languages (Serbo-Croatian, Slovenian, Macedonian),
as wcll as a multitude oof large (Albanian, Hungarian) and small (Bulgarans,
Czechs, Germans, gypsies, J ews, Italians, Rornanians, Slovaks, Turks) ethnic
g~oupso Thanks to a rack of clear natural boundaries and due to a turbulent
hstory, there are onloy very few srnall regions today that are .made up of
homogeneous populations who have resided in situ for more than a few
generations, Througliout history, people becarne Islamized or baptized as
Orthodox and Catholic Christians, often depending on the given administra-
tion. Depending on the general state of lawlessness, people would be either
peasants or transhumant pastoralists. People beca me albanized serbianized
or affili~ted with whatever group was the most opportune. Patri~ularly in th:
mountainous parts of the country , the basic geographic unit is usually a srnall
To recapitulate our expectations of stylistic behavior briefly, the Iol-
I_owing ~el~tionships should hold: 1) those artifacts are more appropriate
lor stylistic rnessages (regardless of other articulations) which are more
visible, which enter more nforrnaton exchanges, and which are potentially
encountered by more individuals; 2) those specific stylistic Iorrns will have
the widest dislribution that are affixed to artifacts which are the most
visible and the most accessible to other individuals; 3) specific stylistic
forms will be clinally distributed within and between social units if they
are seen only by a relatively srnall number of individuals; 4) social-group-
specific stylistic form should occur only among those messages that are
most widely broadcast, that broadcast group affiliation, and that enter into
processes of boundary rnaintenance ,
H. Martn Wobst
circumstances, is singularly appropriate to take on rnessages of social group
affiliation, because it is potentially visible to any mernber .of a given social
group and it enters into most boundary maintaining interactions. Thus, not
only should stylistic form in headdress be uniformly or modally distributed
within social groups, but it should also be social-group-specific and contras-
ting between interacting groups. Further, since headdress is potentially
encountered by any or all rnernbers of the largest, most inclusive social
group to which an individual c1aims afflliation, the major slyli~tic messagcs
on headdress should signal an individual's affiliation to that entity.
Around 1939, the largest social groups to which individuals clairned
affiliation in Yugoslavia were either language groups (Albanian, Hungarian,
Slovene, German); groups united by language and a common way of life
[Rornanians in the far east, as peasants, vs. the Vlachs as herders); or those
groups which, although they spoke the sarne or very similar languages, were
separated through their history, such as the Serbs, the Montenegrin Serbs,
the Hercegovinian Croats or Serbs, and the Croats. AlI these mentioned
groups were wearing group-specific and different headdress in 1939, partic-
ularly in those areas where they lived interspersed among one another. AlI
these headdresses are equivalenl in terms of guarding against the elernenls.
None of the shapes s predelennined by the raw material, and all groups
were familiar with the sarne techniques of hat manufacture as the other
It is inleresting to note that Muslim Slavs do nol fit thls correlation
between hat style and the largest unit of an individual's group affiliation.
Their prior association with the Turks had ceased lo be opportune in 1918,
so that, in 1939 and al present, they are a people in search of group
In reas of strong inter-group competition one would expect a higher
proportion of people wearing hats that signal group affiliation than in
areas with relatively stable homogeneous populations. This is well borne
out by the ethnographic data. For example in 1959, both Pe and Prizren
in the Albanian autonornous region had a thriving hatrnaker trade. This
area is characterized by strong competition between Serbs, Montenegrin
Serbs, and Albanians. Cetinje, a town of comparable size and not too Iar
away, but settled with a homogeneous population of Montenegrin Serbs,
did not support a single hatrnaker establishment. Slrnilarly, the Bazaar of
Sarajevo sports a large section of hatrnakers in residence. The city is known
for the nlense competition arnong its Serbian, Croatian, and Muslim
inhabitanls. The capitals of Croatia and Slovenia, with relalively homoge-
Ileous and stable populations, had no hatmaker craft in evidence.
observer. Items that are worn on the outside of several layers of clothing
show up flrst, and the higher an item is located on the body, the earlier it
becomes visible. This led me to define three broad categories of rnale dress:
category 1 consists of items visible over long distances, such as from one
mountain side to another, or over sorne dislance along the road. Only
headdress and coat fit this description. In the second category I placed
those items that can be difTerentiated at intermediate dstances, as, for
exarnple, in a market crowd or from one side of the road to the othcr.
This definition circurnscribes the gross features of skirts, shirts, jackets, and
pants, Category 3 comprises any item of dress that becomes visible only at
short range; inside the house or at a social gathering. Here we deal with
socks and shoes, belts, and decorative items worn in addition to dress or on
other dress items. Finally there is a residual calegory of items never seen
by mernbers outside the immediate household, such as underwear, or
jewelry that rnay be worn underneath the other dress items. This last
category will not be considered further since 1 lack personal information
about these items and they are nol covered in the ethnographic literature.
Given this c1assification scherne, wc can malee our prediclions somewhat
more specific. AlI dress items in our 3 calegories are eminenlly visible; thus
they all should be appropriate for the exprcssion of stylistic messages. Yet,
the distribution of specific stylistic form should positively correlale wilh
the degree of visibility of the different categories, with the potential
distances between the message receiver and the artifacl-curn-message which
differ among lhe calegories, and with the number and kinds of people who
are exposed to the different categories.
Let us begin with category 1, the headdress and coal. Being visible over
the greatest distance, they are the only parts of dress which allow one lo
decipher a stylistic message before one gels into the gun range of ones
enerny _ They allow one to decide whether contact and interaction with an
unknown person would be advanlageous or not, before one gets uncomfor-
lably close lo the individual. We can exclude the coal because ils use
depends upon temperature and humidily and thus, if il does contain
messages, it would nol ernit thern as continuously as the headdress. Head-
dress, on the other hand, can be worn in winter for warrnth, in surnmer for
insulalion againsl the heat, and al all times of the year against the
In an environment of jntense competitiQo between a multitude of
differenl social groups, a premiurn is placed on processes of social integra-
tion, differentiation between interactlng (and competing) groups, and
boundary maintenance among the competilors. Headdress, under these
St ylistic Behavior and Information Exchange
I!. Martin Wobst 332
In rny paper 1 have atternpled lo demonstrate thal style is a plcasantly
multidimensional and surprisingly dynamlc phenomenon. It reacts with
greal sensitivity to changes in other cultural variables and, of Itself, actively
supports other cultural processes, such as cultural integration and dfferen-
tialion, boundary rnaintenance, compliance with norms and enforcing con-
formity. 1 have interpreted slylistic behavior as that aspecl of artifact form
and struclure which can be related to processes of inforrnation exchange.
Speclfic stylislic form is seen to ernit messages which are broadcast
throughout the use J ife of artifacts. Depending on message content, message
or 3 contain messages of group identification, they should refer lo srnaller
groups than in calegory l. Specific slylistic formo whatever the rnessagc
content, would not nccessarily coincide wlth the most inclusive groups of
individual allegiance, and, unless the message specifically were lo cxpress
group affiliation and be broadcasl in boundary situations among different
groups, the stylistic form should vary clinally, within and belwecn the
subunits of major social groups.
I was able to evaluate these expectations against Albanian, Hungarian ,
Serbian, and Rornanian ethnographic materials. The results were parallel lo
each other; and the Albanian and Rornanian data are summarized in detail
in Tables " and 111. I wanl lo Iist here only the conclusions. The further Ihe
distance from which a speciflc stylistic message can be deciphered, Ihe
wider its geographic distribution; and the more predictably an ilem is worn
or visible, the wider the distribulion of specific stylistic form carried by the
item. Referring specifically to messages of group affiliation, stylistic
messages that are more visible syrnbolize more inclusive groups, and, al
close distance visibility, the rnessage content shifts from identifying social
groups to defining an individual's position along a ranked scale, such as
wealth, status, or age. One additional observation relates to stylistic
messaging in fernale dress in the area. Fernale dress items in all three
categories either carry messages which sumrnarize the individual's affilia-
tion with intermediate social units, or define her position along a ranked
scale. The distribution of specific slylislic messages in female dress most
closely approxirnates the distribution of male dress slyle of category 3.
This is to be expected in a strongJ y patriarchal sociely where males
determine most kin affiliations, where most public activities are in the
hands of males, and where the rnovernen I of wornen is reslrictcd to the
context of the local group.
Stylistic Behavior and Information Exchange
Since style in headdress seems lo signal the most inclusive social entity to
which an individual has allegiance, we would expect changes in stylistic
form as this group changes. This again is well illustrated by data from
Y ugoslavia. Before the state had established its monopoly on force in the
Montenegrin mountains, each of the rnountain tri bes in this region was
characlerized by a differenl type of headdress. Another rneans of signalling
social affiliatlon had been the struka (a kind of cloak), differing by tribe in
color or cornbination of colors. Only after the central state had acquired
superior fire power and -vendetta and raiding had consequently ceased in
Ihe mounlains (depending on the area, between 1900 and 1945), we flnd
Ihe mountain tri bes aligning by ethnic group. This is rellected in folkdress
by the disappearance of the slruka and the area wide adoption of Albanian,
Serbian, or Montenegrin headdress. After 1945, the largest unit of social
affilialion became the partisan-derver Communist adminislration. Thus, if
young people wear a distinct headdress at all loday, itis the World War "
partisan cap. Another case in point is Ihe headdress of the Romanan
speaking herding populations in southeaslern Europe. Recently, these
groups, from southern Y ugoslavia lo southern Poland, have given up their
sheep-skin kalpak headdress and adopted the hat of Romanian peasants.
This is accounted for by their offlcial recognition as Rornanian speaking
minorilies and their subsequent identification with the Rornanian nation
sta te.
To surnmarize, headdress-as an artifact that is extremely well visible
and exposed to Ihe largest nurnber of conlexls of inforrnation exchange
(inc1uding those involving boundary maintenance )-carries stylistic rnessages
specific in lerms of the largest group Ihal an individual affiliates with. The
rnessage content of stylistic fonn in headdress is the aff11iation with this
Categories 2 and 3 of our classification scherne include those iterns
visible only over lnterrnediate and small distances. Concomltant with this
decrease in visibility, they are not as predictably visible. For exarnple, the
use of a coat will prevent any artifacts worn underneath it from emitling
the stylistic rnessages Ihey may carry. AIso, as Ihey can transmlt messages
only over shorler distances, the nurnber of individuals who are potentially
exposed lo thern is smaller, and the number of information exchange
conlexts into which these items may enter is more narrowly circumscribed.
Therefore, we would expect specific stylistic form in these iterns to have a
more conslricted dislribution, and Ihe stylistic messages emitted by Ihese
artifacts lo have a different contert from those in calegory l. We can be
more expliclt in these predictions. If, for exarnple, artifacts in category 2
H. Martin Wobst
1 would like to dedicale this paper lo J ames B. Griffin. His constant
support allowed me, asa bungling foreigner, to obtain a first-rate education in
anthropological archaeology al TI1eUniversity of Michigan. 1 hope that the
ethnographc material in ths paper will bring back lo J lmmy pleasanl
mernories of the fleld season we shared in 1970al Visoko Brdo in Bosnia,
sornewhere deep in Yugoslavia.
111is paper recieved its nitial mpetus from a seminar on Style in
Archaeology and Ethnology at lhe Museum of Anthropology of the Univer-
sily of Michigan in the spring semester of 1969, with two students
(Gregory J ohnson and myself) and lwo professors (Robert Whallon and
Richard Beardsley). 1 am happy lo acknowledge the devil's advocacy of
Roberl W. Paynter of the Unversity of Massachusetls in the Iorrnative
stage of this paper as well as financial support from Ihe Wenner-Gren
Foundation, which supporled me for two months in the field in eastern
Europe in 1970.
visibility, and social contexts lo which artifacls are exposed, as well as on
the cultural matrix in which this stylistlc comrnunicallon takes place,
differenl arlifacls carry differenl kinds of messages and slylistic form has
, differenl meanings, although sorne general relationships belween the distri-
bution of slylistic form and the functional rnatrix of stylislic behavior can
be deduced. Sorne of these general relatlonships have been developed here,
and a few of them have been evalualed against a set of ethnographic
materials from southeastern Europe. (l;lly a few artifacts are appropriate
for carrying messages which identify the most Inclusive social group that
Individuals afflliate wilh (1 used headdress as an example) and even fewer
of these artifacts will be preserved archaeologically. Certainly the assump-
tion of speclflcity in stylistlc form by major social groups in warranted
only in the fewest cases, and a priori nol very likely for most of the
artifacls that archaeologisls commonly work with, such as household uten-
While my discusslon of style does not cover a11 phenomena currently
subsumed under thls lerm, It removes a number of Ihem Iroru
their pedestal of processual isolation and integra tes them into the cultural
system of which they form a part. 1 hope that my paper will stimulate
further research inlo stylistic dynamics and into the evolution of style, so
that the present guiding principIes of stylistic analysis can be repaired or, ir
necessary, replaced.
Stylistic Behavior and Information Exchange
Quality and quantity of decoration, ornamentation and
elaboration on other dress iterns: for exarnple, Ihe amoun!
of gold thread reflects wealth.
Status, occupalion,
Color of motifs and combinalion of motifs; Iheseitcms
do nol havesharply defined distribution palterns but
change e1inaJ ly through space, '
Village of residence
Shirt c.ut or col?r: Dacian shirt, Fustanella, long
embroidered shirt ; these rnessages have e1inal dis-
lributions already.
Arca of residence
Stylistlc Form and Sample Messages
Romanian Folkdress-Message Contents and stylistic forms
srnall decoratlve fealures: arnount of sllver or gold
on belt ; make of gun; etc.
posltion of individuah
along ranked scale
gross ~rnamenlalive features of shirts, pants, and
sometrrnes coals; Ihis does not circumscribe closed
populations which maintain sharp boundaries between
each other: the distribution of specific stylistic
Iorrn appears lo beclinal, paralleling comrnuni-
callon patterns.
valley or village
pants or jacket style: Turkish panls are worn in
Central Albania, for example, while tight pants
are characleristic for norlhern Albania; Ihis mes-
sagedivides the people in the region by religion
(M?sle~ vs'.Christian) and a sharp boundary is
matntatned Instylistic form of panls belween
these I wo groups
CO~Icolor: black wool coat (south Albania) vs,
white or grey coat (north and central Albania);
Ihese reas are divided through history custorn
religion and ideology and the boundar; in mess~ge
expresson issharp.
general arca
Stylist!c. Form and Sample Messages
MessageDistributions in Albanian Folkdress Exclusive of Headdress
H. Martin Wabst
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