2.1 Landscapes of routine practice

One of the most thought-provoking and widely discussed postprocessual approaches to be applied to the landscape is phenomenology (Tilley 1994; 2004). Its assumption of the universality of the human body and its imposition of modern concepts of individuality onto past societies make a direct application problematic (Brück 1998; 2005, 55). Besides, applying phenomenology to artefact scatters is, at best, a challenge (though it has been attempted: Given 2004).

Some recent work investigating technology in the light of practice theory seems more useful for the analysis of artefacts in the landscape. Technology is more than a series of practical operations linked by the laws of cause and effect. It is a physical experience of making and using material culture, in specific spatial and social situations. It involves constant interactions between people, material and landscape (Dobres 2000, 126-8; Edmonds 1995, 11-15).

The chaine opératoire in particular is much more than a series of physical activities. The manufacture of a tool or a pot incorporates learned knowledge and an ever-widening social network (Dobres 2000, 155; Hind 2004, 41). It looks back to the places where the material was quarried and where the activities and understanding were learnt. It looks forward to the places where the implement will be transported, used, reinterpreted and discarded (Stuart 2003, 105). This web of connections constitutes the social context of an artefact scatter in its landscape.

This approach does not apply solely to the manufacture of tools. Routine, everyday practices are the medium in which people reproduce and transform the structure of their society (Bourdieu 1977; Lightfoot et al. 1998; Silliman 2001). They do this in all the domestic and industrial activities whose traces lie in the ploughsoil or on a stable land surface. Cooking, storing, knapping, smelting, pouring: these activities are the stuff of human experience and social organisation.

Artefact distributions, then, provide a means of interpreting 'landscapes of routine practice'. People create and recreate their landscapes round them as they perform their daily activities and make decisions in specific social contexts (Hind 2004, 40). The artefacts that fieldwalkers count and collect are traces of the links between people, their predecessors and successors, and their material world (Brück 2005, 62). They provide an entry into past 'taskscapes', arrays of related activities and, importantly, interactivities (Ingold 1993, 163; Van Hove 2004).

Settlement too can be usefully considered in the context of the landscape. A 'settlement' comprises the material aspects of occupation: the houses and communal facilities, the working areas and structures of a focus of population. The communities that occupy those structures are constituted by the daily practices and interactions of their members (Yaeger and Canuto 2000). These interactions range across the landscape far beyond the actual structures.

The landscape, then, becomes a 'community area', the arena for all those activities carried out in the course of the daily round: dwelling, sleeping, eating, making, cultivating, travelling. The same approach can be applied to a whole range of communities on different scales, including household, habitation area, or microregion (Kuna 1991).

These community areas are clearly not defined, bounded plots, despite the attempts of the GIS-inspired surveyor to draw lines round everything. They are fluid networks of routine movements. They carry connections with material culture, other places, earth and water, plant and animal, predecessors and successors (Edmonds 1999, 20). All of these are performing together in the routine activities that make up the landscape.

The application of a theory of routine practice to real survey data is not, of course, straightforward. Artefact scatters are products of contemporary processes, not least the fieldwalking operation itself (Barrowman 2003). There is a wide range of geomorphological and other post-depositional processes to investigate, understand, and take into account while doing the interpreting (e.g. Bailey 1999; Gerrard 1997, 70; Wells 2001). A surface scatter can never have the same precision as the artefacts on the floor of an excavated house.

Even so, continuous survey can investigate the artefacts that were entwined within the activities, experiences and social relationships of past societies (Edmonds 1999, 39-42; Edmonds et al. 1999, 48; Given and Knapp 2003). To some extent, this is just the familiar search for the 'archaeological signatures' of 'assemblage-generating human activities' that lithics analysts have been doing for decades (Zvelebil et al. 1987, 17). We can investigate variations in densities, function and material to detect the spatial arrangement of human activities and experiences, such as discarding, manufacturing and dwelling (Pollard 1999; Schofield 1991).

One example is the manuring halo, the low-density scatter of pottery round a farm or estate that derives from household rubbish being discarded in the manure heap. This is now a familiar and well-discussed phenomenon, and has been confirmed by phosphates analysis and sub-surface investigation (Alcock et al. 1994; Bintliff 2000, 7; Crowther 1983). A manuring scatter is not a post-depositional impediment to our analysis, but rather a direct demonstration of the routine caring for and 'feeding' of the earth. In Dobres' terms, this is evidence for a 'mindful community of practice' in a very specific social and landscape context (2000, 129).


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Last updated: Thur July 5 2007