8.1 Introduction

Landscapes are webs of connected places and multiple relationships between people and their urban, rural, coastal and marine worlds. A decision has been made in this context to distinguish 'landscape' and 'place', which is partly a question of scale - landscapes contain and involve places but extend beyond them - and partly one of the nature of the differing activities, practices, relationships and meanings through which places and landscapes are known. This distinction is, however, an expedient one and landscape research will involve research into places as well.

In archaeology, as in other disciplines, landscape has been conceptualised in different ways (Johnson 2007, 2-4; Thomas 2012):

  1. as the land itself (the land surface, its physical properties and features);
  2. as a matter of perception (cognition, meaning, apprehension);
  3. as a matter of relationships and experience (bodily engagement, practice, task, movement).

1) In the first sense, one landscape is distinguished from another by the particular nature and constellation of its material characteristics. This way of knowing landscape is often held to be a particularly modern, objectifying one (see Johnson 1996, chapters 3 & 4; 2007; Thomas 2004, 178-9). This landscape can be captured and represented in a singular, comprehensive manner (a map, a topographic description, a landscape painting) and it is a landscape separate from people: an array of assets or resources to be exploited or manipulated by us or protected from us. Much landscape archaeology sits within this tradition: identifying, representing, classifying and ordering landscape features; managing historic environments, assets and resources.

2) In the second sense, the land and its features exist external to the subject, but the landscape is only ever known by a human subject. This opens the door to the consideration of alternatives to the conceptualisation of a landscape as the sum of its physical parts. This second habit of thought considers the material character of a landscape, but does so in terms of its subjective apprehension and meaning. Landscape is as much a construct of the mind and of culture as anything else: the landscape as thought and perceived. In adopting this definition of landscape, we shift our focus from the physical attributes of the land to the ways in which people perceive their world in sensory, ideological and emotional terms.

3) In the third sense, landscape is a matter of human social, material and environmental relationships: relationships between people, other living things and the inanimate world. Here, the job of landscape archaeology is to investigate how people engaged with their world in practice. This is landscape as known through movements, tasks, activities and routines; a complex of quotidian, episodic or exceptional interactions through which people moulded the land and its ecology and through which they themselves were moulded as subjects.

The upshot of this is that landscapes need to be understood in the round: the material aspect is fundamentally important but, alone, it is land, not landscape (i.e. point 1 above). Landscapes come into existence with the presence of people, and the same area of land can be host to multiple landscapes, known and experienced in different ways. This does not mean that any attempt to research past landscapes is futile because it requires us to access the thoughts of people long dead or to comprehend a bewildering array of individually-specific ways of perceiving the world. Rather, subjectivities are culturally, socially and historically constituted and the subjective landscape is, as much as anything else, a matter of customary practices and habits of thought, historically varying ways of knowing and doing, and socially variable access, experience and power. Landscapes are known and experienced through interaction with their material aspect and this interaction involves practices which leave behind them material traces. Landscape experiences and knowledges are thus open to archaeological enquiry.

Research under this theme will investigate the changing character of the land in conjunction with the dynamic character of landscape relationships at different times and in different circumstances. We need to know how we have formed and transformed the land and its ecology, and we need to know how we have been formed and transformed in the process. Landscape is a particular avenue into questions of self and society in modern Scotland (see Modern Person and Nation & State) and it is a matter of great contemporary relevance: in coming to know the landscape's past we come to understand the origins and character of our current relationships with the land, the environment and with each other.

The sections which follow explore this topic from four particular viewpoints amongst others. Throughout, it is taken as read that our understanding of modern landscapes must be founded on a sound knowledge of the empirical evidence of their development and that there is an undoubted need for further primary work identifying, recording and analysing archaeological remains on a landscape scale. Having accepted this general point, the focus of the chapter is not on the need for further primary work but on the themes and questions which such work might help us to address.


See also the ScARF Case Study: Landscape archaeologies of Modern Scotland

Tags: