Carolina's Historical Landscapes: Archaeological Perspectives

By Harvey, Bruce G. | South Carolina Historical Magazine, January 2000 | Go to article overview

Carolina's Historical Landscapes: Archaeological Perspectives


Harvey, Bruce G., South Carolina Historical Magazine


Carolina's Historical Landscapes: Archaeological Perspectives. By Linda F. Stine, Martha Zierden, Lesley M. Drucker, and Christopher Judge. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1997. Pp. xvi, 283. $45.00, cloth.)

This book is difficult to categorize. Given the purpose of the editors and authors, this is most likely a compliment. In it, a group of scholars dominated by archaeologists but whose ranks include historians, geographers, and museum professionals attempt to broaden the scope of both archaeology and the management of cultural resources. Their tool is the concept of "landscape" which they borrow, often rather loosely, from geographers. As University of South Carolina geographer John J. Winberry notes in his excellent introductory essay, many of the scholars in this volume have borrowed words, though not necessarily the meanings of those words, from their geographer colleagues. Winberry argues that geographers in the twentieth century have offered different ways of interpreting landscapes, but have maintained an essentially static definition of the term: "those works of man that are inscribed into the earth's surface" (p. 8). The scholars in this volume have given landscape and "the landscape approach" a range of meanings that includes a comparative perspective on archaeological sites, the history of human interaction with the environment, the integration of architectural and archaeological resources in a given area, and an interdisciplinary approach to archaeology. Despite these frequent and frustrating confusions, Carolina's Historical Landscapes remains an extremely valuable book for those interested in South Carolina's prehistory and history.

The book is clearly organized into three sections. An introductory essay by Linda F. Stine and Martha Zierden leads off the first set of five essays, most of which seek to lay a theoretical foundation for the concept of "landscape archaeology" and "the landscape approach." Many of these essays, particularly in this introductory section, take a strongly comparative perspective. In the practice of archaeology, this translates to the need to look at individual archaeological sites not as independent elements to be interpreted and evaluated on their own, but rather in connection with other sites as parts of a broader whole, As Stanton W. Green notes, while archaeologists focus on individual sites, which is often a by-product of the inability to excavate large areas, "human activities do not typically occur within such well-defined spaces" (p. 18). Various essays in the book's second section put this comparative approach into practice. This emphasis on a broader geographical awareness is certainly one of the strengths of the book, despite the often murky, occasionally even sloppy, attempts at defining a theoretical base and the dubious claims that this is a new approach.

The second section is a series of case studies which contains valuable contributions to an understanding of North and South Carolina's prehistory and history. While these are interdisciplinary essays, their basis in archaeology is clear, and provides us with a great deal of information and analysis that would not be available from documentary sources alone.

David Beard, for example, stresses the importance of river-based elements such as wharves, landings, and abandoned vessels when interpreting plantation sites in the Lowcountry. Rivers provided access to commerce and culture for the residents of the region's plantations in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, but the structures which linked the plantations and the rivers have been overlooked in previous studies. JW. Joseph, in two excellent essays (one co-authored by Mary Beth Reed), argues that an important segment of South Carolina's agricultural past is illserved by traditional, site-bound archaeological methods. The small farms of the Piedmont and Upcountry left few remains that can match the intensity of what is found in the archaeological remains of Lowcountry plantation settlements. …

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