Haunt This Place: Fantasy, Archaeology, and the Ghosts of the Land

Posted on May 1, 2020


This part of my series of posts on conference presentations, that I have filmed. This is another one from the TAG conference, but this time – 2018’s:

Session Info

The landscape looms as a character in the depths of our imagination, mercurial and trickster in nature. It can be home, warm, welcome, fertile, mothering – or harsh, unforgiving, unknowable, untameable, othering. From folk horror to fairytale, it leaves us with a deep impression of temporality and tradition, the lingering hint of things broader, deeper, wider than ourselves.

Derridean “hauntology” provides us with a framework for looking at this contradictory, complex creature. We cannot see the true nature of the landscape: it has become haunted with the ghosts of pasts, presents, and parallel places that are created in our own personal memoryscapes. Michael Bell calls this the ‘ghosts of place’, the felt presence of certain sites, ‘an anima, geist, or genius … that possesses and gives a sense of social aliveness to a place’ (Bell 1997: 813-814).

Archaeology and literature work in different ways to address this haunting. From Alan Garner’s drenching of place with human action and emotion, to assemblage driven discussions on the agency and materiality of the landscape-as-thing, archaeological interpretation and fantasy literature attempt the same mental sleights of hand to suspend our instinctual and postmodern landscape perceptions, and challenge us to see the ghosts.

We invited speakers to examine ways that haunted landscapes are presented, developed, and explored in either fantasy or archaeology, or a blend of both.

Bell, M. M. 1997. The ghosts of place, Theory and Society (26): 813-36

Penelope Foreman (Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust)

Katy Soar (University of Winchester)

‘She wants to be flowers, but you make her owls’. Alan Garner, Archaeologists, and the Fearful Art of Storytelling


‘…we have to tell stories to unriddle the world’
So wrote Alan Garner, setting out his belief in the role of storyteller-as-medium for the time deep, psychic energy redolent landscape where myth weaves a common thread through human experience in a constantly changing, eternally persisting pattern. His works are rooted in landscape, and his belief in a tangible energy of place that he remolds as ‘pure energy, in a new form, which will be the book’ places him squarely in the same territory as archaeologists. Whether it’s exploring myth, steeped in local tradition, being haunted by experiences of being in the landscape, excavating sites, analysing finds, or interpreting results for myriad audiences – we are telling stories and reclothing old ghosts in new guises. This paper examines how landscapes haunt Garner’s works, and what we can learn from the way he has translated old ghost stories into new mythologies.

Penelope Foreman (Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust)

Pausanias, Modern Folklore, and Literal Ghosts of Place


Pausanias shows an interest in all sorts of ‘ghosts of place’ throughout his description of Greece during the Roman period. For almost every location, he cites myths, folk tales and historical tidbits about the area, and so every location is haunted by folk memories of heroes, villains, builders, monuments, battles and other echoes of Classical Greece. Pausanias also tells six stories about literal ghosts, that is, about appearances of deceased mortals to the living.
Pausanias’ stories are, of course, tied inextricably to particular places. This paper will compare Pausanias’ ghost stories with superficially similar modern narratives. It will ask to what extent we can see continuity in oral traditions about ghosts tied to specific places from ancient Greece through to the modern world, and in what ways Pausanias’ reporting of ancient Greek folklore differs from modern oral, written, and online traditions.

Juliette Harrisson (Newman University, Birmingham)

Haunted Futures and Alien Archaeologies


While often associated with the new and the futuristic, science fiction and science fantasy frequently concern themselves with the past, especially its material remains. Within ‘hard’ science fiction that strives for scientific verisilimitude, the idea of alien ruins, huge derelict ships and devices or other abandoned spaces that must be explored by humans has long been one of the key ways writers have addressed the Fermi Paradox – the apparent absence of alien life in a galaxy that ought to be teeming.
These material remains and invented landscapes are haunted by, and serve as proxies for, the imagined species and cultures that created them. Such fiction is fundamentally archaeological, inviting us to reconstruct lost cultures through their material remains, but for all its scientism, it also frequently expresses a hauntological ambivalence towards the ruins it concerns itself with: the past is frequently unknowable, dangerous, prone to recurrence: while the material culture remains, the aliens are rarely completely gone.

Philip Boyes (University of Cambridge)

Unpicking the Stitches in Time, or being Charlotte Sometimes: the Haunted Landscapes of Children’s Literature


Travelling in time is a particular theme in 1960s and 1970s children’s literature, associated with haunting landscapes, archaeological sites and historical artefacts. The protagonists are often lonely and removed from their everyday lives through personal or family circumstances. The influences of the place that they find themselves or objects they encounter throw them into the past leading them to experience terrifying adventures or uncover tragic stories. They are either helpless bystanders or given a direct role in the action. These periods of time travel can be foreshadowed by ghostly apparitions and unexplained sounds. Landscape is a key element of these stories frequently reflecting the isolation of the main characters, from bleak coastland to a deserted village hidden in woodland. This paper will touch on other authors but focus particularly on the work of Robert Westall and Penelope Lively.

Krystyna Truscoe (University of Reading)



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