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4. Research Design and Methods

In order to understand how Shala's tribal socio-political structure interacted with the outside world, we approached the problem from the point of view of the landscape. We hypothesised that the currently visible built landscape would carry within it markers of change that reflected local adaptations to external forces, modulated by the tribal socio-political structure. Using methods of intensive field survey, our team of archaeologists collected artefacts of all periods found in the agricultural fields and pastures of Shala. Our teams of (ethno-)historians and ethnographers, however, focused their field work on the last hundred years of local history to examine the relationships between the built environment (especially houses), household size, settlement size, and population movement. Of particular interest in this regard is the expansion and contraction of the various neighbourhoods in the village of Theth.

Although we believe that the people of Shala maintained a dynamic and interactive relationship with outside powers from the beginning of their presence in the valley, it was particularly marked during very recent periods, and the record of that relationship is readily visible in the built environment of Theth. For example, when the fledgling Albanian government under King Zog exerted control over the northern tribes in the late 1920s, and clamped down on blood feuds, large families and defensible houses became obsolete (although they did not immediately disappear). Later, when the Communist government under Enver Hoxha denied movement in and out of the mountains and socialised the economy, populations and villages grew in response, while household structure and land tenure shifted. Finally, the demise of Communism in 1991 and the restoration of freedom of movement and private property has led to the depopulation of the north and a pattern of summer residence that stands in stark contrast to the pattern of year-round residence that marked the preceding 400+ years of settlement. In some important ways, then, post-Communist Shala is more like prehistoric Shala and the settlement patterns associated with the tribal socio-political system, up to and including the Communist period, are relatively idiosyncratic and thus in need of explanation.

Careful study of the data from earlier periods indicates that Middle Palaeolithic and Iron Age inhabitants came to Shala for different reasons than its Modern inhabitants, and probably not as refugees. They modified the mountain landscape differently or not at all, were seasonal as opposed to full-time residents, and interacted therefore with the outside world in quite different ways.

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Last updated: Thu Feb 25 2010