The Archaeology and Anthropology of Landscape: Shaping Your Landscape

By Peter J. Ucko; Robert Layton | Go to book overview

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Introduction: gazing on the landscape and encountering the environment

ROBERT LAYTON AND PETER J.UCKO

Interest in landscape transcends many traditional academic divisions and disciplines. Use of the term is becoming wider and wider. Rowlands, for example, has recently entitled a discussion of modern economics in the Cameroon 'Looking at financial landscapes' (Rowlands 1996). In this Introduction we review recent ways in which archaeologists and anthropologists have made use of the concept of landscape and show how these uses relate to issues addressed by contributors to the volume.

Landscapes are particular ways of expressing conceptions of the world and they are also a means of referring to physical entities. The same physical landscape can be seen in many different ways by different people, often at the same time (as is shown by, e.g. Franklin and Bunte 1997; Pokotylo and Brass 1997). There is much recent writing on the subject of landscape which has established, in sensitive and wide-ranging discussions, that the term may refer both to an environment, generally one shaped by human action, and to a representation (particularly a painting) which signifies the meanings attributed to such a setting (Olwig 1993:307, 312; see also PenningRowsell and Lowenthal 1986; Bender 1993; Hirsch 1995). Even advertisers can wax lyrical on the subject. ESSO has recently endorsed the view that landscape is undoubtedly one of the most popular and universally loved themes in the history of Western art'. The matter is further complicated by the fact that, while landscape painting is clearly a mode of representation that signifies ideas and values about its subject matter, the construction of monuments, ornamental lakes and groves turns the land itself into a signifier, a process that Olwig calls 'the colonisation of nature by landscape' (Olwig 1993:332). These multiple senses give rise to what Gosden and Head call landscape's 'useful ambiguity': 'Landscape encompasses both the conceptual and the physical' (Gosden and Head 1994:113). While such ambiguity may sometimes be useful, it can also obscure the different orientations that writers can draw upon when they use the term landscape. One approach equates landscape with an environment that has an existence independent of those who live in it, as the following definition illustrates: 'In general,

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