Changing Places

By Stoddart, Simon; Zubrow, Ezra | Antiquity, September 1999 | Go to article overview

Changing Places

Stoddart, Simon, Zubrow, Ezra, Antiquity

'Rummidge and Euphoria are places on the map of a comic world which resembles the one we are standing on without corresponding exactly to it, and which is peopled by figments of the imagination.'

(LODGE 1983: 6)

Landscapes have become a major academic industry in recent years, but whereas 20 or even 10 years ago the term 'archaeological landscape' had a central meaning, today the same term covers a diversity of understandings as wide as the diversity of archaeology itself (Layton & Ucko 1999). This special section on landscape was recruited from a SAA session because it provided an interesting instance of that diversity, and, in particular, evidence of diversity within the so-called Anglo-Saxon world. In continental Europe, the Anglo-American world is classified as one intellectual unit. The special section by North American scholars on landscape presented above, once properly situated, illustrates that this is not the case. There are different traditions of landscape on both sides of the Atlantic which show some cross-fertilization, but enduring difference and diversity.

The organizers of the session claim (Fisher & Thurston this volume) that the study of archaeological landscape is in its infancy and cite a geographer to support this. We first respond briefly to this claim by addressing the development of landscape and those parts that geographers cannot reach. The organizers of this special section on landscape then claim that a landscape approach can be defined, and that their approach encapsulates the foundations of that approach. We - both with transatlantic experience in different directions - briefly respond to this claim and examine how far the papers encompass the current definitions of landscape.

Archaeological landscapes in their infancy?

There are coherent, long-standing traditions of landscape study by archaeologists/anthropologists on both sides of the Atlantic, even if not always explicitly defined in these terms. Many prominent traits of these early traditions have been picked up and developed by more theoretical approaches. In the 1920s, an understanding of the fundamental role of archaeological evidence in understanding landscapes was already present in the work of Crawford (Crawford & Keiller 1928) and Fox (1923). In Britain, a whole school of landscape studies, while lacking an explicit theoretical stance, continues to study recent prehistory and historical periods. The recognition of the palimpsest, the importance of three-dimensional and monumental remains and the use of (ethno)historic evidence are features which have been picked up by more theoretical approaches.

The tradition of landscape reconstruction became even more developed with the integration of extensive survey into the study of complex societies both in the New World and the Mediterranean. The Viru valley survey (Willey 1953) and the British School at Rome surveys to the north of Rome (Ward-Perkins 1955) were foundations for strong schools of landscape survey in both areas. On the North American side of the Atlantic this developed into the dominant ecological tradition from the 1960s to the 1980s. In particular, practitioners investigated landscapes occupied by complex and developing political entities, recorded by large-scale regional surveys. This type of American landscape study was once pre-occupied with the testing of prime movers in a search for testable realities, but has now progressed to the sophisticated study of macro-spatial processes (Marcus 1998). The natural development of this type of study has been into GIS-related techniques, a set of methodologies which do not form part of this landscape session. In the Mediterranean, landscape has been a particularly fruitful area in breaking down the Great Divide between Classics and archaeology, exploring the multi-dimensionality of landscape through text and ritual (Alcock & Osborne 1994) by drawing on collective traditions of research. …

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