ASA09: Anthropological and archaeological imaginations: past, present and future
Bristol, UK

Imagining past and present landscapes
Location Wills 3.33
Date and Time 7th April, 2009 at 16:30


Monica Janowski (School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London)
Tim Ingold (University of Aberdeen)
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

This panel explores the points of interaction and intersection between the imagined landscapes of archaeologists, anthropologists and local people, based on the premise that these are sites of productive tension.

Long Abstract

An important area of research within current anthropology and archaeology has to do with the ways in which people engage with the world around them. Anthropologists, archaeologists and local people are all engaged in both imagining landscapes in the past and present and in living in them through situated practice. The points of interaction and intersection between different imaginings of and ways of living in the landscape are sites of productive tension. Drawing on each othe's data and methods, archaeologists and anthropologists can join together with local inhabitants in a common project of understanding the processes whereby landscapes are imagined in the past and in the present. Papers are invited which present research that draws on both anthropological and archaeological material whether through direct collaboration, indirect collaboration or with reference to existing literature to better understand how landscapes are imagined by people.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Imagining aridity: an ethnoarchaeology of the Kel Tadrart (Southwest Libya)

Authors: Jasper Chalcraft (University of Leicester)
Stefano Biagetti


This paper explores the lived world of the Kel Tadrart, semi-nomadic and settled pastoralists living in the south-west of the Libyan Sahara. Building on two recent ethnoarchaeological missions, the different understandings of the unique landscape of the Tadrart Acacus mountain range and surrounding area are seen to lie less in our disciplinary datasets, and more in the cultural ideals and embedded social memory that continue to underscore Kel Tadrart life. Of interest here is also how the worldview that lies behind the disciplinary practice of archaeology and anthropology depends on a kind of environmental determinism that is at odds with those who actually live in and around the Tadrart Acacus. Local perceptions of the environment and landscape, associated with the strategies pursued to survive within this extremely arid region, show an unexpected dynamism and variability, especially when viewed in an historical perspective. The paper also explores the ongoing challenges in integrating archaeological, anthropological, and local knowledges, and also tries to account for the context of rapid change brought about by the relatively recent opening up of the Libyan Sahara to tourism, an activity which increasingly impacts on Kel Tadrart lives and livelihoods.

Lost ancestry and English landscapes

Author: Chris Gosden (University of Oxford)


I will start with a proposition - anthropology and archaeology began in their modern form due to a loss of faith in their ancestors on part of the middle classes. Anthropology allowed people to become interested in other people's ancestors; archaeology displaced problems of ancestry way back into the past making it an impersonal quest, easily mythologized. One of the few ways in which it is possible to use the term English as a description without it sounding self-conscious or odd is in the phrase 'English landscape'. Public interest in landscape in England came about through a search for ancestry and rootedness. Academic interests in landscape from the later 20th century onwards share some of the same motivations, for instance in phenomenological approaches, but totally unacknowledged. This paper will look at some of the emotional and intellectual longing attached to the term landscape, both in reference to the English landscape, but ultimately in the study of landscape by English scholars elsewhere.

OrkneyLab: an archipelago experiment in futures

Author: Laura Watts (University of Edinburgh)


'The Orkney imagination is haunted by time' wrote the Orcadian poet, George Mackay Brown. Here, on this archipelago beyond the northern coast of Scotland, brackish lochs and moist green fields weave around Neolithic stone circles, chambered tombs, standing stones. Lighthouses glance out at concrete barriers, gun emplacements, a fleet of scuttled ships, reminders of world wars. Cloud-grey wind turbines on the horizon turn, their own archaeology marked by empty hexagonal platforms and a derelict visitors centre. And soon, beneath the fast churning waves, concrete piles for tidal and wave power generators will be left un-forgotten. The Orkney imagination is haunted by past and future.

'Orkney is a place that acts through people' said a local renewable energy company director. Here, closer to the Arctic Circle than to London, at the edge and on the edge, lies the world's first grid-connected tidal and wave power generation test-site. Here the National Grid has created the UK's first zone for experiments in new power technology. Here are ongoing, contested, heartfelt experiments in the boundary-setting of a World Heritage Site - where the dissolution of nature/culture is altering the landscape to come. Here, almost all 16 inhabited islands have a community develop trust with profit-making subsidiaries for generating wind power - not just for fuel, but for the future survival of their remote populations.

This is a place that acts through people, not as Orkney but as OrkneyLab, an ethnographic experiment in imagined futures.

The view from the beach: awakening Hiraeth and weaving imaginaries on the Gower in Wales

Author: Kaori O'Connor (University College, London)


Long overshadowed by land and maritime studies, coasts have emerged as a scholarly field in their own right, negating the old polarized imaginaries of land/sea, rural/urban. Coasts are also now recognized as important sources of diversity for social-ecological resilience. This study focuses on Wales, which has some 750 miles of coastline and where 60% of the population lives in the coastal zone, mainly in South Wales. The principal fieldwork site is the Gower Peninsula, a haven for rare flora and wildlife, with a rich historic landscape that includes remains from the Mesolithic period onwards. The Gower is also a microcosm of contending interests and imaginaries, including differing visions of 'Welsh-ness' and the Welsh past, regional and language rivalries, and the competing agendas of developers and conservationists, producers and consumers, tourists and residents. The industrialisation of South Wales transformed the coast and largely obliterated coastal culture. Stretches of the shoreline have been regenerated, but much local knowledge of the past and of the Gower has been lost. The work presented here uses anthropological and archaeological findings and techniques in tandem with local knowledge to re-inscribe the environment with meanings, imaginaries and feelings (hiraeth) that are essential to engaging the public in costal heritage conservation and natural resource management. It uses an approach developed in Hawaii, where beach and coast have always been central. As well as the past, it focuses on the present and future, including the imaginaries of surfers, and on two coastal foods emblematic of Gower, cockles and seaweed.

Ambivalent frontiers: spatial and political imaginaries in southern Belize

Author: Sophie Haines (University of Oxford)


This paper explores some of the complex ideas and experiences relating to interactions of geography and history in rural southern Belize, where intertwining spatial and political imaginaries play into the negotiation and enactment of livelihoods strategies, socio-economic development, and identity politics. While far from 'essential' in a static, deterministic way, land plays many varied and often ambiguous roles in the unfurling of these discourses and practices.

Boundaries, settlements, and their histories are especially contentious in the context of local, national and international land rights claims. Formalization of borders often engenders conflict with perceptions of mythical, unbounded land; both are powerful tools in the politics of rights and identity. Jural discourses of land as quantifiable and bounded are utilised not only by state and commercial agents but also by some local stakeholders campaigning for land rights; concurrently state actors may employ mythic time and space to promote Belize as a Maya cultural area for the tourist market. Boundary negotiations and archaeological sites are thus potent loci of meanings and resources; the tangibility of the latter may present a fixing point for these apparently contradictory discourses. What opportunities for dialogue arise in these contested spaces?

Imagined and performed demarcations of 'communities', ethnic/linguistic groups, nation-states, crown land, communal land, leased land and private property create dynamic frontiers with important implications for land use and politics in the district. I propose an ecological model for political relations in this environment, which reflects the fluidity and complexity of spatial and temporal contexts.

Competing representations of the Diamond Mountains and national territory of Korea

Author: Christian Park (Hanyang University ERICA)


The Diamond Mountains is one of the most celebrated mountains associated with the national identity of Korea. In the national history of modern Korea or Joseon, it is represented as a sacred place, a place where one discovers 'real' Korea. To Korean nationalists fighting against Japanese colonial rule the Diamond Mountains was the spirit of Korean people.

But in the contemporary Korean history, a history of national division, the war torn Diamond Mountains became an anti-imperial war memorial site later elevated to a revolutionary historic site and an ideal natural border for North Korea. However, in South Korea, the once legendary and mythic mountains had to be forgotten from the public memory of the people. In fact, it was forbidden to travel to the Diamond Mountains or to North Korea for that matter after the division of the Korean peninsula.

The Hyundai tour to the Diamond Mountains, which began in 1998, brought back the memories of the Diamond Mountains as the spirit of the nation, but, at the same time, inflamed a controversy in the discourse of national identity and territory. How to make sense of North Korea, North Koreans, and the northern territory, a territory imbued with contradictory and ambivalent senses of belonging, became the key questions. The representations of the landscape and people are constantly shifting as they compete with each other to gain hegemony of the discourse on national identity.

Seeing ruins: imagined and visible landscapes in north east Scotland

Author: Jo Vergunst (University of Aberdeen)


This paper explores the landscapes of a particular hill in north east Scotland. There, community-based archaeological research does not just inform the reconstruction of the past but is a site of active social relations between generations of inhabitants and various landowners. For current inhabitants a primary concern is to make visible and keep visible the archaeological remains against both the encroaching undergrowth of a forest environment and the threat of actual industrial afforestation. The paper presents ethnographic sequences of how members of the community learn to make their own landscape physically and bureaucratically visible through the techniques and structures of archaeological drawing. Such a range of archaeological imaginations start from an involvement in the world as landscape rather than from a discrete cognitive process.

Materiality and meaning of blackhouses

Author: Tessa Poller (University of Glasgow)


Blackhouses are a fast disappearing form of vernacular stone-built house. These houses were an integral part of the 19th and 20th century Hebridean social-economic way of life, one that depended on the wider landscape- cultivating of crops, cutting peat and tending livestock. Local communities in Lewis, those from other places (but who feel their roots are in Lewis) and archaeologists all have varying perceptions of the role of blackhouses in the contemporary world. For many within the local communities the blackhouses are remembered as the vestiges of a bygone era. Their identity and memories are, however, not bound to the physical preservation of these structures in their everyday life. Contrastingly, there are those, such as members of the Hebridean diaspora and archaeologists (each with their own motivation) who want to preserve and record the blackhouses in their 'natural' setting. This paper will explore how the materiality and setting of blackhouses relate to the social identity of each of these groups.

From stones to stories and back to stories: anthropology and archaeology among the ruins of Sambor Prey Kuk, Cambodia

Author: Tuck Po Lye (Universiti Sains Malaysia)


This paper draws from fieldwork along the Stueng Saen (river) in Kampong Thom, Cambodia. While my purview extended to the socio-economic relations among riverside communities, my physical base was near Sambor Prey Kuk monument complex. It has been described as the third largest ancient monument site in Southeast Asia. Discovering that remains (including temple ruins and associated infrastructure) are truly integrated into village landscapes today, I started to follow new leads on local communities' stories and knowledge. The past is in the present—how does the present relate to the past?

An important fieldwork challenge in the anthropology of ancient sites is learning how to make sense of the landscape. In conventional ethnographic fieldwork, first-order learning is through attending to the ways that locals engage with the environment, behaviourally and cognitively. It is more complicated, as at Sambor Prey Kuk, when the landscape has been roadmapped by archaeologists but remains an anthropological frontier. Anthropologists are, in this instance, upstart newcomers tactlessly questioning everything. One point of productive tension between anthropology and archaeology begins by recognizing the limitations of their respective stories, and synthesizing these stories with those of the people of the landscape; i.e., the locals. However, cross-cultural considerations of power, authority, and knowledge are still relevant: whose story do we believe and accept? What leaps of imagination are necessary in order to deal with contesting epistemologies? What methods and standards of verification do we use, and value? What kind of story would emerge?

Imagining the force(s) of life and the cosmos in the Kelabit Highlands, Sarawak

Author: Monica Janowski (School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London)


For the Kelabit, the landscape is hypothesized to be full of nodes of life, which are related to each other through a flow of life or power (lalud) through a landscape the whole of which can be said to be alive. Lalud is seen as unitary and has its source in the Creator Deity. For the Kelabit, then, spiritual forces and natural forces are one and have the same origin. What might be described as nodes of lalud include animals and plants, but they also include stones, crystals and mountains. Humans can intervene in the flow of lalud, diverting and channelling it.

Researchers – anthropologists, archaeologists and environmental scientists – working in the Kelabit Highlands on the Cultured Rainforest project aim to chart the human relationship with the natural environment over time. To do this archaeologists and environmental scientists utilize analytical skills founded in scientific hypotheses about the operation of the forces of the cosmos to understand the ‘natural’ processes which are occurring in the highlands and which form a backdrop to what humans do; and they and the anthropologists working on the project use this data as well as participant observation and interview data to hypothesize about and attempt to explain human behaviour.

Not only for the Kelabit, but also for modern science, the forces of the cosmos are ultimately one, since they have their source in the basic physical laws of the universe, which are seen as closely related to one another. Both researchers and the Kelabit consider that humans can intervene to divert and utilize the forces of the cosmos. However, the nature of those forces is conceived of somewhat differently, with implications for the ways in which they are seen to operate and the ways in which humans can intervene in them. One of the most important differences between the two ontologies is in the distinction which modern science makes between life and forces which are seen as purely ‘material’, a distinction which the Kelabit do not make. This has important implications for the ways in which the forces of the cosmos are imagined to operate; and also for the ways in which humans are imagined to be able to intervene in those forces.

Tangible interventions: materiality, circulation and the lived landscapes of contemporary archaeology

Author: Marisa Lazzari (University of Exeter)


This paper attempts to understand cultural struggles and their resolutions as practices of connectedness, focusing on their representational and non-representational aspects. I draw connections between past and present circulating cultural products (of various kinds) and projects in order to point at the relevance of archaeological frameworks to illuminate the ways in which we understand the present. Archaeology's acknowledged influence over anthropological studies is often limited to the impact findings have, and rarely in terms of conceptual schemes. Yet the investigation of past social interaction reveals that social significance is intimately linked to the trajectories of people and objects that create real and imagined spaces. The cumulative effect of circulation -and the practices that stop it- shapes landscapes as deep-time regionalities. Such landscapes constitute a people's history as a unique blend of fact, fetish, imagination, and inhabitation.

There are links between materiality, circulation, and landscape that tend to manifest at the intersection of archaeology and indigenous claims over cultural heritage. The paper discusses the theoretical and experiential links that point in the direction of new methodologies, dissolving the customary separation between past and present life-worlds in contemporary research agendas. The paper interrogates past and present cultural formations looking at the social efficacy of objects and their concrete presence in particular social projects. An adequate understanding of social action requires the exploration of the political, social and aesthetic fields as structured by the circulation of cultural products—from concepts to artefacts—and the mediating "work" of particular material devices