The Archaeology and Anthropology of Landscape: Shaping Your Landscape

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

14

Ancestors, place and people: social landscapes in Aboriginal Australia

CLAIRE SMITH


Introduction

Researchers working with Aboriginal Australians have always had to grapple with conceptions of place. This is because patterns of indigenous land use, as well as notions of personal identity, are closely linked to social constructions of the land. As Morphy (1995) points out, relationships between landscape and Aboriginal conceptions of the world have been a central theme of anthropological research since the first detailed ethnographic studies, such as those of Roth (1897), Spencer and Gillen (1899), Strehlow (1947), Warner (1969) and Kaberry (1939). This interest has been manifested in terms of territoriality and social space (e.g. Tindale 1974; Peterson 1976), trade (e.g. McBryde 1978, 1984; Turpin 1983), social networks (e.g. David and Cole 1990; McDonald in press), totemic geography (e.g. Strehlow 1970; cf. Berndt and Berndt 1989) and indigenous land rights (e.g. Coombs 1980; Tonkinson 1980; Rowse 1993).

Recently, this enduring theme has emerged in the disciplines of anthropology, archaeology and cultural geography as an interest in social landscapes (e.g. Gosden 1989; Bender 1993, Chapter 3 this volume; Head et al 1994; Fullagar and Head Chapter 22 this volume). From this perspective, not only have the landscapes in which people live been shaped by human action, but they also shape human action. Social landscapes are both 'transformed' and 'transforming' (Gosden and Head 1994:114). They are multi-layered in a process characterised by Byrne (1993:7) as 'sedimentation…the old being sedimented below the new in the minds of individuals' and multi-faceted in that they are subject to a plethora of meanings depending on the particular historically and politically situated position of the interpreter (cf. Smith 1994:263). Ballard (1994:145) suggests that 'the promise of a social landscape approach lies in the scope it offers for working with a series of overlapping constructs, different landscapes of meaning that address a variety of perspectives'.

Head (1993:487) distinguishes two major challenges for archaeologists interested in landscape as social expression: making hunter-gatherer social structures

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