Unlocking Historic Landscapes in the Eastern Mediterranean: Two Pilot Studies Using Historic Landscape Characterisation

By Turner, Sam; Crow, Jim | Antiquity, March 2010 | Go to article overview

Unlocking Historic Landscapes in the Eastern Mediterranean: Two Pilot Studies Using Historic Landscape Characterisation


Turner, Sam, Crow, Jim, Antiquity


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Introduction

Landscapes provide a central concern for many disciplines, and the best ways to understand, value and manage them are hotly debated. Richard Bradley has observed a split in landscape archaeology between economic/functional and social/symbolic approaches (2000), a theme recently taken up by Matthew Johnson in his Ideas of landscape (2007). Such divisions can also be traced in related disciplines including history and geography (Widgren 2004). Scholars and surveyors have created detailed and accurate records of ancient remains, but have often struggled to link them with past social processes or to appreciate that landscapes were not just simple reflections of economic and technological trends (Johnson 2007:119-27). Steeped in a different tradition are post-modernists, including many cultural geographers, post-processual archaeologists, and theoretically-minded historians. They have stressed that landscapes are not static but always contested, always changing, constantly negotiated and culturally constituted (Olwig 2004: 48). Particularly in the case of cultural geography, the emphasis on representation has led scholars away from the empirical research of traditional landscape studies towards more openly reflexive and overtly theoretical writing (Cosgrove & Daniels 1988).

Archaeological studies in the post-processual tradition have attempted to employ explicitly phenomenological approaches to provide viewpoints on past landscapes (e.g. Bender et al. 1997). Although these approaches have attracted various criticisms (Forbes 2007: 3644), post-processual archaeology is well-placed to develop rich perspectives on landscapes because it has continued to engage with material culture and with landscapes as the contexts for social life. Rather than seeing landscapes as neutral canvasses, which only exist and become active when the perceiver's gaze is cast upon them (what Bob Johnson described as 'explicit' perception), for many archaeologists there should be no division between 'real' landscapes and people's 'perceived' landscapes ('inherent' perception: Johnson, R. 1998). This engagement with material culture and landscape has helped anthropologically-minded archaeologists develop perspectives that emphasise the multi-dimensionality of everyday landscapes (Ingold 2004; Forbes 2007: 18-49). Along with the importance of landscape and material culture as context, archaeologists' appreciation of the time-depth present in the archaeological record has led many to share the Annaliste historians' concern for following trajectories of change over the long term (Morris 2000). Through this historicity, archaeology can provide particular insights into the meanings of landscape that are relevant, not only to understanding the past, but also the present and future (Ingold 2000: 208).

An unfortunate result of the widening divergence between scholars working in empirical and post-modern traditions is that each side seems to have forgotten that anything much might be gained from reading each others' work (Johnson, M. 2007; see Fleming 2007). But one of the main lessons of archaeological theory is surely that different people in the pastor present see the same thing in diverse ways thanks to their varying perspectives. In our view, integrative landscape archaeologies hold out the possibility of transforming mutual incomprehension into deeper, better-informed awareness of past and present landscapes by bringing together many viewpoints in unified frameworks. Our thinking in this is influenced by recent developments in international policy, in particular the signing and ratification by 33 countries of the European Landscape Convention (ELC) (CoE 2000; Dejeant-Pons 2006; Turner & Fairclough 2007). The ELC states explicitly that landscape is:

'.... an area, as perceived by people, whose character is the result of the action and interaction of natural and/or human factors' (CoE 2000: Article 1).

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