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Landscape Archaeology

By: Grahame Johnston - Updated: 4 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Landscape Archaeology Archaeologists

The concept of landscape archaeology is frequently used by archaeologists to describe an activity that is engaged by humans with their surrounding environment. For example: Subsistence or rituals involving interactivity with the natural topography.

Systems Not Scenes

When landscape archaeologists view a site they see systems and settings, intimately related to human life, and rather than observing the beauty of the countryside, the scene is studied primarily as a foundation to understand living and working. The reality of any landscape is understood in the symbolic, which is another way of saying that landscape archaeologists are examining ancient human culture.

Open to Interpretation

The remaining physical evidence of the landscape is open to varying degrees of interpretation. This is largely because human interaction with landscapes occur over time and the final result, examined by archaeologists, is a complex historical formation.

The forces and elements of weather cause chaos to the archaeological record. The further back in history the archaeologist attempts to deal with, the scarcer fossils, artefacts, and habitual evidence become. The modern challenge for the landscape archaeologist is how to go about reconstructing the human relationship with his ancient surrounding ecological environment with such few artefacts and so much alteration, by natural phenomena, limiting the evidence.

The difficulties are so acute when trying to study very early human landscape interaction that rather than search for symbolic explanations of the locations of archaeological features in the landscape, palaeoanthropologists and archaeologists prefer to concentrate on the functional, socio-economic probabilities, using a combination of results from previous studies, typological analysis of lithic artefacts, through micro-examination of damage exhibited on bone remains, and by examining distribution and clustering density patterns of bones and tools.

Low Density Artefacts

In regions where there was once a rich and plentiful supply of exploitable faunal resources people were likely to return periodically, according to animal migration habits if any, for planned hunting activities. In early sites of this nature there have been numerous finds of stone tools yet little indication of settlement on a permanent or even semi-permanent basis. It is hypothesized that the hunters travelled from a locality high in the raw materials needed to make tools. It is proposed that the same hunters left their weapons and tools at the hunting site, as tools were plentiful back in their base settlement.

These sites yield low densities of deposited artefacts and represent locations of relatively infrequent habitation or just areas where lithic resources were generally scarce.

Medium Density Artefacts

Sites with a medium density of tool or weapon artefacts is more likely to be the result of sporadic occupation due to the diversity of natural resources required for maintaining a settlement: fresh water, shelter, resources for cooking (fuel), and an adequate close food supply.

Let’s Move House

Humans are basically lazy individuals and early cultures shared this common characteristic. Archaeologists have introduced the term ‘economy of effort principle’ across landscape archaeological studies as a basis for predictive analysis. For example, if a good hunting or gathering ground is far away and requires expended effort to not only reach it but also return home again, lazy human will say, “Let’s move house.” Heavy natural resources, such as stone, can be an awkward material to transport. It is likely that settlements of one kind or another will eventually be established in or near to places of resources that are difficult to move.

Landscape archaeology is not merely limited to discovering the remnant settlements of early stone-tool people. It is a broad and encompassing science that can range from examining the spatial layout of the towns and settlements of the Dutch East India Company to rock art distribution across America or the pastoral advancements of food production in Europe.

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