Reconsidering the Longue Durée: archaeological landscapes in light of the material turn

Room:    Teaching room 1
Time:      09:00­–12:30
Format: Standard paper session
Organisers: Mark Haughton (Aarhus University) – Zachary Caple (Aarhus University) – Mette Løvschal (Aarhus University)

What counts as ‘human’ and ‘nonhuman’ in prehistoric landscapes is at once ontologically emergent and a matter for archaeological reconstruction. Recent scholarship collected under the banners of new materialisms, posthumanism, and assemblage theory encourages us to look beyond nature/culture binaries to recognize the myriad ways in which people and nonhuman forces co-construct the world. In archaeology, this has opened new ways of understanding humans’ long-term relationships with material culture, animals, and plants, but not necessarily landscapes as a total socio-natural fact.

In this session, we seek to push such theories further to consider the more-than-human assemblage dynamics of longue-durée landscapes. In our focus on the longue durée, we invite papers that explore the multi-temporal rhythms and histories that instantiate landscapes that stretch across geological, archaeological, and ecological time scales. Rethinking long-durée processes through more-than-human relations challenges how archaeologists approach settlement patterns, social organization, and subsistence practices. Consider, for example, the long-term enactment of south Scandinavian heathlands: In the Early Bronze Age, humans––in conjunction with fire and livestock––created vast open pastures of heathland across Western Jutland. Across the following centuries, these grazing commons were subject to intense parcelization and agricultural settlement. Despite this pronounced shift in social organization, heathland botanical assemblages continued to persist. Understanding such paradoxes of ‘continuity amidst change’ deserves theoretical scrutiny. We solicit papers that draw archaeological attention to new approaches, problematics, and conceptualizations of the more-than-human longue-durée.

Potential session themes include:

  • The role of multiple species in the creation of past landscapes
  • Archaeological reconstruction of human-nonhuman ontologies
  • The multiple temporalities of landscape becoming
  • Long-term dynamics of power, hierarchy, and extraction
  • Human-animal evolutions across the domesticate/wild divide
  • Intergenerational place creation and modes of dwelling

1. Field systems – what is theoretical about them?

Author(s): Mats Widgren (Stockholm University)

Last time I was on a TAG meeting was in London 1986. When I told a British colleague in historical geography that I was to present a paper at the Theoretical Archaeology Group he asked “Field systems – what is theoretical about them?” At that time I answered that I did not think a theory for field systems could be formulated which was separate from social theory in general. In the years since then I have returned to the question in different contexts and I am now more optimistic towards formulating  – if not a “theory of field systems” at least a set of interrelated theoretically informed concepts that are essential for reading field systems and fieldscapes. In this presentation I will discuss some of these concepts.

2. The case of Sus Scrofa

Author(s): Anette Sand-Eriksen (Museum of Cultural History, UiO)

The relationship between humans and pigs predates most, if not all other human relationships with domesticated food animals. Already around 8,500 years ago, wild pigs/boars (Sus scrofa) became domesticated in multiple sites around the world, subsequently entering Europe during the Mesolithic period and Northern-Europe from around 4000 BCE. In a longue duree perspective, however, the domestication history of the modern pig (Sus scrofa domesticus) is a bit of an archaeological puzzle. This is partly a result of pigs being one of the few animals domesticated several, independent times across the globe and partly due to the difficulties distinguishing between the wild and the domestic Sus in the archaeological record. Setting the osteological and natural science aside, what made humans decide to domesticate the pig? An animal, which compared to all other domesticated food animals, do not have a by-product. So why did humans transcend from hunting to husbandry? Could it perhaps be that pigs actually domesticate themselves? Alternatively, was it a co-constructive domestication, and subsequently a more-than-human effort? 

In this paper, I will apply a combination of Niche Construction Theory (NTC) and Optimal Foraging Theory (OFT) alongside Assemblage theory to explore the prehistoric relationship between humans and pigs from a conceptual point of view. Within this framework, I will consider both primary and compounding / secondary dynamics in this particular domesticating relationship. Drawing on archaeological examples, I will explore how the long history of the human-pig relationship challenges our idea of a clear boundary between nature and culture, and human and nature.

3. The long-term rhythms of multi-species entanglements on the prehistoric heath

Author(s): Mark Haughton (Aarhus University)

Through the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age, heathlands underwent a massive expansion across Northern Europe. This inherently unstable landscape form – requiring the grazing of herd animals and periodic burning to prevent it transforming into scrub and forest – has a remarkable persistence, enduring in places like Western Jutland, Denmark, for millennia. While this landscape was ‘utilised’ by humans in prehistory for the many resources it can provide, it was also much more than this – a dynamic assortment of different species that bring about a unique series of qualities.

In this paper, I consider the longue durée of heathland assemblages in the Danish Neolithic and Bronze Age, and particularly how the affordances of heathlands were forged by collaboration between humans, sheep, plant mosaics, and fire. I use traditional GIS practices to trace the lines of becoming in the heathland and uncover the more-than-human elements that are too often neither present in our accounts of prehistoric settlement and subsistence patterns nor our GIS analyses. Thus, varied forces are revealed to be entangled in heath maintenance in different ways which both open up and constrain pathways for action and movement in human communities. What emerges is at once familiar and strange – a picture of the heathland that is engaged across multiple boundaries and borders. Shifting perspectives to focus on heathland affordances allows us to encounter this landscape as more than a resource for extraction, but rather as a dynamic and active force across multiple scales.

4. ‘Re-ontologising’ the Icelandic landscape: an approach based on Historical Ecology and Human Ecodynamics

Author(s): Pablo Barruezo-Vaquero 

Landscape studies in Archaeology have been ubiquitous since the earliest 1990s, and their approaches have been continually redefined as new theories have emerged. In the last decade, for example, posthumanism and the material turn have impacted Landscape Archaeology by recentering our approach towards non-humans and their interrelationship with humans. In this guise, landscapes are considered compounded “constructs”. Along similar lines, Historical Ecology and Human Ecodynamics have pushed this turn towards non-humans since 1994/5, bringing to the fore helpful concepts to this end -e.g., non-linear dynamics, heterarchy, long-term, etc. 

Both of these approaches clearly impact how landscapes can be studied. In turn, refined understandings about landscapes might enhance our assessments of the past. For instance, the archaeological study of landscapes can arguably shed light on questions regarding past socioeconomics (including, in this case, non-human agents). My aim is thus to add up new ways of understanding past socioeconomics through landscape analyses that harness the principles of Historical Ecology and Human Ecodynamics. The paper grounds this discussion in the Icelandic Viking Age and Medieval period. There have been a few theories about the socioeconomics of these periods –which are reliant on their methodologies. Yet, I argue, none of these fully explore the complex interrelationships between humans/non-humans coupled systems. By contrast, Historical Ecology and Human Ecodynamics compel us to rethink our models about this topic. This paper, therefore, proposes considering the interplay between human and non-human agents for understanding socioeconomic hierarchies. As this proposal focuses on landscapes, the narrative includes different proxies spread through the Icelandic landscape. In essence, this paper aims at presenting a more complex picture of the Icelandic landscape — one which might help in re-ontologising its conceptualisation.

5. Fertilizing comparisons: the topological evolution of concentrational farming in Western Denmark, 500 BC-1900 AD

Author(s): Zac Caple (Aarhus University)

This paper interrogates the long-durée persistence of concentrational agriculture in the heathland plains of Western Denmark through a systematic comparison of the soil nutrient-management technologies of Iron Age and 19th-century heathland farms. Concentrational agriculture refers to practices of in situ nutrient transfer, either through horizontal transport of fertility from outlying areas to a permanent infield or vertical “pumping” of belowground stocks by plants in a relatively long fallow cycle. Before the advent of chemical fertilizers, concentrational farming represented the only means by which sedentary peoples could grow sufficient food in the heathland’s sandy oligotrophic soils.

In the Iron Age, people parceled out vast areas of heathland into Celtic fields in which they rotated between cropland, pasture, and heath-fallow. This shifting cultivation method contrasts with the infield-outfield system of the historical period in which farmers translocated vast quantities of nutrients from outlying areas into small permanent fields through hay cutting, composting, and manuring. The geographer Sofus Christiansen argues that these vertical and horizontal pumping strategies represent two polar types––one based on the exploitation of time, the other space––with theoretically identical production capacities. Moreover, he asserts that these types are topologically interchangeable: that a rotational fallow system can be morphed to produce an infield-outfield system, and vice versa. Christiansen levels this argument to posit that shifting cultivation is the ur-form of concentrational agriculture and that the infield-outfield system is a descendant type enacted through labor-intensive manuring chains.

In my comparison of the respective nutrient-management technologies, I look for functional echoes between the two periods suggestive of the 2400-year persistence of concentrational farming in Western Denmark, while also inquiring into the cosmological and political economic differences that might explain the adoption of more labor-intensive manuring.

6. The complex life of Kamyana Mohyla portable art specimens through their object-oriented interaction with human and place

Author(s): Simon Radchenko (University of Turin) and Dmytro Kiosak (Ca’ Foscari University of Venice)

Numerous features of human-nonhuman relations and the interaction of prehistoric actors with landscape around them are emerging from the special context of a specific landscape. For sure, the assemblage of prehistoric cultural landscape together with its human and nonhuman inhabitants creates a unique setting in every particular case. However, the idea of constant ambivalent interaction between human, artifact and environment remains relevant for different spatial and temporal settings.

The evident examples of such an interaction are often connected with ritual and sacral part of pre-Historic living, namely, the production of rock art specimens. One of the brightest ones — the mound of Kamyana Mohyla and the landscape nearby — is located in Eastern Ukraine, on the western edge of Eurasian Steppe Belt. The huge sandstone monadnock full of caves and grottoes is the only known rock art location in the region. Therefore, the social processes here have been shaped by special landscape conditions, which formed the basis for cultural landscape featuring. The petrographic anomaly forced the emergence of beliefs later reflected in the parietal art instances here.

Moreover, the desire to communicate with this cultural landscape forced the population living nearby to interconnect with the special portable art objects. The latter were found both inside Kamyana Mohyla caves and in the hill’s surroundings and are simultaneously part of cultural landscape, the objects of human-landscape interaction and things, that interconnected both with Kamyana Mohyla population and the unique cultural landscape; thus, these objects correspond to the basic ideas of object-oriented ontologies. Their object-oriented relations with the human beings are reflected in the engravings and notches on their surface and are a part of the dialectic relationship between all the actors — the cultural landscape, humans and things — through these things themselves.

7. Dwelling among trees. Building Mesolithic huts with the forest

Author(s): David De Lorenzi Turner (Stockholm University)

This paper examines the rhythm and tempo of living with trees. The focus is on the continued practice of making huts, which involved a variety of materials and returned activities over time. The example is taken from the Mesolithic settlement site of Ljungaviken across the bay of Sölvesborg in Southeast Sweden. The site was habitable between 9600-5700 cal. BC and moved from an inland environment to a costal site which later become flooded and then dried up again.

A dwelling perspective is explored since it focuses on the activities performed as evidence for the ways space was made. Crucial for this approach is history which also implies a need to actively engage with historical and material conditions. History is important to help account for the intimate making of the world where networks intertwine. In this paper it is argued that making huts and landscape are connected, together with an understanding of space that incorporate and is rendered by both human and nonhuman actors. What is emphasized is that the assemblage of huts can indicate activities connected to other times, things and locations. The spatial dimension is suggested through the way landscape always are lived, practices which create space, time, place and landscape. On the other hand, landscape is also temporal, connecting people and places across generations.

Focusing on trees’ own time scale, in this example 150 years, suggest an anticipation of the trees’ own capacities to change. In other words, trees and wood which were an important part of huts 5A and 5B, were caught up in the dynamics of human life and indicate that woodland management may have existed in the Mesolithic. This perspective allows to figure past engagements with the Mesolithic landscape through the way past and future coexist in the present.