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4.0 The benefit of a landscape approach

As a complementary mode of enquiry, I suggest that tell research would benefit by broadening the scale of analysis. In the last decade there has been a growing movement within archaeology which recognises the value of considering sites within their landscape setting. Earlier paradigms in archaeology conceptualised spatial entities as points within Cartesian representation schemes, expressed through pairs of coordinates and ready for processing through a set of formal analytical methods (for example Hodder and Orton 1976; Clarke 1977). More recently, however, archaeology has taken on board theory from a diverse range of disciplines to consider landscapes from a more humanised, anthropological perspective (for example Bender 1993; Tilley 1994; Hirsch and O´Hanlon 1995). In this reading, landscapes form a medium rather than simply a container for action, and serve as a metaphor through which people could mediate their own understanding of the world.

Field research in this genre has generally taken the form of a visual recording exercise, conducted within the locale under study. The theoretical stance behind this contends that people in the past would have experienced landscape on the ground, at eye-level, rather than via the privileged god-like view used in much archaeological enquiry. Support for this approach is often derived from the European Phenomenological school of perception, and in particular the philosophy of Merleau-Ponty and his corporeal model of environmental perception (Merleau-Ponty 1962). As such this has become known as the 'phenomenological' approach.

In practice, the research involves 'walks' around the case study locales, with a camera used as a recording device. Studies within this paradigm have tended to concentrate on the megalithic landscapes situated in the northwest of Europe (for example Tilley 1994; Bender et al. 1997; Cummings 2002). However, such an approach is also appropriate for the tell landscapes of southeast Europe. As developing, organic entities, tells have a remarkable, dynamic relationship with landscape. They begin as diminutive villages located according to contemporary cultural preferences. As the deposits accumulate with successive occupations, the settlements can reach truly monumental proportions. In some cases occupation was lengthy; Karanovo tell in Bulgaria saw intermittent occupation over approximately 1000 years, resulting in a tell 12m in height and four hectares in area (Whittle 1996, 37). Developed tells in the landscape served as prominent landmarks, introducing a visible symbol of human presence and history.

This is not to say that tells have been ignored by recent theoretical trends. In 1997 Chapman considered the visual development of eastern Hungarian tells in relation to 'flat sites', from a perspective informed by contemporary place-theory (Chapman 1997). In the same year Bailey assessed the diachronic change in assemblage content from Ovcharovo tell in north Bulgaria, highlighting the fluctuating importance of zones around the tell, conceptualised according to the degree of visual contact they achieved with the village (Bailey 1997). However, in both of these studies visibility played an interesting aside to the general argument, and no dedicated visual research was carried out in support of suggested phenomena. The question of the nature of visual experience from tell settlements therefore remained ambiguous. Ideally what was needed was a dedicated study into tell visibility, incorporating dedicated visual research, taking place within a real tell landscape.

In this article I discuss recent research into these issues, which sought to investigate the nature of visibility from tells, with reference to a study area in southeast Europe. Of prime concern was to investigate the basic dimensions of visibility from tells and thus clarify some of the ambiguities in our present conception. Additionally, the research sought to take a contemporary landscape perspective, which sees tells as meaningfully located with respect to visible entities in the locale. Existing, so-called Phenomenological, approaches developed within archaeology provide a starting point. These have taken a body-centred subject as the mediation point between objective study and cognition. This approach is important in the context of tell studies since it relates to the experience of the individual, as opposed to the group or system.

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