NomadIT Conference Suite

TAG2010: 32nd annual meeting of the Theoretical Archaeology Group

Bristol, 17th-19th Dec 2010

(S08)

'Memories can't wait' - memory, myth, place and long-term landscape inhabitation

Location Wills G27
Date and Start Time 18 Dec, 2010 at 09:00

Organisers

Adrian Chadwick (Gloucestershire County Council) email
Catriona Gibson (University of Wales) email
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Short Abstract

This session seeks to investigate the material and mnemonic practices inherent in the long-term significance of particular places, features and deposits in the landscape.

Long Abstract

Despite discussions of the 'afterlife' of monuments, the role of the past in the past and the spatial and chronological links manifested in monument 'complexes' and 'ritual landscapes', to date there has been little theoretical consideration of how such persistence of place was possible; and why this was so. Long-term practices occurring over many centuries and human generations are indicated by discoveries at Cladh Hallan, Ferry Fryston and Fiskerton. In Britain, developer-funded investigations have demonstrated numerous landscape and depositional continuities. How could such accurate memories of earlier events be maintained for so long? Was this merely the political manipulation of the past, or was it a more reverential or religious referential process? Was this simply the 'dead weight of tradition', or are we witnessing the power of oral histories, myths and legends to transcend time?

We invite papers from archaeologists interested in such questions of persistence of place and practice. One aim of the session is to move discussion away from simplistic notions of 'ritual' landscapes; and towards the relationships between quotidian activities and arenas of 'everyday life' and the remnants of past features and events. Large-scale landscape references and small-scale, particular events could all be a focus for discussion. We welcome contributions from those working in developer-funded archaeology who have undertaken landscape-scale projects where such physical and temporal connections have been manifest.

Discussant: Duncan Garrow (am) Richard Bradley (pm)

This session is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

'Do you remember the first time?' A prolegomenal preamble through place and memory

Author: Adrian Chadwick (Gloucestershire County Council)  email
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Short Abstract

There have been many theoretical discussions in recent decades within archaeology, anthropology and cultural geography of the cultural significance of place; and of the role that memory and the past played/plays within communities. There has been much less consideration of how and why many astonishing persistences of place and practice were possible in the past. As part of a general introduction to the session, this paper briefly considers some of the major theories advanced for the social construction of time and memory, illustrated with archaeological examples drawn from everyday Iron Age and Romano-British landscapes in central and northern England, including the results of developer-funded investigations.

Long Abstract

There have been theoretical discussions in recent decades within archaeology, anthropology and cultural geography of the cultural significance of place; and of the role that memory and the past played/plays within communities. Particularly since the development of commercial developer-funded archaeology, there has been increasing evidence on archaeological sites across Britain for spatial and chronological links established between different monuments, features or groups of artefacts, spanning many human generations or even many centuries. People returned again and again to particular places and made deliberate 'references' to earlier features and events. At the same time, theoretical approaches to the archaeological evidence have made much of the 'afterlife' of monuments and features, and the importance of the past in the past.

To date, however, there has been much less consideration of how and why many astonishing persistences of place and practice were possible in the past. What social processes did this 'referencing' actually constitute, and how was it possible to maintain knowledge of distant events or sometimes quite physically unremarkable features over such surprisingly lengthy periods of time?

As part of a general introduction to the session, this paper briefly considers some of the major theories advanced for the social construction of time, memory and forgetting within communities. Several different social and temporal scales of mnemonic practices actively at work in human societies may be detectable in the archaeological evidence from everyday Iron Age and Romano-British landscapes of fields and settlements in central and northern England.

Memory, material and place

Author: Rick Peterson (University of Central Lancashire)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper considers the different ways that place, material and practice might have acted on social and individual memory in the past. Examples drawn from research on the use of British caves and rock shelters in prehistory will be used to examine three different kinds of remembering. First we can look at formal performance encoding and reinforcing ritual commemoration of semi-mythologized events or people. Secondly we have evidence for repeated action managing more immediate memory within social contexts such as burial ritual. Finally we have those repeated actions which arise from and inculcate bodily memory in learning and practicing life skills. All of these manifestations of memory can be approached through a concern with biographies of practice. These broaden and deconstruct traditional object biographies by focussing not on some notional ‘life’ of a bounded object but on the traditions and practices involved in the production and use of all kinds of things and places.

Long Abstract

This paper considers the different ways that place, material and practice might have acted on social and individual memory in the past. Examples drawn from research on the use of British caves and rock shelters in prehistory will be used to examine three different kinds of remembering. First we can look at formal performance encoding and reinforcing ritual commemoration of semi-mythologized events or people. Secondly we have evidence for repeated action managing more immediate memory within social contexts such as burial ritual. Finally we have those repeated actions which arise from and inculcate bodily memory in learning and practicing life skills. All of these manifestations of memory can be approached through a concern with biographies of practice. These broaden and deconstruct traditional object biographies by focussing not on some notional 'life' of a bounded object but on the traditions and practices involved in the production and use of all kinds of things and places.

Granny's old sheep bones and other stories from the Melton landscape

Author: Chris Fenton-Thomas (On Site Archaeology)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper will discuss ways in which knowledge of the past could have been memorized within communities using examples from excavations at Melton, East Yorkshire. Here, we explored an extensive landscape dating between the third millennium BC and the medieval period.

Long Abstract

British archaeologists are often surprised by evidence that people were aware of their own history stretching back for hundreds if not thousands of years. We are not always willing to accept that historical knowledge could have been passed down repeatedly from one generation to the next.

To discover the relationship that communities had with their own past we need to understand the ways in which landscapes were inhabited over the long-term. This is more difficult than it should be as we are sometimes unable to see beyond the confines of our own specialist periods.

I will consider these questions using examples from recent excavations by On-Site Archaeology at Melton where excavation has revealed a landscape of habitation between the third millennium BC and the first millennium AD. There were several examples where people had acted with an awareness of their past with regard to burials, boundaries and buildings. The examples suggested that memories could have been held for hundreds or thousands of years, raising the question of how this historical knowledge was transmitted and remembered. This may have included stories told by granny around the household fireplace or broader social memories held by the whole community and expressed through regular ceremonies or perhaps the naming or marking of features in the landscape.

Selective memories - the past in the past of Bronze Age Scotland

Author: Richard Bradley (Department of Archaeology)  email
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Short Abstract

The paper considers three differerent ways in which Scottish earlier prehistoric monuments were used and reused during later periods and considers how these processes provide information on attitudes to 'the past in the past'.

Long Abstract

Recent fieldwork has shown that many of the monuments built in the third millennium BC in Scotland were used again approximately a thousand years later. This happened widely, but it also happened selectively. This paper investigates three aspects of this relationship.

Firstly, it present the results of recent excavation at Broomend of Crichie where the positions of a number of unusual Beaker burials seem to have been commemorated by stone and earthwork monuments for nearly a thousand years before the site was abandoned. In this case there was an unbroken structural sequence.

Secondly, it considers the ways in which stone buildings were selectively reused and the striking manner in which elements of their architecture were copied in the construction of new monuments many years after their prototypes had been created. In this case it may have happened because their remains survived as prominent features of the terrain.

Lastly, the selection of monuments for reuse in the Middle and Late Bronze Ages seems to have been influenced by the sizes of the surviving structures. Large stone or earthwork enclosures were ignored, or renewed activity took place entirely outside them. Smaller, monuments, however, assumed a new significance and some of them were rebuilt. Perhaps this pattern reflects a change in the number of people who used them. It also suggests that public events no longer took place at secluded places, screened from the surrounding area. Now they were more visible and were integrated into the pattern of settlement.

Telling tales? Myth, memory and Crickley Hill

Authors: Kirsten Jarrett (Crickley Hill Archaeological Trust)  email
David Hollos (Crickley Hill Trust)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper will focus on Roman and post-Roman period activity at Crickley Hill: activity that strongly suggests a significant role for oral tradition and ritual practices in maintaining the significance of the site in the landscape over many centuries.

Long Abstract

Crickley Hill (in the Vale of Gloucester) has intermittent settlement and ritual practices from the Neolithic through to the modern day; this paper focuses upon activity at the Iron Age hillfort during the Roman and post-Roman periods. In the early and later Roman periods, ritual monument initially constructed in the late Neolithic - Early Bronze Age (the 'Long Mound') formed the focus for sporadic votive deposition. During the 5th century, the hilltop was reoccupied (perhaps by the nearby villa estate community), and the monument became incorporated within the post-Roman elite sector of the settlement.

Although possibly representing an earlier (2nd century AD) monument, it is argued that it was during this post-Roman phase of activity that the 'Short mound' - a smaller mound modelled upon the Long Mound - was constructed on the periphery of the settlement. The replication of Long Mound features, that lay buried until their excavation in the 1970s, suggests the existence of mechanisms for retaining knowledge over many centuries. The current explanation is that this must have involved the development of oral tradition, and possibly ritual performance, but to what extent might associated memories have been 'social' - and might there be other explanations?

This site gives a rare glimpse into the relationship between community and landscape during the 5th century - commonly seen as a time when religious systems, beliefs, and ritual behaviour, underwent radical change and renegotiation. It provides an opportunity to consider notions of continuity and transformation, and the inter-relationship of memory and power.

Castelo Velho and Prazo (V.N.F.Côa, Portugal): places of memory

Author: Alexandra Vieira (CEAUCP-CAM; IPB)  email
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Short Abstract

We conceive landscapes as places of memory. By studying social memory, we have realized the valuable contribution of oral tradition for the study of landscapes in archaeology, and the way in which it attends to the qualities of time as well as space. Therefore we have started to analyze archaeological sites by another perspective, in order to bring together the material evidence with the more symbolic dimensions of place.

Long Abstract

During our research we have come to realize that landscapes should no longer be seen as the "scenario" in which the actions of our ancestors took place, or as the support of an action, but instead should be engaged with as a current of time, space and movement. Many authors define landscape as a "palimpsest of memories," a group of many layers that accumulate over time; a document, a living archive. In this sense, we must be mindful of two types of phenomena: the visible elements, materialized by the archaeological evidence; and the invisible elements, the intangible or symbolic dimension of the landscape, which is shaped in social memory.

Many of the archaeological sites that we study became authentic "markers of the landscape" or "places of memory", restored through time, passed on to each subsequent generation, reinforcing the mnemonic qualities of the landscape. There seems to be a repository of timeless popular knowledge, carefully preserved and faithfully handed down through countless generations. The analysis of the landscape as "places of memory" leads us in search of new analytical tools, applied to the study of archaeology. Thus, the study of oral narratives, legends, myths, in short the oral tradition of a given community, becomes fundamental. As an example we bring here a brief summary of the oral traditions that are associated with two prehistoric archaeological sites from the region of Foz Côa: Castelo Velho de Freixo de Numão and Prazo.

The MTV generations: remixing the past in prehistory - commercial research in the Middle Thames Valley

Authors: Gareth Chaffey (Wessex Archaeology)  email
Alistair Barclay (Wessex Archaeology)  email
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Short Abstract

Various sites throughout the Middle Thames Valley (MTV) have been recorded in recent years due to the growing number of developer funded excavations. Such an explosion of commercially driven research has led to numerous opportunities to explore hugely complex and expansive sites. Long term and large-scale projects have provided opportunities to develop iterative research frameworks. The scale of these excavations permitted the investigation of whole occupation sites, monuments and land in between. Apparently `empty` land zones or ones with little trace of inhabitation contrast with other foci that are places of persistent or episodic habitation. The inhabitants would have had an awareness, whether through memory or oral tradition, of what went before and an understanding of how this shaped their world, ideas and beliefs.

Long Abstract

Discoveries at Horton, T5 Heathrow and Harlington have revealed general, prolonged reuse of a landscape with evidence for settlement and established tenure of fertile landscape from the Neolithic to medieval periods. Specific evidence, however, has suggested that particular landscape features were singled out for long-term interaction, sometimes with separate phases of activity covering several millennia. These may relate to small pits, placed deposition within features, or the reuse and development of long-standing monuments.

This paper considers to what extent memory and tradition played a part in the reuse of such features. Features show evidence for the very specific act of retention of coveted/curated artefacts, perhaps even heirlooms, and their ultimate deposition within significant contexts. Were the communities merely continuing specific practices long held within their cultures, commonly practiced throughout their lives? Or were such acts merely the result of specific 'events', singular to a small community or group?

'Divide or pool?' Fragmentation versus continuity in the prehistoric inhabitation of multi-period landscapes in south-east England

Author: Catriona Gibson (University of Wales)  email
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Short Abstract

In recent decades, extensive multi-period sites uncovered by developer-led archaeology in Britain have provided enormous potential for addressing questions of long-term landscape inhabitation. However, the ability to identify connections and continuity between different elements of these landscapes has been hampered by the way in which analysis is often conducted – through breaking up sites into neat but fragmented period-specific blocks. This paper wishes to reconnect severed links and offer a more coherent but perhaps ‘messy’ approach to our understanding of past landscapes in south-east England spanning Neolithic to Roman periods.

Long Abstract

Over the last 20 years, many large and complex multi-period sites have been uncovered through developer-funded archaeological work in Britain. While this has provided a valuable resource for investigating long-term landscape inhabitation, the potential of these excavations has sometimes been under-played. Archaeological analysis is not always well-designed to explore the multiplicity of associations that may have been present amongst various landscape elements of different periods. While archaeologists are often more comfortable dividing landscapes up and creating single-phase site plans, this adds the danger of unwittingly severing the nuanced connections that once existed between various features and landscape elements of different periods.

This paper will highlight such links identified in recently excavated, extensive multi-period landscapes at Boscombe Down in Wiltshire and Springhead in Kent spanning the Neolithic to Roman periods, and will investigate the various ways in which long-term landscape memories were maintained, recreated or manipulated. This included the creation of new relationships with existing monuments in addition to continuities and changes in attitudes to these places through re-use, elaboration, and even deliberate avoidance over surprisingly long periods of time. Sites should therefore not be viewed as static entities, and our rather clinical classification removes the opportunity to pursue how prehistoric landscapes were knitted together over extensive time-frames. By embracing the 'messiness' and multi-scalar nature of archaeological sites it is possible to identify the networks of past connections and provide cogent and more rounded biographies of prehistoric inhabitation.

Innovation within tradition: transforming the longhouses of Neolithic Europe

Author: Daniela Hofmann (Institute of Archaeology, Oxford)  email
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Short Abstract

Why do Linearbandkeramik houses suddenly become far more varied? If we see building ‘traditions’ in terms of reverential repetition, this seems indeed puzzling. I argue that domestic buildings reference a past ideal community, but were also actively used to argue for very different possible futures.

Long Abstract

It is hard to come up with something genuinely new, and for the LBK culture of central Europe (c. 5600-4900 cal BC) it doesn't look like people even tried that hard. LBK building tradition is therefore often conceived as rather static. Andrew Jones (in Memory and Material Culture; CUP 2007) has - convincingly - argued that longhouses are so similar over vast regions and long time spans because they referenced the same 'idealised village' of the mythical past. Building and living in each new longhouse is hence a long-term perpetuation of the (idealised) past, reverentially re-created to structure daily life in the present. Yet, while remaining recognisably 'Danubian' in style, the later LBK house became somewhat more exciting: building enormous houses, freeing up the space inside, trying odd post settings - most things you can do to an LBK house have in fact been done. Is this a period of 'innovation' after the long stasis of 'tradition'? Perhaps the problem rather lies in our insistence to pit these terms against each other. This paper explores the micro-histories of specific dwellings, sites and regions to show that the 'ideal past' LBK people referenced was more versatile than pure repetition. While remaining true to their idea of wanting to create the ideal community, longhouse builders used the 'immutable traditions of time immemorial' to argue for very different futures.

Moving through memories: site distribution, performance and practice in Rural Etruria

Author: Lucy Shipley (University of Southampton)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper examines the use and experience of the Etruscan landscape using data from four different field surveys. In it I aim to demonstrate the presence of a coherent pattern of practice, the persistence of memory and the negotiation of daily activities in a cultured landscape rich in meaning.

Long Abstract

The romanticised timelessness of the Tuscan landscape has been a feature of Etruscan landscape archaeology since the early influence of Dennis and Lawrence, and seeing continuity both from modern hill towns and villages to Etruscan lifeways, as well as further back to Villanovan origins, has been a prominent aspect of landscape study in the region. In this paper I move away from this vision of simple pastoral bliss, and attempt to discuss the landscape of Etruria as a complex place inhabited not only by people but also by memories and traditions of practice and experience. By reviewing the data of four different landscape surveys, I have developed an interpretive scheme which holds true for all of them, based on the similar patterns in landscape use present in each one. I use a phenomenological, experiential approach to incorporate the long memories of this landscape with a practical sense of its use during the Etruscan period. Through considering the situation of settlement and mortuary sites, and the paths of movement between both these sites and natural resources in the landscape, I develop an idea of ritualised daily activity, in a landscape filled with meaning and memory. In this paper I develop ideas of transhumantic practice set in a landscape filled with ancestral echoes, daily performance in a ritualised landscape, and movement along paths embued with meaning as keys to effectively interpreting the data gleaned from field survey and site mapping.

"At a depth of 5-6 feet, lying in a confused heap": contextualising the Broadward metalwork hoard

Authors: Jodie Lewis (University of Worcester)  email
David Mullin (University of Reading)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper details recent excavations at the site of the Late Bronze Age Broadward metalwork hoard and discusses the surprising evidence uncovered about the hoard’s depositional context and the long tradition of human activity at this place.

Long Abstract

In 1867 a large hoard of Late Bronze Age metalwork was found during drainage and water management in a field known as "Lower Moor" at Broadward Hall, on the Shropshire-Herefordshire border. The hoard has subsequently lent its name to a complex of metal weapons dominated by the distinctive Broadward-type spearheads. In the summer of 2010, the authors and Richard Bradley carried out excavations at Broadward in an attempt to locate the hoard site. This paper will detail some of the results of the excavations, which revealed evidence for a long history of human activity, predating and postdating the deposition of the hoard. This in turn raises interesting questions about factors that may have influenced the selection of particular places for metalwork deposition during the Late Bronze Age and the afterlife of such locations.

As well as the significance of the place, this paper will also consider the fallibility of memory in relation to the 1867 discovery of the Broadward hoard. Which county was it really found in; how many excavations actually took place; at what depth was the metalwork really found; what was found with it and how many items were there in the Broadward Hoard?

Building continuity in the central Anatolian Neolithic

Author: Bleda During (Leiden University)  email
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Short Abstract

The transmission of memories is restricted to a few generations, unless aided by specific technologies. It is argued that in the central Anatolian Neolithic building continuity was used to create specific links with the past that were important in the constitution of society. This phenomenon will be explored for the sites of Aşıklı Höyük and Çatalhöyük.

Long Abstract

The transmission of specific memories through time is generally restricted to a few generations at most, unless aided by specific technologies or practices. In the context of the central Anatolian Neolithic it can be argued that building continuity was used to create specific links with the past revolving on the built environment. These links were of importance in the constitution of society in this cultural horizon, and it can be argued that we are dealing with 'house societies'.

In this paper I will explore two central Anatolian Neolithic sites: Aşıklı Höyük and Çatalhöyük, where we can observe how buildings developed over the course of centuries. Whereas at Aşıklı Höyük buildings seem to be diligently copied in each building episode, at Çatalhöyük we can observe a transformation of domestic buildings into buildings that where the focus of ritual activities of large groups of people. Drawing on the studies of Lévi-Strauss and Bloch, it will be postulated that people at these two sites held divergent views of their histories.

Quick architecture, persistent practice: the long-term use and inhabitation of the monumental landscapes of western Britain

Author: Vicki Cummings (UCLan)  email
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Short Abstract

In this paper I will consider the long term use of chambered tombs in western Britain. Most of these monuments seem to have been built fairly expediently in the early Neolithic (between 3800-3500 BC), but many were then remodelled and reused over the next 2000 years. Not only were the monuments themselves reworked and reused episodically over this long time-scale, but the landscapes in which they were located continued to be occupied and used. In this paper I want to think about why people returned to earlier sites and remodelled the architecture, often in quite subtle ways. I will think about the practices associated with the use and reuse of chambered tombs and finally I will consider the impact of these sites in the wider landscape. What did it mean to live alongside these monuments, and why did people, at certain times, return and re-engage with them?

Long Abstract

In this paper I will consider the long term use of chambered tombs in western Britain. Most of these monuments seem to have been built fairly expediently in the early Neolithic (between 3800-3500 BC), but many were then remodelled and reused over the next 2000 years. Not only were the monuments themselves reworked and reused episodically over this long time-scale, but the landscapes in which they were located continued to be occupied and used. In this paper I want to think about why people returned to earlier sites and remodelled the architecture, often in quite subtle ways. I will think about the practices associated with the use and reuse of chambered tombs and finally I will consider the impact of these sites in the wider landscape. What did it mean to live alongside these monuments, and why did people, at certain times, return and re-engage with them?

The past in the past at the Pillar of Eliseg

Author: Howard Williams (University of Chester)  email
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Short Abstract

Based on new research and fieldwork by ‘Project Eliseg’, a new interpretation of the prehistory and history of the Pillar of Eliseg is presented that questions recent approaches to the past in the past linking monumentality and memory.

Long Abstract

Drawing on recent research and fieldwork by 'Project Eliseg' (a collaborative recent venture by Nancy Edwards and Gary Robinson of Bangor University together with Dai Morgan Evans and Howard Williams of the University of Chester), I suggest a new interpretation of the prehistory, life-history and afterlife of the Pillar of Eliseg. This ninth-century fragment of stone sculpture is situated near Llangollen in North Wales upon what seems a far-older mound and utilises a range of sophisticated commemorative technologies to promote the myths and genealogies of the kings of Powys. Subsequently, the monument attracted later medieval religious devotion, antiquarian interest and has become a heritage attraction.

Superficially, the Pillar of Eliseg might be regarded as an instance of the long-term link between myth, memory and monumentality where archaeology can traces 'persistent memories' through the 'biography' of the monument over the centuries. I aim to illustrate that such an approach would be an intellectual fallacy that conceals not only our fragmentary knowledge of the monument but also evidence that can be clearly interpreted to the contrary. My reading of the Pillar of Eliseg reveals that this classic instance of the persistent linkage of myth, memory and monumentality is more profitably interpreted in a contrary manner. This in turn leads us into new terrain for understanding the social and political nature of both remembering and forgetting through material culture with implications for both prehistoric and historical archaeologies.

This session is closed to new paper proposals.