Here is another session from the CHAT conference for your viewing pleasure.
Ultima Thule – St Kilda and Pabbay. Two remote landscapes in the Outer Hebrides, their archaeology and history.
George Geddes Historic Environment Scotland.
St Kilda is perhaps one of Europe’s most famous remote cultural landscapes. While a narrative of romance and mythology became dominant from the 1950s (and arguably very much earlier), the results of a recent archaeological survey suggest that the islands were intensively exploited for their rich seabird resources. Far from presenting an opportunity for the discovery of rare or lost ancient sites, St Kilda’s landscape has been continually remoulded, and the present density of structures is incomparable in other rural settings. By contrast, the island of Pabbay is almost invisible in literature and media. Once the larger part of a medieval rental with St Kilda, it is equally rich in archaeological sites, including Bronze Age cairns, a 17 broch, a medieval centre, numerous houses and a rather fine 16th century church. The effects of a huge sandstorm in the 17th century left the once rich farmland bereft. By the 1830s Pabbay was seen as another potential sheep farm and its population of 300 were moved, many finding their way to Cape Breton. The story of Pabbay is very much the natural counterpoint to that of St Kilda, yet only one small book has been written, in comparison to some 700 for St Kilda itself. In the comparison of these two islands, once intimately linked by tradition, culture and economy, a number of questions are raised. How did St Kilda come to be seen as a lonely island, set apart and ‘remote’ from its traditional partner? Why did the story of these islands diverge to such an extent in the 1830s – one becoming a sheep farm, the other a thriving crofting settlement? What lenses have affected our understanding in the past, and should we strive to escape them in the future? And finally, ‘how is our experience of these islands mediated through convention and control’?
Terraforming Arcadia: An Archaeological Perspective on French Wetland Agriculture in Colonial Nova Scotia
Jonathan Fowler Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, Nova Scotia.
From the 1630s until their deportation in the 1750s, the French inhabitants of colonial Nova Scotia (the Acadians) created a subsistence economy rooted in the dyking and draining of tidal marshes. They knew a good thing when they saw it. While their cousins in the Saint Lawrence Valley struggled to feed livestock through the punishing Canadian winters and wrested pasturelands from region’s formidable forests, the French inhabitants of the Bay of Fundy and its estuaries presided over 75,000 acres of lush tidal marshes. These environments produced virtually limitless fodder in the form of salt‐tolerant grasses and yielded remarkably fertile arable land when dammed and drained. Much of it is still farmed today. The historiography of French colonial wetland agriculture is interesting, partly because remnant dyke walls and enclosed fields are seen as monuments to French colonial culture. Their commemoration as a cultural achievement has become something of a trope to nationalist writers and the heritage apparatus, and academic research has also taken an avid interest. Historians and historical geographers have contributed to a better understanding of dyking technology, it origins, and the manner in which it was transferred from Europe to North America. The outputs of this agricultural system are also now reasonably well understood, although more work remains to be done here. Archaeology has been all but absent from the conversation. In this paper, I will demonstrate how an empirically grounded and theoretically informed archaeology contributes to a better understanding of French wetland agriculture. A material cultural approach is already significantly expanding the evidence base by excavating and analyzing dykeland infrastructure such as wooden sluices. Married to remote sensing and dendrochronology, it is allowing us to date the developmental sequences by which kin‐based labour successively enclosed thousands of acres of wetlands, while insights from Anthropology and ethnohistory provide new perspectives (and raise some new questions) about the meaning of wetland agriculture in the context of an Indigenous landscape.
Distant reading of storied lines: tracing tendrils of agency across 18th century Iceland.
Gísli Pálsson Umea University and The Institute of Archaeology, Iceland.
It is a truism nowadays to say that an archaeological site is embedded in extensive networks of relations. But just what are the implications of this networked thinking, and how far do these networks extend? Property deeds enable the mapping of extensive reciprocal resource access arrangements, ownership structures and the use of coastal and highland commons; the landscape shows several generations of land divisions, and the archaeological record indicates extensive trade and mobility of materials. All of these strands of evidence lead back to the farm, and beg the investigation of an important question: what, exactly is a farm? This presentation addresses these questions with respect to the late medieval and early modern agricultural landscape in Iceland. By mapping the spatial implications of property deeds ranging from the 12th to the 18th centuries, and by investigating the material culture of both the centre and periphery known farm sites in that period, the presentation suggests some working definitions of the medieval Icelandic farm, particularly with respect to its spatiality, connectivity to other farms, infrastructures and suprastructures of movement and demarcation, and relationships to common land.