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LANDSCAPE ARCHAEOLOGY

M. Gojda

Institute of Archaeology, Czech Academy of Sciences, Czech Republic

Keywords: landscape, space, site, monument, archaeology, geography, survey, mapping, fieldwalking, non-destructivity

Contents

1.The Concept of Landscape: Past and Present

2.Sites and Monuments in the Context of Landscape

3.The Main Fields Concerned with Understanding Landscape Archetypes

4.Non-Destructiveness and Future Developments in Landscape Archaeology

Related Chapters

Glossary

Bibliography

Biographical Sketch


Summary

The gradually increasing awareness of the deep mutual relationships between the natural and social environments determines the ever more pronounced contemporary orientation of archaeology towards the protection and study of cultural landscapes and their historical development. The landscape is a phenomenon claimed by the advocates of both positivist (scientific) and postmodern approaches to archaeology. Each has found within it inspiration for the expansion of its paradigms. A summary is presented of the understanding to date of the landscape phenomenon and the expression of man’s relation to it in the arts, philosophy, natural sciences, and particularly in archaeology and anthropology. The roots of the burgeoning interest in the discovery and documentation of monuments in the landscape, and of the tracing of their relationships both to natural landscape components and to each other, are examined. Interest centers on the development of archaeological topography in Early Modern England (J. Leland, J. Aubrey, W. Stukeley) and of "field archaeology" (W. Roy, H. Allcroft), from which in the twentieth century landscape archaeology was born. Spatial archaeology grew from different foundations, although sources of inspiration for both disciplines lay in the fields of the natural sciences, particularly geography. Special attention is paid to the person of O. G. S. Crawford. Developments in research into historical landscapes during the second half of the twentieth century are analyzed, and the basic tendencies that made decisive contributions are named. Topics include the beginning of dynamic processes of investigating the prehistoric environment, the swing towards research into settlement history at scales of territorial wholes or regions, the application of spatial models of the new geography, and intensive research into medieval rural settlement. Settlement and historical geography, and the application of GIS to the study of archaeological landscapes, are also considered. The conclusion emphasizes the non-destructive essence of the methods employed in landscape archaeology. It is these, indeed, that provide further perspectives for the development of this discipline and its timeliness.

1.The Concept of Landscape: Past and Present   

The landscape as a theme in archaeological research has become a lasting center of attention for a significant part of the professional public since the huge potential of aerial archaeology was recognized. This occurred in the 1920s and 1930s, when the British geographer and archaeologist O. G. S. Crawford was able to use photographs taken by air force pilots over southern England to identify networks of prehistoric fields, trackways, and fortified enclosures. This was the beginning of the explosive development of aerial archaeology. The results have fundamentally broadened our knowledge of the formal shapes and variability of prehistoric settlement features (in particular demonstrating the existence of a vast range of ditch enclosures) and of entire buried landscapes with hitherto unknown settlements, cemeteries, cult centers, production areas, and communications. At the same time, the discovery of thousands of new settlement locations has increased the absolute number of archaeological sites (find spots), which among other things has made more effective site protection possible. In the interwar period another important method of data collection began to flourish—surface collection surveys (in which the search for material remains—artifacts, ecofacts—of ancient settlement activity is conducted on the surface of ploughed fields). The landscape is a phenomenon claimed both by the positivist or modern scientific archaeology and also by the "subjectively" oriented postmodern archaeology. Each has found in this concept inspiration for the expansion of its paradigms.

Landscape archaeology is an alternative to the tradition of settlement archaeology, particularly in three senses: First, it operates with data from a larger contiguous territory, making it possible to study settlement processes in the framework of larger spatial structures (e.g. settlement areas and regions). To create a model from such structures is one of the primary tasks of contemporary (theoretical) archaeology. Second, it is preoccupied with the internal cultural landscape (settlement spaces) and with those components that do not have preserved physical remains or are not recognizable by traditional means. Third, it applies non-destructive (or at least less destructive) methods of data collection, which bring results that would not be obtainable by use of more traditional approaches. Given the aims of landscape archaeology, the results include the identification of the diachronic development of settlement in the area of interest, the reconstruction of the forms of settlement structure and their location within the landscape, and the continuity of settlement areas. At the same time, non-destructive means of research are much more considerate of the archaeological part of cultural heritage, and significantly contribute to the protection of monuments.

Many peoples have developed an understanding of landscape as a source of foodstuffs and raw materials or as something that retreats before civilization—a refuge for man in a technocratic age. A few link the landscape to the lives of our forebears or with the history of settlement processes. It is to these that we can present models of the relationship between human communities and their natural environment that show how they shaped it in the gradual long term process of human actions upon the landscape.

1.1Perceptions of the Landscape and their Reflection in the Arts

The civilizations of classical antiquity viewed the landscape as a manifestation of ideas about the fulfillment of life’s aspirations (the bucolic landscape, warm sun, springtime, lush vegetation, fertility). Landscape as a phenomenon became a lasting theme of Western culture from when the agricultural civilization of the European Middle Ages was drawing near to its end. At that time, rational thinking, industrialization, long distance trade, and mature market relationships were being pushed irreversibly to the foreground. The majority of the Medieval population were firmly linked to their roots in the natural environment, and lived on sources offered by this environment which humans could transform, adapt, and reproduce. Medieval peasants, the most numerous social group in the society of that day, were fully imbued with the landscape that surrounded their everyday horizons—and perhaps could be said to be consumed by it. They therefore felt no need to examine their environment from the outside and to consider it an autonomous or detachable part of reality. Medieval cosmology saw no difference between natural and anthropogenic landscape components. The further into the past one looks, the more the relationship between people and nature had this character. The fundamentally important question is how far the people of archaic times were able to judge the mutual associations and relationships between individual elements of their ecosystem. Was the gradual degradation of the natural environment (and its abrupt, catastrophic reversal) in prehistory and in the Middle Ages the result of landscape exploitation the consequences of which they were unable to assess in advance? Or were the people of the distant past aware of the dangers but compelled by social or demographic pressures to act against the most natural means of their existence within the landscape?

Around the middle of the first millennium AD, the ever-increasing number of town dwellers began to see nature as more distant from their immediate environment and experience, and the free landscape began to a greater extent to be understood as an artifact. Considered to be formed in some way by natural forces and man, the landscape was at the same time something with its own internal dynamics, secrets, and poetry, a space worthy of the attention of artists. In the period of European Romanticism, a reaction of people against rigorous Rationalism, estrangement from and disillusionment with modern civilization, this relationship with the landscape came to a head. Nature became a temple and forgotten paradise to which it was necessary to return and in which it was necessary to seek out the ancient roots of human nature. It was not only the "natural" landscape to which the Romantics sought a way back but also a landscape with a memory in which the relics of human works of the distant past played an important role. For Romantic poets and painters, the return to the womb of nature was thus not only a return to the original natural environment but also to the past, to human history. Merging into the landscape was for the Romantic spirit the most propitious means of coming closer to the thought processes and perceptions of the world of the ancestors, who had lived in this environment so long before.

European understanding of space (and thus landscapes) is marked by a typical dualism, differentiating between worldly (profane) and sacred (sacral) places. This approach is a typical expression of mythological thought, adopted into the Christian worldview and spreading from there into diverse secular ideologies; it is linked to the emotional experience of space. This dualistic model is, however, shaken by the discoveries of science, atheism, and the secularism of the modern age—it has come to the crossroads of one antithesis with another (the profanation of the sacred, or the secularization of the profane).

1.2Contemporary Views of the Landscape in Philosophy and the Natural Sciences

Since the landscape can be seen from many standpoints, the definition of this phenomenon will always be dependent on who is formulating it. Philosophers, natural scientists, sociologists and historians all have differing views on its essence, characteristics, and significance. Even within a single region, attitudes change over time. The Czech word for landscape, krajina, is of Old Germanic origin (in modern German the word Landschaft is used). Originally, in the Early Medieval period, this word designated the land tended by a single peasant; the landscape (krajina) was thus understood merely as that part of the world perceived by an individual working a specific piece of land. Anything that happened over the horizons of this space was in a different landscape. At the beginning of the second millennium, the term took on a new meaning for the first time, that of a domain, estate, or similar, thus gaining a political importance.

Philosophy, as the integrating discipline of human knowledge and thought, attempts to distinguish between the content of the meanings oscillating around the term "landscape" (nature, region, space, territory, homeland, home, etc.) and at the same time seek their mutual differences and relationships. According to contemporary philosophy, it is necessary first to consider the landscape as a territory. This is, of course, a term used in the natural sciences that is bound up primarily with the secondary biotic components in nature. The importance of the term "landscape" is better understood if confronted with the words "land" and "landman." These encompass the inward relationship of human individuals to the places in which they were born and brought up. The landscape is thus a human phenomenon, having the character of a horizon closer than the world and related to the skyline of the home. Thus, landscape is a limited space of our homeland; it is the visualization of ourselves in the horizon of a space excluded from the surrounding (outer) world, in relation to which the here and now is understood.

Traditional, mechanistic natural sciences have deemed (and still deem) the landscape to be a passive result of the actions of the biotic and abiotic elements represented within it. This reductive view means that the landscape does not have its own regularities, such as can be distinguished from the regularities of its elements. At the present time, however, that view is changing in connection with the input of several—particularly ecologically-oriented—natural sciences. The landscape is increasingly being seen, in the intentions of social or anthropoenvironmental research, as a phenomenon with internal dynamics, structure, and memory, rather like a living system. These concepts have been formulated in recent years by a number of landscape ecologists and botanists (including M. Gottlieb, M. Lapka, J. Sádlo, and V. Brůna in Bohemia). In their view, the landscape is a phenomenon that should be seen from the perspective of long intervals of time. Hitherto, approaches to landscape ecology have been based on a scheme typical of a technical civilization: attention has been focused only on the contemporary landscape, with occasional glimpses into a past in the order of decades, and never centuries, millennia, or further. In this way, the landscape is divested of a temporal dimension, which is nevertheless still present. In a heterogeneous landscape, for example, it is possible to see traces of geological, evolutionary (biological), historical, and existential time created by human individuals with social relationships, and also in natural structures. And it is precisely archaeology that can aid landscape ecology in connecting to its view of topicality, understanding the history of the landscape, and laying bare its memory. The landscape can be seen as a phenomenon that admits of a personality. This understanding corresponds to the well-known phrase genius loci (the aura or spirit of the place), and associated with it is the observation of the landscape as a whole. The subordinate elements (such as population types, societies, and artifacts) do not make up the landscape mechanically, but their positions in the landscape may be interpreted in their context. According to Sádlo, landscape memory is connected with the fact that the landscape has it own cybernetics, that is, concrete, specific means of self-organization. At the same time, there is a capability for regenerating its original state. The bearer of memory in the landscape is structure, and the memory again is a medium for generating structure: the landscape is thus a self-structuring system.

Contemporary American landscape ecology (Forman, Godron) defines the landscape as a heterogeneous part of the Earth’s surface, comprising assemblages of mutually related and influencing ecosystems which on a given part of the surface are repeated in similar forms. The evolution of landscape is the result of specific long-term geomorphological processes, the forms of settlement of the landscape (Man is adjudged to have an important role in landscape ecology), and local short-term disturbances to individual ecosystems. At the same time, attention in landscape ecology is drawn to three characteristic traits. They are structure (i.e., distribution, energy, material, and types of organism in relation to size, form, number, type, and the spatial organization of ecosystems), function (interactions between spatial elements), and change (the reconstruction of structures and functions of the environmental mosaic over time).

1.3The Landscape Phenomenon in Contemporary Archaeology and Anthropology

As is also true in the case of landscape ecology, in contemporary archaeological and anthropological professional discussions it is common to meet with attempts to define the phenomenon of landscape and to adjoin various heterogeneous attributes. Thus, the "interactive landscape" is spoken of, into which both natural and anthropogenic elements are tied. Characteristics and limits that were imprinted on its development simultaneously in the preceding periods always determine the form of the landscape in specific periods. Terms such as buried, archaeological, prehistoric, and historic landscapes are also commonly used. It is, of course, necessary to note that the content of these concepts is rarely specified. Generally, it can only be said that while the first two concepts are oriented rather towards formal definitions, the latter two characterize a landscape in its chronological framework. Within such a division, a gnoseological difference is implicit. Its quality depends on knowledge of the shape of the landscape in a far-distant past, from which neither written nor iconographic sources have survived, or in a historical past, where resources of these kinds are available.

Perhaps the most commonly used terms are "cultural (artificial) landscape" and its opposite the "natural landscape." Discussions on the themes of this division have frequently appeared in archaeological literature, particularly in the last two decades. The majority of authors more or less categorically come down opposed to this division. They are of the opinion that the landscape is a complex phenomenon communicating important relationships between natural processes and human settlement practices; therefore in the study of landscapes it is senseless to separate natural and human components. This opinion is certainly well founded, but this depends on the angle from which landscape is approached. From the point of view of assessing the physical state of the contemporary landscape, virtually the whole of the surface of the earth has been affected to a greater or lesser degree by human activity, and the concept of virgin nature as a result loses its sense.

Alongside all this however, the social dimension of the landscape should not be forgotten, into which the human community has since time immemorial dissembled its environment. In this, the world of the living is differentiated from that of the dead, and the intensively exploited landscape is differentiated from that left in its original, wild state. The British historical ecologist Oliver Rackham in his well-known work on rural history places two extremes in opposition to one another in looking at the landscape. The last century saw in the landscape the clear antithesis of the urban environment, while today among social scientists the dominant opinion is that whole landscapes are actually some kind of artifact, expressing the ambitions of man. In this sense, there is no difference between Trafalgar Square in the middle of London and the broad landscapes of rural England. In reality, the natural environment in many places, even in the world of mature civilizations, develops independently of people. The extent of human impact on the landscape is extremely wide, and in many areas the boundary between cultural and natural landscapes is very sheer (e.g. in an area of annually cultivated fields, next to a natural upland heath or marsh).

Archaeology has many times in its history been oriented towards inquiry into people and their relationship to the natural environment—hence the coining of the term "environmental archaeology" in the postwar period. The word "landscape," however, has never permeated its vocabulary so often as in the last three decades or so. This development occurred particularly after archaeology began thematically to draw closer to problems that had previously lain in the domain of geography and in places historical research—those of space and its internal relationships in the past.

Great interest in the phenomenon of the landscape has been recorded in the last decade in the context of symbolic and post-processual archaeology. This is a reaction to the abstract geometry of the spatial models of the 1960s and 1970s, whose application was supported by the "New Archaeology." These new approaches seek symbolic, ideological, and social dimensions in the landscape, attempting with the aid of hermeneutics to determine how prehistoric people perceived and ordered, and how their social memory operated in the selection of, settlement sites. It is interesting to observe how at the turn of the millennium the main subject and theme of post-processual archaeology is the landscape itself. This is almost a repeat of the situation in the first part of the nineteenth century. This period saw a move away from rationalism towards freeing the sense of enjoyment in the environment of the historic landscape, in the memory of which the archetypes of the social relationships of our forebears are enciphered. Postmodernist authors often still move archaeology away from the analysis of sources, from the testing of models and syntheses of data processing, towards abstract philosophical concepts. With this abandonment of the physical forms and structural dimensions of the landscape, interest has shifted to its metaphysical and social aspects. It is emblematic that while the archaeology of the 1960s and 1970s gave priority to the concept of space, at the end of the second millennium it prioritizes the term landscape (space being a part thereof).

Barbara Bender, an anthropologist at University College London and one of the most identifiable personalities in current postmodern landscape archaeology, wrestles with the question as to why the landscape has become such an important theme today. She proposes a heterogeneous explanation, which has to do with the separation of culture and nature (this being essentially alien to the postmodern way of thinking). She believes that the landscape as a result connects people and the material world not only in terms of understanding, but also in everyday life and politics, and that this phenomenon represents practically every reality. The language itself is full of so many landscape metaphors that it can be said that people speak and live in a landscape for every moment of their existence. Whether the landscape is seen from the point of view of its practical use (agricultural or industrial landscape) or from the point of view of its aesthetic value (the picturesque or surrealist landscape), only the visible surface of the earth is evaluated. Thus, the landscape is perceived as something passive, standing outside us. In reality, the landscape as a general concept does not exist, and it is necessary to speak of landscapes plural. People as individuals, and as a society or nation state, form their identity

In the same spirit, Christopher Tilley has attempted to understand the social dimensions. His work A Phenomenology of Landscape in the mid-1990s criticized in detail the traditional and new archaeologies, which in his view concentrated almost exclusively on the natural environment. The siting of settlements within the space of a landscape is explained as a result of the processes of purely rational decision-making in which several of these factors were taken into account. The author is of the opinion that the statistical correlation and important functional relationships that this approach draws upon are part of the modern myth and Western logic of thought, which are applied unceremoniously to the past. To identify how any particular people understood their landscape environment is adjudged to be an end either unattainable or unnecessary. Tilley places emphasis on two fundamental points: first, on symbolism in the relationship of man and landscape; and second, on the role of social memory in the choice of settlement, burial, and sacred sites. Nevertheless, it is necessary to emphasize that this is not in opposition to economic rationality and the culturally symbolic aspect of human behavior, but shows their connectedness and mutual influence. In this way, Tilley approaches the analysis of the siting of specific Mesolithic settlements and Neolithic burials in the context of their surrounding landscapes (i.e., rivers, coastlines, spurs, the edges of precipices, rocky outcrops, etc.) These elements of the landscape were probably an important source of symbolism for the prehistoric population: neither for hunter-gatherers nor for agricultural communities was the natural landscape merely a backdrop. The environment was always bound up with diverse human associations, memories, and local names, which gave it a human dimension. The greater part of daily experience in pre-industrial societies was physical and biological experience of landscape components such as earth, water, wood, stone, wind, rain, high points, the sun, stars, etc. The landscape has an ontological meaning because human societies live within it and about it, because it is an intercessor of cultural meaning and symbols. It is not merely something on which—or around which—it is possible to see or act, nor merely a feature suitable only for contemplation, description, or preserving in a picture. All places and landscapes thus consist in a time of individual and social memories.

Such a briefly presented concept of approaches to the landscape goes hand in hand with the well-known work of Simon Schama, professor at Columbia University. His Landscape and Memory falls on the border between several literary genres and is a work devastating in its deep probing into the molding of the relationship between man and the natural landscape in the processes of ancient and modern history. Its conception is very close to the notions with which the archaeological postmodern has recourse to historic landscapes, while its literary form is very attractive and necessarily arouses admiration.

It is a fact that interest in the study of spatial relationships in prehistory, and in the reconstruction of buried landscapes, is traditionally the domain of Western Europeans. Central and Eastern Europe lived until the recent past in the grip of the typological paradigm, which survives to this day in Germany and its adjacent regions. In spite of this, even from here important impulses have arisen to change this conception. Germany has traditionally approached spatial relationships in prehistoric settlement through the medium of "settlement archaeology" (Siedlungsarchä ologie), as personified by the main representative of the Gö ttingen school, H. Jankuhn. Significant voices, however, have been raised in the recent past in support of landscape studies (see the following section for more details). A. Gramsch defines the landscape as a social phenomenon, the sense and culturally specific meaning of which are formed through the life style and practice of people, through their work and perceptions. It is formed of three basic elements: space, place, and boundary. According to the Spanish archaeologist Parcero Oubi, a landscape is the result of the conceptualization of space. The creation of its forms is always the result of the mutual relationships between the natural, economic, and socio-political points of view, and the symbolic dimension. The first three aspects are more or less imperceptible to archaeology, although possibly they can be approached by the subject through the aid of other historical sources. Assessment of the sense and importance of symbolism in the landscape, however, is difficult, mainly because of the confrontation with a way of thinking that has long been separated from rationality and that has been lost in the realms beyond recall. While symbolism was itself a journey, it was expressed individually and collectively in the conceptions of people who lived long ago; to penetrate these conceptions as they materialized in artifacts, and to order them within landscape spaces is difficult.

It is reassuring that interest in the study of historic landscapes has also arisen in the Czech lands. Here it is also necessary to bear in mind particular theoretical concepts and models of spatial relationships, the application of GIS to the analysis of the relationships between natural components and settlement units, aerial prospection, and surface survey or geophysical measurements. Alongside the traditional interests in the reconstruction of medieval landscapes, particularly rural settlements (villages, cultivated areas, the links between central places and their agricultural hinterlands), there has also been intensive development in recent years in systematic research into settlement-spatial relationships in prehistory. The results have made it necessary to change approaches to such terms as "archaeological site" and consider rather such categories as "settlement area" or "continuous settlement area."

It is appropriate at this point to present a more accurate picture of the basic problem areas that today interest archaeologists in cultural landscape studies, and of the questions to which answers may be sought. Above all, interest is directed towards ascertaining which forms of organization distinguish the landscape at given times. In other words, in what ways did our prehistoric and medieval forebears divide the environment from its lowest organizational level (inhabited space or village settlements) to its highest (cultivated zones, territorial boundaries, the symbolic demarcation of burial areas, etc.)? To what extent was such organization of the landscape dependent on basic environmental factors (the articulation of the terrain, and hydrogeological, soil, and climatic conditions)? How far were the needs of human communities dictated at the level of material and social (ideological) relationships? Thus, for example, what was the shape of the Early Iron Age landscape along the central Labe (Elbe) valley (a traditionally fertile area, part of the "old settlement land" in Bohemia, Czech Republic) or in the more extreme areas of the Czech-Moravian Uplands, colonized in the High Middle Ages? In this context, settlement structures and hierarchies, central places and their hinterlands, the forms and extents of fields, and the distribution of cemeteries, hunting grounds, etc. are very interesting. These questions aim at a synchronic (horizontal) reconstruction of buried cultural landscapes. Other questions follow diachronic (vertical) changes in the appearance of this phenomenon, such as whether changes in the organization of the landscape occurred in the same place in subsequent periods. Questions include whether these changes were formal or systemic. Over time, how did the genius loci and landscape memory form? How can the formal shape of the landscape reflect the social structure of prehistoric communities or medieval parishes, demesnes, or states?

 

2.Sites and Monuments in the Context of Landscape


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