Colonization of Unfamiliar Landscapes: The Archaeology of Adaptation

Colonization of Unfamiliar Landscapes: The Archaeology of Adaptation

Colonization of Unfamiliar Landscapes: The Archaeology of Adaptation

Colonization of Unfamiliar Landscapes: The Archaeology of Adaptation

Synopsis

This innovative and important volume presents the archaeological and anthropological foundations of the landscape learning process. Contributions apply the related fields of ethnography, cognitive psychology, and historical archaeology to the issues of individual exploration, development of trail systems, folk knowledge, social identity, and the role of the frontier in the growth of the modern world.A series of case studies examines the archaeological evidence for and interpretations of landscape learning from the movement of the first pre-modern humans into Europe, peoplings of the Old and New World at the end of the Ice Age, and colonization of the Pacific, to the English colonists at Jamestown.The final chapters summarize the implications of the landscape learning idea for our understanding of human history and set out a framework for future research.

Excerpt

What does it mean to know an environment? In today's terms, what do we know about the spaces in which we live - about their resources, their unique characteristics, their limitations? How long did it take for us to learn them? How much of what we know comes from personal experience and how much is drawn from the experiences of others? When we leave an environment, what information do we take with us, and how and for how long do we apply that information in the new environments to which we go? And, from a material perspective, do the things we leave behind represent what we knew of our environments during our time in them?

The inspiration for asking these questions in this paper was a discussion by Bruce Trigger of V. Gordon Childe's work on the topic of knowledge and the environment. Childe, Trigger states, described knowledge as a "set of shared mental approximations of the real world that [permit] human beings to act upon it" Childe also noted that "human beings adapt not to their real environment but to their ideas about it, even if effective adaptation requires a reasonably close correspondence between reality and how it is perceived" (Trigger 1989:261). This idea of effective adaptation is key. It underlines the question of what knowledge is absolutely necessary for people to exist and persist in an environment, and how knowledge about an environment accumulates and comes to reflect experiences in the environment over time.

The topics of adaptation and the development of human-environment interactions are therefore deeply linked to the archaeological study of colonization. Clive Gamble, in his work Timewalkers: The Prehistory of Global Colonization (1993:182), notes that "the changes in behavior required to complete this process [of global colonization] are what made us human, even though that behavior had no such goal in mind. We were not adapted for filling up the world. It was instead a consequence of changes in behavior, an exaptive radiation produced by the cooption of existing elements into a new framework for action." Thus, it was changes in behavior that brought the human form into contact with new environments and, in turn, new environments that further enforced and encouraged the development of new behaviors. As such, there is a need for archaeology to consider deeply how it studies, understands, and interrelates the topics of colonization, behavior, and environmental knowledge.

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