Local Identities: Landscape and Community in the Late Prehistoric Meuse-Demer-Scheldt Region

Local Identities: Landscape and Community in the Late Prehistoric Meuse-Demer-Scheldt Region

Local Identities: Landscape and Community in the Late Prehistoric Meuse-Demer-Scheldt Region

Local Identities: Landscape and Community in the Late Prehistoric Meuse-Demer-Scheldt Region

Synopsis

Gerritsen's study investigates how small groups of people- households, or local communities- constitute and represent their social identity by shaping the landscape around them. Examining things like house building and habitation, cremation and burial, and farming and ritual practice, Gerritsen develops a new theoretical and empirical perspective on the practices that create collective senses of identity and belonging. An explicitly diachronic approach reveals processes of cultural and social change that have previously gone unnoticed, providing a basis for a much more dynamic history of the late prehistoric inhabitants of this region.

Excerpt

In this study I will draw on a range of archaeological materials to present a history of the communities inhabiting the Meuse-Demer-Scheldt (MDS) region between the beginning of the Late Bronze Age and the beginning of the Roman period. the aim is to elucidate some of the major social and cultural transformations that occurred during that period, covering roughly the first millennium bc. While a number of different histories could be written about the region and period, this one takes the form that it does because of the central theme that lies at its core: the reciprocal and dynamic relationships between human groups and the landscape.

This is a broad and vague description for a research theme; one that without further elucidation can conjure up quite different things, from ecologically-determined ‘people-land’ relationships to conceptualised landscapes and mythical geographies. It clearly needs a more precise definition; for the time being, however, I will retain this broad description and gradually clarify it in the course of this introduction. Moreover, as will become clear, the inclusiveness suggested by the description is an essential feature of the perspective that I advocate.

As a first exposition of the theme that I refer to as ‘reciprocal and dynamic relationships between human groups and the landscape’, let me briefly present a historical situation which contains in condensed form many of the elements that lie at the core of the subject of this study. in his book Bad land. An American romance the travel writer and novelist Jonathan Raban describes the history of the homesteaders on the prairie of Montana in the United States. Attracted by the prospect of a tract of free land, people from Europe and the American east coast settled down on the prairie in the early years of the twentieth century. They found themselves in a vast open space, totally devoid of geographical features that could orient them. There was nothing there with which they could in some way identify, nothing to remind them of their native villages and towns. It was a landscape without history, or more precisely, without a history that they knew how to read. of the thousands of hopeful arrivees, only a handful managed to ‘take root’ in this unintelligible space. Most others felt utterly estranged and displaced – even after building a homestead and sowing the land. Within a decade most families had moved on towards the west coast. the ones that stayed behind slowly built up a bond with the land over the course of several generations. But, significantly, this remained a very individual sense of belonging, one that scarcely translated into a notion of collective identity. Raban relates one particularly striking example of the lack of a sense of history and identity. As recently as 1993 Ismay, a small town in eastern Montana, chose to rename itself Joe. For the inhabitants the whimsical idea that mail sent from the local post office would be stamped with the name of one of the great heroes of American football – Joe Montana – easily outweighed the loss of their original name.

Raban 1996.

Raban 1996, 17, 98–99. the old name itself was a contraction of Isabel and May, daughters of the president of the railroad company that founded the town in the 1910s.

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