less detail

2.3 Human activities and the settlement pattern

The Meuse Valley Project assumes that the distribution pattern of surface finds reflects to a great extent the economic exploitation system of the past. By exploitation system we mean the economic behaviour that allowed a society to obtain the primary and secondary necessities of life in a certain area. The point is which economic activities were executed where and when. Specific questions in this respect are for example:

  • which activities were performed on a specific site in the terrain?
  • how long and in which season did people stay at that site?
  • how large was the group participating in that activity?
  • was there direct consumption and use or were the activities aimed at future work elsewhere?
Actually these are the well-known archaeological concepts of duration, permanency, seasonality, functionality and mobility, also used in interpreting excavated sites.

The various activities are connected in time and space to make a single economic exploitation system. This system is a combination of activities occurring in different types of settlements in a specific spatial context and spread over different terrains. The material reflection of that exploitation system, the basis of this regional archaeological investigation, is labelled the settlement pattern.

A well-known example from ethnography illustrating this principle refers to the models for logistical and residential mobility, as described by Binford (1980). In the case of residential mobility (foraging) the settlement system consists of base camps and activity locations. In an environment where food sources are spaced evenly over time and space, the base camp is regularly moved over relatively small distances. From the base camps a small area is exploited; special camps are not really necessary for this. The sites are almost all of the same type and spread more or less evenly over the area. With logistical mobility (collector), however, special task camps (overnight camp, observation post, storage area, etc.) occur as well, beside the base camps and activity locations. The food sources are more clustered in time and space, necessitating better planning. From a few base camps special expeditions are launched to exploit food sources at specific moments and specific locations. The food is then returned to the base camp. The base camps are relatively far apart. Around these camps the special task camps are located, causing a more spatial clustering of sites.

[Residential mobility model]
Fig. 27 The model of a foraging subsistence-settlement with a high residential mobility, as it was presented in Lewis Binford's famous article "Willow Smoke and Dog's Tails", has been converted into a distribution map of sites with base camps (black dots) and associated activity locations (blue dots) (after Binford 1980).


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Last updated: Wed Feb 25 1998