Identifying and Protecting Historic Landscapes

By Darvill, Timothy; Gerrard, Christopher et al. | Antiquity, September 1993 | Go to article overview

Identifying and Protecting Historic Landscapes


Darvill, Timothy, Gerrard, Christopher, Startin, Bill, Antiquity


Six years ago, Darvill and colleagues reported (ANTIQUITY 61: 393--408) on the Monuments Protection Programme, a new English initiative to build, from a century of haphazard acts of site protection, a set of balanced judgements and priorities by which to recognize ancient places that are more precious, genuinely of a national importance. The Programme, they tell ANTIQUITY, has now completed the first-stage review of information in local sites and monuments records and is proceeding with the identification of nationally important monuments in every English county. This further paper reports on how the Monuments Protection Programme is addressing landscapes, as distinct from 'spot sites' with clear limits, where the matters of defining a 'relict cultural landscape' and judging relative value are harder.

One of the most rapidly expanding branches of archaeological research is that concerned with historic landscapes. The signs are all around: numerous books and articles (e.g. Fowler 1970; Aston 1985; Coones & Patten 1986); a Society for Landscape Studies; many survey and excavation projects with landscape-related questions at the heart of their research designs (English Heritage 1991: 37--9); and the idea of landscape study figuring prominently in the research objectives promulgated by the major period societies (e.g. Prehistoric Society 1988).

This paper sets out for discussion the approaches to the archaeology of landscape currently being developed within the Monuments Protection Programme for England. It is divided into four sections: first a background to archaeological interest in landscapes; the second deals with what are here termed 'Relict Cultural Landscapes'; the third considers the protection and preservation of historic landscapes; while the final section addresses the importance of archaeologically meaningful historic landscapes. The main purpose of the paper is to introduce, with examples drawn from the authors' experiences, the proposition that relict cultural landscapes should be defined on the basis of recorded patterns within arrangements of archaeological remains rather than simply as the identification of extensive monuments, clusters of monuments (complexes), islands of good preservation, or the setting of known sites.

Archaeologists and landscapes

Interest in the historical dimensions of the landscape extends back into the later decades of the 19th century, but did not become a significant aspect of archaeological research until the mid 1960s. Several factors prompted the development of a school of landscape archaeology, among them the ever-expanding spatial scale of archaeological investigations and theory-building, contributions from disciplines such as historical geography and anthropology, increasing availability of appropriate source material, and the influence of environmental politics on the kinds of archaeological projects carried out (Darvill 1992; Darvill et al. forthcoming).

Perhaps because of the wide range of stimuli which influenced the development of the subject, and the speed with which it has come about, there is currently no coherent body of general theory for the analysis and understanding of the archaeology of landscapes (Coones 1985), nor indeed is there any generally accepted terminology. Ask almost any archaeologist working in England to name a few historic landscapes and the answer will almost certainly include: Salisbury Plain, Dartmoor, Bodmin Moor, upper Thames Valley, the Fens, Somerset Levels and Pennines. Examined closely, all of these prove to be topographically defined areas with special characteristics of preservation, the archaeology of which has been subjected to intensive investigation in recent years. Such topographical determinism in the definition of historic landscapes fails adequately to reflect even the simplest theoretical proposition in which reconstructions of past land-use emphasize the simultaneous exploitation of different environmental zones. …

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