The Creation, Contestation and Transformation of Landscape

Posted on June 12, 2020


Since its inception as a scientific discipline archaeology has dealt with many challenging theoretical concepts. Among these the idea of landscape have seen significant debate from its earlier conception in processual archaeology. Today the study of landscape is accepted as an interdisciplinary field within archaeological research that brings together concepts and methods from a wide range of other disciplines ranging from geomorphology and ecology to cultural geography, performance theory and the arts.

With this session, we would like to explore from concrete case studies the many possible ways for interpreting and using the landscape concept. We are particularly interested in:

  • how landscapes are being transformed through designed creation, powerful appropriation and contestation, such as in early colonial contexts;
  • the roles and meanings of boundaries, borders and walls in the regulation of movement and “belonging”
  • the conceptualization of landscape (in the minds of people) as “moveable” instead of spatially fixed

We encourage theoretical debates on these issues, but emphasize that presentations preferably include cases studies in which the theories and methods are explicitly articulated.

Eduardo Herrera Malatesta (Leiden University)

Jan Kolen (Leiden University)

Do Landscapes Move?

Do landscapes simply trigger or attract migration and ‘absorb’ its effects? Or do landscapes – in one or another- move and “migrate” as well – together and in interaction with people and things? And if so, could the landscape perspective have added value for understanding migration?
This paper deals with these questions, criticizing the common conviction that landscapes are external to people – both physical and in terms of human experience, that landscapes are fixed and therefore provide and environmental and cultural frame of reference for movement, travel and exile, and that landscapes consist first and foremost of solid substance, making them immovable. Instead, starting from the observation that landscapes by definition include people who take landscapes with them in their minds, designs and practices, it is argued that landscapes migrate as well – like people, things and ideas. We furthermore suggest that this also asks for a reconceptualization of the life histories of ‘biographies’ of landscapes. Examples are taken from (pre)historic North-western Europe and from (early) colonial contexts in Asia and the Americas.

Jan Kolen (Leiden University)

Urban Terrorscapes? The Case of Pretoria, Seat of Apartheid

Pretoria, the capital of South-Africa, became in 1948 the seat of a (white) racist regime that introduced the Apartheid (however, elaborating on racism in the colonial era). On a subtle way this regime managed to control the lives of more than eighty percent of the entire population. The non-white population was involuntarily encapsulated in an everything encompassing system that determined where you could live, on what benches you could sit in a parc, with whom you could marry and what type of education you would get. The mechanisms of terror were active on different levels and ranged from sophisticated bureaucracy to brutal forced relocations, imprisonment and torture. The ideological representations of races in public space is equally interesting, just like the creation of nominaly independent homelands, an important tool to deprive black South-Africans from their citizenship. The present society is still struggling to deal with this complex and poisonous heritage.

David Koren (Stichting Cultureel Erfgoed Zeeland)

The Dramatized Landscape: Ritual performances and Topoanalysis of a Minoan peak sanctuary in Crete

Contrary to the quantitave approaches on landscape of processual archaeology, which eliminated interaction between the human and his surrounding environment, numerous scholars of performative orientations focus on landscape as a meaningful space experienced through human practices. In this context, the present paper highlights a dramatized aspect of landscape by exploring the pilgrimage and rituals performed on a Minoan peak sanctuary in Crete, situated on the imposing mountain of Juktas and used over a long period of time (2300-1350 BC). It will be shown that the reconstruction of the movements, liminal zones, modes of inclusiveness/exclusiveness leads to a comprehension of the landscape as a dynamic framework, where ordinary social boundaries blur and alternative realities emerge. Furthermore, the paper moves a step forward by focusing on the Bachelardian concept topoanalysis and by analyzing how a prehistoric community “transformed” a concrete space, as is a mountain, through its participation in deeply emotive performances.

Maria Chountasi (INSTAP Research Grant Program)

Indigenous Landscape Transformations on the First Colonized Region in the Caribbean

The arrival of Columbus to the Caribbean in 1492 and the subsequent process of colonization represented a transformation of the indigenous worlds at material and cognitive levels. In this paper, I will present an interpretative model of the transformation of the indigenous landscape to the colonial one, through the application of a regional archaeological investigation. The research integrated the concepts of taskscape and contested landscapes within a spatial statistical and GIS-led research to evaluate patterns of material culture distribution and how they can be used to reconstruct past landscapes. From the results it was possible to create models of indigenous taskscapes at different spatial scales, which allowed the delineation of the landscape before the arrival of Columbus. This result was compared with early colonial chronicles and cartography for the northern Caribbean, which allowed the identification of the spatial and material transformation of the indigenous landscape to the colonial.

Eduardo Herrera Malatesta (Leiden University)

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