In the last chapter I outlined the general picture we have of the Mesolithic and Early Neolithic in Ireland. In this chapter I will examine the ways in which prehistoric landscape studies have been formulated over the past few decades, and why such an approach was deemed necessary. Taking my starting point the view that the New Archaeology’s approach to the landscape is a general move away from the isolated site and artefact-based studies, I will discuss some general principles that occur in the theories and methods used in this perspective. Such principles include the tension between regional and localistic studies, as well as the central position given to perception in landscape studies. I will look at examples of the landscape approach as it has been adopted in Irish studies from the early eighties, and then look at the legacy of the interpretive archaeologies’ movement in their approaches, both in Ireland and further afield. This will be followed by a discussion of landscapes and an outline of how this thesis will develop a landscape approach.
In this section I will highlight the differing uses of landscape as an analytical tool, from the regional perspective to the local, using Sherratt’s 1996 eloquent paper as a platform. I will discuss the intellectual baggage that archaeologists bring to their studies, and how the study of the landscape is never a neutral act, but involved and mediated by the socio-political realities of the day. The differing understandings of perception will be highlighted, followed by an examination and evaluation of two concepts of landscape studies: the site catchment model and Binford’s model of hunter-gatherer strategies, the foragers and collectors.
The use of the concept of the ‘landscape’ as an analytical tool by archaeologists began in the mid-twentieth century, following the gradual move away from a focus on artefacts and sites to a more regional focus of networks between sites. Sherratt (1996, 140) has commented that a driving force for this new regional perspective was money: it was then that archaeologists could afford grander projects. In this vein it is interesting to note, as mentioned in the previous chapter, that the Glencoy regional project folded partly due to financial issues, and that the two large prehistoric projects in Ireland in the eighties mentioned in the previous chapter, the Carrowmore project and the Ballylough project, were both funded by institutions from outside of Ireland. In a lucid paper, Sherratt has argued that the divergent paths of archaeology, between studying the landscape as a signature of settlement patterns on the one hand, and studying the landscape for the sake of the landscape, can be rooted back to the beginnings of the archaeological endeavour and the differing influences of the Enlightenment and Romanticism: “whereas the Romantic archaeologist will be happy to examine his own backyard and trace its genealogy as a place, this will be regarded by the Enlightenment archaeologist as parochialism: a retreat to ‘parish-pump archaeology’” (ibid., 143). In a pertinent analogy that he makes between an early nineteenth-century account of a prehistoric landscape in Brittany and a TAG paper abstract, Sherratt highlights perspicuously the Romantic inheritance of the phenomenological accounts in archaeology; in contrast he argues that the Enlightenment view of the landscape, the settlement pattern, is exemplified by an invasive approach to the landscape (ibid., 143-6).
From this account we can see that approaches to the study of the landscape are ultimately mediated through the researcher’s or research group’s own particular training and understanding. It is repeatedly noted that the landscape is an ambivalent term, readily malleable to divergent methodologies. Further, the roots of the term are equally ambivalent, with a number of variants possible (cf. Bender 1993, 2; Lemaire 1997, 5; Berque 1997, 22). Baldly, in the western European tradition ‘landscape’ has its roots in an Anglo-Saxon word connoting a small-scale patch of land, “that corresponded to a peasant’s perception”; this petered out and was followed by a connotation of a larger-scale area, a political territory in the eleventh century (Bender 1993, 2). From the beginning of the modern period, the term related to a certain perception, a gaze, which Bender argues was related to the emergent capitalist west (ibid.). This relation between seeing and landscape is a powerful one, which continues to dominate the theorising and evaluating of landscapes: the perception of the environment is seen as a key ingredient in the study of landscapes. Indeed, as Bender comments, this perception of the landscape is a key arena of conflict (ibid.). The dominant powers can use and naturalise the landscape for their own agendas; the allusions and portrayals of the landscape can be manifested to mask and obfuscate human relations of dominance and inequality.
Indeed, the act of seeing the landscape is connected with our studying and interpreting the landscape. That the landscape, and the study of the landscape, is not neutral and can be an ideological tool is again readily apparent in the book The interpretation of ordinary landscapes edited by Meinig (1979), a series of articles by academic geographers. In looking at how one approaches the landscape, Lewis suggests that “Americans tinker with landscapes… and have been doing so ever since their ancestors landed at Jamestown and Plymouth and began chopping down trees” (Lewis 1979, 12). What is immediately apparent is that in one fell swoop he has managed to wipe away some 10000 years of Americans’ history. By setting up his parameters for study, the Native Americans are immediately reduced to a non-entity; they are non-Americans, a politically inert detritus on the outskirts of society, not worthy of consideration. Leaving aside the hunter-gatherers for the moment and their landscape use, agriculture was being practiced in north-east America, where Lewis is based, before it had arrived to Britain, from where the pilgrims, and his ancestors, eventually came many millennia later.
Lemaire (1997, 6-8) has argued that the only two civilisations that invented landscape painting are classical China and modern Europe. Whereas classical China conceived this act of portrayal as an act of meditation, “the immersion of man in nature, expressing a kind of cosmic consciousness”, in tune with their view of the oneness of nature and culture, the modern west viewed the painting of landscapes as a distant gaze, a demythologised “detached natural scene to be viewed by an observer from the outside” (ibid.). He suggests, that with the distinction made by the Enlightenment’s perception of the world as “’mechanicised and reified’” with Man (sic) as the centre of meaning, the Romantics attempted to counteract these principles, through the media of the arts, and the landscape “was celebrated as almost sacred” (ibid., 9). Commenting on Lemaire’s paper, Cosgrove (1997, 24) has discussed how archaeology, anthropology, and human geography are together in crisis because they represent “the enlightened intellectual project…whose findings were unconsciously designed to secure the essentially ideological claims of liberal Europeans…the white, bourgeois European male has been dethroned as the sovereign subject of a universal and progressive history”.
The dichotomy of the perception of the landscape alluded to between Enlightenment and Romanticism succinctly shows that an understanding and analysis of the landscape is historically contingent: the so-called objective strand of (Enlightenment) processual archaeology and the subjective strand of (Romantic) interpretive and phenomenological archaeology are products of our European tradition. Neither of them should be confused with realising a clear and precise description of prehistoric peoples’ conception and perception of the landscape: a total vision of prehistoric landscapes. Rather, the two broad traditions of thought that are used are heuristic devices. One cannot divorce oneself from modern times, or post-modern times, but must acknowledge that the ultimate reasons for our pondering and investigating the past through the various theories and methodologies of archaeological practice are because of the contingency of our historical situation, and work from the acknowledgement of this position.
In querying the question of perception and its relationship with landscape as an analytical concept, Johnston has suggested that one can discern two distinct approaches to perception: an inherent approach and an explicit approach, commenting that
“it is a problem that the word ‘perception’ persists in both the explicit and inherent approaches, despite the contrastive character of the concepts. However, it is a useful example of the academic manipulation of meanings to suit different intellectual purposes” (1998, 56, 65).
He elaborates that an inherent approach to the perception of landscape can be considered to be perception as a process, “that is, the process by which humans understand/perceive the world around them”; the explicit approach considers perception as a static filter “through which the ‘real’ world is filtered creating a culturally perceived reality” (ibid., 57). For an example of the explicit approach to perception, he cites Renfrew’s cognitive approach, amongst others, whereby the world is divided between the real physical world and that inside the head of the perceiver. The inherent approach used by archaeologists such as Tilley, Bender, and Bradley differs in that, while it maintains that there is a division between what is real and what is perceived, their approach acknowledges “that the human experience which creates the landscape is much more complex, and it cannot be tied down to a single process of perception” (ibid., 62).
Rather than the explicit approach in which perception is fixed and stable, and can be objectively measured by knowing the context of the individual and character of the environment, the inherent approach to perception of the landscape involves the interplay between the socially constructed world and the natural world. Johnston (ibid.) argues that these differing analytical uses of perception have allowed, on the one hand an explicit approach which is stable and empirical, and on the other, the inherent which is unstable and malleable. Citing Ingold, he argues that a concern with both approaches is that they fail to come to terms with the interrelationship between people and animals, and people and the material world, but instead treat these relationships as dichotomous ones. He suggests that this may mean that as a growing awareness of these interrelationships is developed, the place of perception and landscape as meaningful analytical tools will be lost “although they will always remain as useful descriptors of our own peculiar twentieth century world-view” (ibid., 64).
Turning now to models developed to investigate landscapes, the site catchment model was formulated in the late sixties to tackle the environs of a site at an analytical scale, as opposed to being site specific; the site and environs were to be viewed in functionalist terms as being produced due to economic activities in environmental parameters (Jarman et al. 1972). This model was to have a long-lasting impact on research; the authors and their focus on the economics of archaeology became what were called the Palaeoeconomy School (Jarman et al. 1982; Trigger 1989, 270). As mentioned in the previous chapter, this concept has been used by Woodman (1978; 1985) in treating of the Mesolithic. The site catchment analysis was based around the home base, and their definition of a territory was economic as opposed to a defensive area (Jarman et al. 1972, 62). They argued that studies of modern agricultural and hunting and gathering communities showed that the exploited territories tend “to lie within certain well-defined limits”; “for the purposes of preliminary study we have adopted the distance covered in two hours’ walking as the critical threshold for hunting and gathering economies, and in one hours’ walking for agricultural exploitation” (ibid., 62-3). Coming at a time when the New Archaeology was attempting to demolish the Culture bias, they argued that whereas previously different sites with differing artefacts were perceived as representing separate culture groups, their method entailed that these could now be understood instead as representing differing economies (ibid., 64).
Binford (1980) put forward a model of mobility for hunter-gatherers that has been influential in archaeological studies. His ethnographic work on the mobility of hunter-gatherers led him to argue that the archaeologist could posit the behavioural signatures of the resultant archaeological traces of past hunter-gatherers by focusing attention on two types of exploitation strategies: foragers and collectors (ibid.). Interestingly Binford begins, and titles, his article with the perception of a hunter-gatherer; however, he pays no more attention to this and immediately grounds his work, as usual, in terms of a scientific pursuit – he uses a medical science analogy to argue that archaeological endeavours are akin to seeking cures for a disease, with the disease being cultural systems, the symptoms being its by-products. Binford argues that the environment is the determining factor in spatial patterning, and he uses a systemic approach to culture; in contrasting foragers and collectors, he suggests that foragers, living in “undifferentiated areas” do not store food, they ‘map onto’ resources, and are characterised by high levels of residential mobility, whereas collectors are characterised by storing food and “logistically organised food-procurement parties” (ibid., 5; 10). He suggests that foragers will leave archaeological sites defined as residential bases and locations, while collectors will leave these two plus three additional sites: field camps, stations, and caches. However, he comments that “it should be clear by now that we are not talking about two polar types of subsistence-settlement systems, instead we are discussing a graded series from simple to complex” (ibid., 12).
In keeping with a systemic approach, Binford and Jarman et al. have excused themselves for accounting for social aspects and determinations in people’s mobility in their models; by positioning the economy at the forefront of people’s mobility, the models as ideals are easier to map and abstract in diagrams. On this issue, Bettinger (1987, 134) has commented on Binford’s contradictory stance in terms of his dismissal of the optimal foraging theory – Bettinger comments that Binford maintains that “optimal foraging theory is flawed because it ignores cultural values and arbitrarily separates economy from other parts of culture”. As we have seen, this is precisely what Binford has done in his forager-collector model. Moreover, Binford’s model rests on the assumption of the identification of site typologies, and the typologies rest on the straightforward function of the sites: this is also the presumption of the site catchment analysis of the Palaeoeconomy School. The difficulty with this is that the ‘typology’ of a site is not simply determined by the economy (Ingold 2000).
Indeed, it is difficult to relegate sites into a functional and typological framework, as can be seen in the case of the Mesolithic site at Lough Kinale, initially investigated by Mitchell in the 1960’s, and recently excavated by the Fredengren. This island site was presumed to imply a fishing spot, on a seasonal round. However, excavations failed to produce much fishbone for a fishing site, despite excellent preservation conditions and careful excavation (Fredengren, pers. comm.). Therefore, to typologise this site according to economic determinations is a fruitless exercise. In terms of the seasonal round, Warren (2001, 95) has noted that a further difficulty with the forager-collector model is that it does not relate to sedentism in hunter-gatherers, commenting “it seems unlikely that we are dealing with either fully nomadic or sedentary gatherer-hunters”. However, Woodman (1985, 167) came from a differing direction when contemplating Mt. Sandel:
“the major problem with the model offered by Binford is that the contrast between the near-sedentary mapping-on strategy and his alternative seasonal foraging strategy epitomizes the alternatives of the European Mesolithic-seasonal mobility or near-sedentary occupation”.
The early eighties saw the development of an explicit landscape approach in Irish archaeology, which was heavily influenced by the New Archaeology’s positioning. Some general points raised by a landscape conference at the time will be discussed, as well as how Cooney’s interpretations have proceeded from this earlier work. The Bally Lough project’s landscape approach, and the comparative work by Kimball in Donegal will also be discussed, followed by Burenhult’s Carrowmore project.
The first volume dedicated to landscape studies in Ireland was published in 1983, following a conference in 1981 on “Approaches to landscape archaeology in Ireland”. This volume was split between articles concerning the methodology of landscape studies (such as archaeological surveys, cartography, magnetic prospecting, phosphate analysis, and palynology), and a series of case studies covering prehistory to medieval times (Reeves-Smyth and Hamond 1983). The preface to the publication laid out the general approach to archaeological landscape studies: the study of human behaviour in interaction with the physical environment, their adaptation of it, utilization of its resources and their impact on it (ibid., 1).
To illustrate their general mode of thought, the authors use a diagram (Fig. 4-1) which shows the aforementioned interaction, with ‘population’ in a circle on top; environment on bottom; resources to the left; technology to the right; settlement off centred in the middle. While clearly one can view this diagram as simply a convenient, pragmatic analytical tool to illustrate a complex issue, I would nevertheless argue that it obfuscates what it is attempting to reveal – people’s life in the world, and how people, animals, plants, animate and inanimate objects are caught up in the processes of life and the continual creation and recreation of landscapes. This diagram typifies a framework in which people are reified as populational entities as opposed to agents, or actants, in the environment – they are separated out of the environment, and represented as only tangentially situated in, and involved with, it. The separation of the resources, technology, and settlement from both people and the environment removes the social factors out of the intertwined relationships between all of the above; the intimate social ties between people, their technology, and the landscape are complex issues not readily separated into analytical boxes. I would hazard to suggest that the alternative diagram in (Fig. 4-2), while representing the same characterisations (except for replacing population with humans), obviates the removal of people from being centred in the environment; it also relates how the attributes of technology, settlement, and resources, while distinct in themselves, are still porous and are interconnected with humans’ sociality. Indeed, the intersecting of the ‘human’ circle with the ‘resource’ circle can highlight the idea that resources are not simply matter ‘out there’, but rather, humans themselves are each others’ resource: in socialisation, in working together, in supporting each other.
Interestingly, the approach of the landscape themes in this publication follows the earlier distinction noted of the landscape as conceived as a regional study base. Woodman’s article, for example, outlines the Glencoy project as having been necessitated due to the fact that earlier studies of isolated sites were useful when the research questions were concerned with typology and chronology, but the quest to investigate the economic base of prehistory meant that a regional approach was necessary (Woodman 1983). Again, this approach to the landscape involved the reconstruction of the landscape as involving distinct levels of interpretation, from the artefacts, to the sites, to the general landscapes. Similarly, Cooney’s article, on the distribution of megaliths and their use as a surrogate for settlement patterns, is on a par with the processual, regional approach, as it focuses on a regional distribution of upstanding sites to imagine the distribution of hidden settlements lurking beneath the surface (Cooney 1983).
Cooney (2000) has since jettisoned this approach in his publication on Neolithic landscapes, and has replaced populations with people, and settlement patterns with arenas of social action. Here he has developed an anthropological approach to the landscape and its inhabitants, calling for a more intimate story to be told of the Neolithic, highlighting the effects of nearly two decades of the post-processual influence on story-telling. He maintains that a close eye must be kept on viewing prehistoric communities in terms of their local nature, while at the same time understanding and investigating the regional and intra-regional scales (ibid., 219). Cooney has argued that the theoretical stances adopted in Britain in viewing the Neolithic, especially in terms of a highly mobile society, do not mean that this is importable to an Irish context; he suggests that a more nuanced approach to the regional differences in the British Isles should be recognised, as indeed should regional differences within the island of Ireland as well (ibid., 46). In interpreting the Neolithic landscapes he has contrasted the Ceide fields and the Boyne Valley, arguing that issues of preservation may be at play in disguising the land use in prehistory, and that the boundaries used in the Ceide fields should not be seen as an unusual once-off phenomenon. Moreover, he critically highlights that grassland was not the only motivation for farmers; the wetland and woodlands would also have played an integral role in the landscapes. In summing up he succinctly argues that
“rather than seeing people moving across the landscape on pathways, we have to think of people having complex, multi-faceted perceptions of landscapes. Because the monuments they constructed are now more visible and dominate our perceptions, we should not forget the importance of the domestic contexts in which people lived. It was the everyday that underlay and permeated ritual and ceremonial activity” (ibid., 48-9).
However, in arguing for a broadening of our horizons away from a focus on pathways, there is the danger of tilting an Aunt Sally and forgetting how the lie of the land in a sense creates these well worn paths: the humps and bumps and tilts and turns, push and pull one’s body in certain directions. A tradition of a path becomes ingrained in the landscape, it becomes part of the mythology. The building of trackways (Brindley and Lanting 1998) can be seen as suggesting this. In terms of the connection between monuments and pathways, Kieran O’Connor (pers. comm.) has suggested that one can see an inheritance of ancient pathways in the distribution of some modern roads in Roscommon. Furthermore, it is common for pathways to run parallel to field boundaries. With this in mind, one could also conjecture that Cooney’s use of the example of Millin Bay, where a monument was constructed enveloping a dry stone wall, could be an example of a monument built not only incorporating a boundary, but also a pathway. In a sense, these two aspects of the landscape, field boundaries and paths are not separate, but of course are part of a continuum of the landscape.
The Bally Lough Project was developed to research the Stone Age on a landscape scale, in a part of Ireland that had been under-researched. Using the Barrow River system as a regional focus, they sought to ascertain evidence for the arrival of inhabitants, the land-use patterns in the Mesolithic, and also the question of the land-use patterns in terms of the Neolithic transition. They argue that their findings conclude that a site-orientated approach to the record, whereby lithic scatters are used to determine where to dig to look for settlements, would be problematical, and that lithic scatters must be used in and of themselves to interpret the landscape utilisation of the inhabitants at the time under scrutiny (Zvelebil et al. 1992, 223). Furthermore, in stressing the necessity of a multidisciplinary approach to this research, they maintained that to understand the behavioural signatures of lithic scatters, the geomorphology of the archaeological landscapes must be understood (ibid., 214). For instance, their work has highlighted that the river dynamics of alleviation are probably masking evidence of land-use, especially for the Early Mesolithic (Zvelebil et al. 1996, 35-6). In summary, they posited that their findings suggested a pattern of continuity over the period of the transition to farming, with an additional increase in the type of ecosystems utilised in the Neolithic. However, this implied continuity of land-use in a does not tell us much about the continuity of the inhabitants in the area, beyond that people at different times used the same areas. Furthermore, the Barrow valley is treated in what can be described as the ‘mezzanine effect’: the valley is a corridor for movement, for people and their lithics, a non-place, not a lived place as such.
While the Bally Lough Project was silent in terms of their theories on social landscapes, Kimball’s project (which was developed to test the aforementioned project’s results in another part of the country) explicitly addressed these issues. In commenting on the social side of life, an oxymoron really, he says:
“conducting analyses in which settlement patterns are compared against an ecological backdrop does not sufficiently account for social space… However, the purpose of this project is not to find the attractors for settlement…Instead, it seeks evidence to test specific hypotheses related to cultural continuity across the transition to the Neolithic. Because Later Mesolithic settlement corresponds well to a set of ecological relations, I have selected ecological space as the primary context within which to compare prehistoric settlement patterns” (Kimball 2000A, 24 emphasis added).
What is he saying here? Social space and social action are reduced to the epiphenomenon of attractiveness, rather than anything more substantial. He argues that he is studying specific testable hypotheses related to cultural continuity; however he does this while commenting on the tangential place of sociality. But what else is culture except social? His argument that Late Mesolithic settlement is correspondent with ecological relations, and therefore a primary context to compare settlement patterns, is I would argue therefore ultimately flawed, as it is merely a matter of academic convenience rather than a testable procedure for the investigation of prehistoric people.
Burenhult’s Carrowmore project investigated a specific region of Sligo, where no early prehistoric settlements were previously known (Burenhult 1984, 19). It is estimated that this project, over a 5-year period, clocked up over 55,000 man hours, not including pre-fieldwork preparation or post-excavation work (ibid.). Clearly this was a monumental project – especially considering the state of the Irish economy at the time. One of the key objectives of the project was to understand the economy of the megalith builders’ society, and hence to understand of the ecology of the region. As no settlements were known, field surveys, aerial surveys, and phosphate surveys were carried out to ascertain settlement sites, which were followed up by test excavations (ibid., 17). From the results – which produced little evidence for settlement sites, apart from the kitchen middens and the hut sites on Knocknarea – Burenhult argued that the megalithic builders’ settlement strategy involved the use of base camps and satellite camps, used on a seasonal basis (ibid., 133-8).
In commenting on the project’s surveys, Bergh (1995, 57) has noted that the phosphate survey conducted covered less than 1% of the peninsula, and that the majority of the areas chosen were located around known monuments, such as earthworks or platforms. Further, he argues that the use of field surveys in grassland cannot be expected to turn up settlement sites, therefore the negative evidence cannot be considered “a prehistoric reality”, but rather “says more about the problems of field surveying in a grazed landscape” (ibid.). Therefore, he suggests that the survey cannot be considered adequate to hypothesise a lack of settlement in the region. From this, we can see that Burenhult’s approach was – while landscape orientated – site specific in its outlook. Again, this is the point raised by Sherrat earlier on the New Archaeology’s approach to the regional study.Top of Page
Both Tilley and Ingold have used a phenomenological approach in their writings – Tilley as an archaeologist contemplating landscapes and Ingold in his interpreting of anthropological understandings. Tilley’s 1994 book is well-cited and critiqued, and I will outline his approach and mention some of the criticisms directed at his results. Ingold’s paper, originally presented at an archaeological conference, set out another phenomenological approach, and I will again outline his approach and discuss the theoretical and methodological implications of it.
In 1994 Tilley published his now well-cited book on his phenomenological approach to the study of prehistoric landscapes. Tracing the historiography of landscape studies in archaeology, he was strongly critical of the processual accounts in which place, and places, had been abstracted and were measured as space, a neutral backdrop to human affairs. In commenting on the explicit links between the mid-twentieth century New Geography and New Archaeology, which each espoused this method of analysing the landscape, he argued that by adopting such a perspective they were able to simplify their datasets and hence undertake comparative studies of the organisation of populations and material culture “and flows of information and exchange across regions and landscapes” (Tilley 1994, 7-9). He proceeded to discuss an alternative way of viewing landscape, through the viewpoint of space as place, as an arena in which life and human praxis unfolds; place as socially produced and, therefore,
“rather than being uniform and forever the same, is constituted by differential densities of human experience, attachment and involvement…Space has no substantial essence in itself, but only has a relational significance, created through relations between peoples and places” (ibid., 10-11).
Citing Heidegger’s and Merleau-Ponty’s work, he outlined a phenomenological approach whereby how people experience and understand the world is integral; being and dwelling are essential characteristics for humankind (ibid., 11-12). Drawing on Giddens’ structuration theory, Tilley outlined the concept of locale and its place in social reproduction arguing that “actors draw on their settings”, and that this relates to their very relationship to place: “in this manner locales, in the most general sense, can be defined as a presencing of potentialities on which actors draw in the daily conduct of their activities” (ibid., 19). And while he commented that Giddens used the term locales to represent nations or empires, he argued somewhat anachronistically that “it is far better to confine the usage of the term to the small-scale and the specific” (ibid., 19). Defining his usage of the term landscape, he argued that he wanted to
“refer to the physical and visual form of the earth as an environment and as a setting in which locales occur and in dialectical relation to which meanings are created, reproduced and transformed…Humanly created locales…draw on qualities of landscape to create part of their significance for those who use them, and the perception of the landscape itself may be fundamentally affected by the very situatedness of these locales” (ibid., 25-26).
Tilley argued that key features that constitute places are paths that link locales. These paths are created by movement and he argues that the act of moving may be as important as arriving; locales, and their linking paths are caught up in social relations and memory; the locales and paths can act as mnemonic devices, and the narratives used to relate to place and landscape are formed by them, at the same time that they are formed by the narratives (ibid., 27-30).
He then drew on the anthropological literature to define how landscapes are related to in small-scale societies, both hunter-gatherer and farming communities. He cited numerous examples, showing how his aforementioned definitions are seen in ethnographic instances: the importance of paths; the socially situated contexts of landscapes; the place of ancestors in the landscape, and in forming and mediating the landscape; how landscapes are named and appropriated by people in their daily activities; how this naming uses geographically descriptive words. In his conclusion he argued that as the landscape is
“symbolic, ancestral and temporal [in] significance…Writing about an economic ‘base’ in relation to resource utilization or landscape use seems quite irrelevant… The significance of landscape for different populations cannot be simply read off from the local ‘ecological’ characteristics of a ‘natural’ environment…Nor can it be related in any simple manner to the mode of subsistence…or pattern of dwelling. It, rather, cross-cuts these determinisms and distinctions…Landscape is, in substantial part, a mythopoesis and using terms such as hunter-gatherers or subsistence cultivators detracts from rather than clarifies the relationship between peoples and landscapes” (ibid., 67).
Tilley presents a powerful set of concepts with which to understand prehistoric landscapes. His elaboration of how landscapes are named and appropriated by people in their daily activities, and how this naming uses geographically descriptive words is of importance when looking at the, for us, nameless prehistoric landscapes. In other works a number of researchers have commented on this naming of landscapes, and how there is a distinction between a western notion of a landscape of memory and landscape as memory. To us in modern Ireland, this landscape as memory concept would seem exotic. We live in suburban allotments with names such as Oak Park and Pine View, and not a tree in sight; the landscape of trees a distant memory. However, if we look at the townland names, while many relate to landholdings (for instance ‘quarter’), many more are geographically and biographically infused. Indeed, Cooney (1999) has suggested that the Gaelic Irish conceived of the landscape in terms of landscape as memory, as opposed to the cartographic landscape of memory.
In Tilley’s case-study of south-west Wales, he argued that in the same localities seem to have strong indications of successive occupation in both the Early and Later Mesolithic, even though the environmental and therefore resource conditions would “have changed drastically throughout the Mesolithic” (ibid., 84). He therefore suggested that the decisions to stop in a particular part of the landscape were for more than for food acquisition reasons. However, while he notes Bradley’s comment on Mesolithic people being defined by their eating habits, he seems to fall into the same trap by not recognising the excavated evidence. This evidence showed, as Warren (2001, 22-3) has comprehensively outlined, that the Early Mesolithic activities at Nab Head involved, besides food getting, the production of stone beads; this changed, therefore following the logic of Tilley’s own work the place and its meaning would have changed.
Arguably, Tilley overlooked a key premise of his own approach by not recognising the significance of praxis at the various locales in the experience, definition, and creation of them by the inhabitants at the time. In the thrall of delimiting a new approach, he overlooked the excavated evidence on which he based his premises. Clearly, a nuanced and empathic approach to Mesolithic landscapes calls for greater care and fastidiousness than Tilley has allowed. A landscape approach must utilise all the available evidence to conjure a viable story. Ignoring excavated evidence is a fraught enterprise. Moreover, I concur with Warren (ibid.) that Tilley’s shirking of palaeoenvironmental evidence is also erroneous. While in agreement with Tilley that palaeoenvironmental research is coarse-grained, I suggest along with Warren that to base a phenomenological approach only on the “bare bones” of the landscape as Tilley has suggested, and to treat the vegetation as an epiphenomena, works against the very thesis of a phenomenological approach.
As countless anthropological writings maintain, including those cited by Tilley, the vegetation is integral to the landscape, and to its inhabitants. How a place is experienced, perceived, understood, and navigated, will be rooted from the outset by the trees, plants, grasses, fungi, and animals that envelop the person. Furthermore, ethnographic work such as Bird-David’s (1994, 591) has highlighted how the vegetation, not the bare bones, is what people converse about; she comments
“occasionally, people gather, passing time together. Normally, they sit all facing the same direction…talking about the common view (e.g., commenting on a flower which blossomed over night) or about common impersonal matters (e.g., the fruit season which has just ended)”.
Again, in his Neolithic case studies, Tilley’s account has been criticised for misconstruing the data. Fleming (1999, 119) has argued that “while the approach may be promising, the treatment of field data is unconvincing, and has not improved our understanding of the sacred geography of the Welsh Neolithic”. Fleming suggests that the heterogeneity of the monuments under scrutiny belies Tilley’s attempt to portray a single mindset at work, and that the distributional pattern of megaliths in today’s landscape is inherently related to monument destruction patterns as opposed to a prehistoric reality, an issue that Tilley sidesteps in his account (ibid., 120). Therefore, the picture drawn by Tilley of the importance of rock outcrops, and the labelling of them as “non-domesticated ‘megaliths’” (Tilley 1994, 99), would seem to be unsure. Indeed, the uses in which Tilley categorises megaliths contradicts his polemical article ‘Megaliths in texts’ in which he broad-sided research on the monuments (Tilley 1998).
In terms of his use of phenomenology, Brück has likewise been critical of Tilley’s work, arguing that a phenomenological approach is “so generalised a description as to frustrate any possibility of using it to understand the specifics of past societies” (1998, 26). Furthermore, she highlights the essentialist argument at the root of phenomenology, and argues that treating the body as a “transhistorical entity” is insufficient, acknowledging this would mean that “ways of Being must also be historically specific and perhaps gender specific or class specific too” (ibid., 27). Critically, she maintains that his sojourn through the landscape does not recreate how this would have been like for people in the Neolithic: “we cannot use the body of the ‘average’ adult male from a specific historical context as a yardstick without considering how the world may be experienced and interpreted differently through the medium of other socially-constructed bodies” (ibid., 28).
The anthropologist Ingold (2000) set out, in a 1993 conference paper to archaeologists, an approach he thought useful for studying past landscapes and its inhabitants. This approach has been picked up on by various researchers of both the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods (e.g. Conneller 2000; Pollard 2000; Whittle 2003). Ingold’s 2000 publication is a collection of essays that he had written over the years, and here he has elaborated, while acknowledging himself a child of a western intellectual tradition, on ways of dismantling the opposition between culture and nature, mind and body, space and place. He has argued that one can adopt an approach to landscape studies that rests on the idea of the taskscape, and the temporality of the landscape. Influenced by phenomenology, he suggests that tasks are the constitutive acts of dwelling and “it is to the entire ensemble of tasks, in their mutual interlocking, that I refer by the concept of taskscape. Just as the landscape is an array of related features, so - by analogy - the taskscape is an array of related activities" (2000, 195). Importantly, an understanding of the taskscape is founded on the acknowledgment, and rejection, of the “great tool-use fallacy”, which has separated social and technical domains, with Ingold arguing that this separation “has blinded us to the fact that one of the outstanding features of technical practices lies in the embeddedness in the current of sociality” (ibid.).
Ingold maintains that a key aspect of the relationship between people and landscape is the temporality of the taskscape. Here, contra Durkheim’s segmentation of time, of time being “at once chronological and social”, Ingold argues that instead
“the features that Durkheim identified as serving this segmenting function – rites, feasts, and ceremonies – are themselves as integral to the taskscape as are boundary markers such as walls or fences to the landscape. The temporality of the taskscape is social, then, not because society provides an external frame against which particular tasks find independent measure, but because people, in the performance of their tasks, also attend to one another” (ibid., 196).
He suggests that the landscape is the congealed form of the taskscape (ibid., 199) and uses the analogies of music and painting to draw out the relationships: like music, the taskscape resonates; the taskscape is manifested through engagement, and consists of concurrent rhythms “just as social life consists in the unfolding of a field of relationships among persons who attend to one another in what they do, its temporality consists in the unfolding of the resultant pattern of resonances”. Ingold suggests that painting viewed as a process, as a performance, can be analogous to the landscape, as the landscape is never complete (ibid., 197-9).
Ingold has provided a powerful concept by which to understand people and the landscape. By focusing on people in terms of their dwelling in the world, notions of a dichotomy between people’s actions, their technology, and their sociality are made redundant, as the former two can be seen as being mediated on the latter. With the taskscape being the activities of peoples’ dwelling, the landscape can therefore be understood as the “embodied form” of this taskscape (ibid., 198). With cognisance to the fact that the taskscape is never ending, so the same applies to the landscape; because the landscape is continuously being created, Ingold suggests that this is why the dichotomy between natural and ‘man-made’ features is problematic: an issue highly pertinent to archaeologists, especially in terms of the creation, and positioning of monuments in the landscape, as well as in terms of the analysis of lithics (e.g. Bradley 2000; Tilley 1994). Moreover, the taskscape approach highlights the fundamental issue of the temporality of the landscape.
Whittle (2003, 23) has highlighted some difficulties with Ingold’s approach, one being that Ingold’s focus on a dwelling perspective, whereby people are attentive to the world around them, possibly overlooks how the daily routine, and indeed much of life, can be conducted on an unconscious level without the awareness and intellectualisation apparent in a dwelling perspective. Whittle comments that cumulative effects of these unthinking and unconscious actions “may often be what has been called the ‘unintentional reproduction of structures’” (ibid., 22). A second point that Whittle makes is that the taskscape concept understates the acts of socialisation and learning, and the “weight of collective tradition and culture” (ibid., 15). However, these are issues that Ingold has tackled head-on in other articles, and are therefore implicit in the taskscape (Ingold 2000, chapter 1; chapter 18; chapter 19).
In these various articles Ingold has highlighted that learning is mediated on practice and involvement in the world, rather than cultural directions learned from the outside, and by practices and knowledge being revealed to people: an education by attention, rather than by transmission via mental representations. For the latter point, Ingold uses the example of his father (a botanist) showing him plants and fungi, getting him to see and feel them. Warren (2001, 32) has picked up on this latter example, arguing that this does not pay sufficient attention to the “importance of the pre-existing schemes” of learning. Indeed, while education by attention, whether conscious or unconscious attention (arguably both are used), is a critical aspect, the teaching and socialisation of children also involves the telling of stories, the myths, the songs, relating to certain flora and fauna: their origins, their locations in the landscape, and their uses.Top of Page
Having discussed the various landscapes approaches that have been adopted over the years in Ireland and elsewhere, I bring these aspects together in terms of how the Mesolithic and Early Neolithic in the west of Ireland will be assessed in this thesis. Here, I will outline my adoption of Ingold’s taskscape, and comment on the central issues of the regional and local scales that can be formulated, as well as discussing the concepts of people’s mobility in the landscape, and how this relates to our sense of the regionality of prehistory.
"Landscape has to be contextualised. The way in which people - anywhere, everywhere - understand and engage with their worlds will depend upon the specific time and place and historical conditions. It will depend upon their gender, age, class, caste, and on their social and economic situation. People's landscapes will operate on very different spatial scales, whether horizontally across the surface of the world, or vertically - up to the heavens, down to the depths. They will operate on very different temporal scales, engaging with the past and with the future in many different ways. The landscape is never inert, people engage with it, re-work it, appropriate and contest it" (Bender 1993, 2-3).
"Neither is the landscape identical to nature, nor is it on the side of humanity against nature. As the familiar domain of our dwelling, it is with us, not against us, but it is no less real for that. And through living in it, the landscape becomes part of us, just as we are part of it" (Ingold 2000, 191).
These extended quotes neatly encapsulate a number of key points that are central to the use of a landscape approach in this thesis. I maintain that a focus on the landscape must contend with the realisation that what we as present day researchers regard as landscape is not what was known or thought of by the people whom we are attempting to study. We live in vastly different times, and to state a commonplace, the past is a foreign country.
So how can we approach prehistoric landscapes? To me, a phenomenological approach is an intuitively attractive proposition: probably because I am a subjective Romantic. However, there are considerable complexities in following such an approach, a key issue being the peril of essentialism. How can we translate a long past experience of the world into our terms? It is clearly of importance to use an approach that is founded on an understanding that one’s physical place in the world is integral to one’s experience. The idea that we are somehow divorced from the landscape, self-contained brains floating around in a fleshy shell, is quite bizarre but a commonplace in the western tradition of thought. For example, Meinig (1979, 33) states that “landscape is defined by our vision and interpreted by our minds…Strictly speaking we are never in it, it lies before our eyes”. However, if I raise my hands, I am immediately in my vision in the landscape: I am, therefore I am in the landscape. This notion of the detached human entity, the brain in a body, is of course deeply ingrained in the “I think therefore I am” paradigm.
The difficulties in using a phenomenological approach are highlighted by the fact that the results of Tilley’s fieldwork are incongruous with his theoretical positioning at the beginning of his book. Moreover, the methodology of attempting to recreate an experience of movement across a landscape has been heavily criticised as essentialising the human body as an ahistorical entity. Can one acknowledge a phenomenological approach and understanding of the world without resort to recreating an experience? Using Ingold’s concept, one can view the landscape as an array of features formed and also unformed by peoples’ sociality. However, this is not a methodology, but rather a tool for thinking about one’s methodology. By adopting the taskscape approach, and recognizing the temporality of the landscape, I maintain that this allows one to investigate the landscape from the position of the interconnection of the evidence we see of the periods. Moreover the Neolithic transition can be seen as process, whereby the changes in the material culture, be they new lithic strategies or ceramics or the introduction of new flora and fauna, can be seen as changes in the taskscape, not technological advances or economic achievements but rather an array of differences that altered how the landscape was used and perceived. The temporality of the landscape maintains that the landscape and its perception are grounded in the historical particularities of activities taking place.
As mentioned in the previous chapter, Pollard (2000) has used the taskscape concept to ascertain the reasons for the apparent use of persistent places in Mesolithic landscapes. By removing the ‘economy’ and the ‘ecological niche’ from the centre of attention in assessing the reasons for the persistent place, the immediate sociality of these contexts and locales is broached. Indeed, the weight given to evidence for seasonality in the archaeological record, because it is something that archaeologists can get evidence for, can also be mediated through a fuller understanding that seasonality is again not economically and ecologically determined, but tied up in people’s sociality; as Warren (2001, 30) has put it, “the temporality of activity is not just a matter of scheduling seasonal resources, but that these time frames are important in understanding identity and the ways in which people came to terms with their landscape”. Clearly, the climate and ecology shape a community’s positioning in the landscape, but this is not translated to reified models of subsistence. Commenting on ethnographic work undertaken on the Amazonian floodplain, Whittle (2003, 25) highlights that the rise and fall of the river levels between the wet and dry season leads to, in turn, congregation and dispersal of the communities: “seasonality is not just a matter of adapting to a framework of external environmental constraints, but is experienced by changes in sociality and mood”.
As outlined in chapter 2, Gibbons et al. have looked at the Mesolithic evidence in the west, and their more general interpretations raise questions of how we research prehistoric landscapes, and how we can allow for ‘sociality and mood’ in our interpretations. For instance, the authors (2004, 5) compare the River Island, L. Corrib, Co. Galway findspot to that of Cormongan, L. Allen, Co. Leitrim (Fig. 4-3). This comparison is reliant on the economic practices of the Mesolithic people being in the forefront of the authors’ minds. However, I would argue that these sites are not really that comparable, beyond both being situated on lakes. River Island is at the mouth of the Owenriff River extending inland, possibly indicating a social aspect of people’s movement: locales of contact, of people’s confluence and dispersal in the landscape; whereas Cormongan is simply a lakeshore findspot (if one can call a findspot ‘simply’).
More relevant and analogous, I would suggest, are the L. Allen finds of Drummans Lower (MNI files 1984:110 & E114:3-34) and Annagh Lower ( MNI files 1984:194-197), which were all found at the mouths of rivers, one leading west, and the other north to the source of the Shannon (for further discussion of these areas see chapter 5). Arguably, Gibbons and Higgins have simply plucked the example of Cormongan from the literature, and compared it with River Island rather than looking at the topographic contexts of the finds. Therefore, they have not given all the available evidence the thorough examination it deserves.
The general gist of the authors’ articles follows the Hungry Mesolithic paradigm. They title their articles ‘Mapping the Mesolithic in western Connacht’ and ‘Hunter-gatherer strategies in western Connacht’. They would seem to take the stance that the Mesolithic is basically an eating machine, and all locales in the landscape used by hunter-gatherers are simply ecologically advantageous economic places. This treatment of the Mesolithic has of course been heavily criticised over many years, with Bradley’s well known comments on the Mesolithic being treated in the literature as if the people in the Mesolithic only had ecological relations with hazelnuts, with human relations beginning with the farmers of the Neolithic (Bradley 1984).
Our prehistoric findspots are not simply signatures of economic practices, but were created by people as they stopped at a locale, on their way to meeting point, or were a meeting point, in a social landscape. A landscape alive: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. This sense of movement is not just related to hunter-gatherers, but also to farming communities: being a sedentary farmer does not imply a lack of movement (Ingold 1986, 169). Of course, these locales can be read by us as suitable contexts for sustenance activities, yet this is to overshadow the rest of the activities that took place: the findspots we see and seek are poor remains of a totality of life and living, and an economic determinism does not do justice to the rest of the day in the locale as it were. Tellingly, the authors suggest that a base camp at the River Corrib would have been advantageous as there would have been no “actual need to move” (2005, 48). However, this may well miss the point that movement and so forth may have been a important part of their lives, rather than just a necessary obstacle to overcome on their way to a more ‘appropriate’, ‘progressive’, sedentary life. Arguably, Lynch’s thesis, on the Mesolithic in Co. Clare follows this Hungry Mesolithic paradigm and fails to treat the landscape as anything beyond a context for a ‘new’ kind of analysis, and a platform for people to play out their lives against as opposed to something to be lived in. Indeed, the mezzanine effect is in full force in his thesis in which he has bizarrely suggested that the Shannon was used as a gateway to Ferriter’s Cove (Lynch 2002, 64)!
As is clear, one of the overarching questions of both the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods has been the querying of the degree to which these communities were mobile in their settlement patterns. The scale of movement will have a direct effect on what type of landscape we try to study. The evidence available for the Mesolithic has suggested a semi-sedentary Early Mesolithic, and a more mobile Later Mesolithic, with debates as to whether this is an accurate portrayal of the periods. Intimately related to this debate on the variability of settlement patterns is the understanding of social complexity. Burenhult argued that the economy of the Mesolithic in Sligo led to a greater degree of sedentism, with the consequent development of social complexity, the end result being the construction of megaliths (1984, 138-9). Kimball has arrived at a polar opposite conclusion, arguing that “Ireland’s relatively impoverished biodiversity may not have permitted a subsistence base that was broad enough to support sedentism and the development of social complexity” (2000B, 42). And as noted, Cooney and Grogan (1999) argued that the Mesolithic would have seen a move towards sedentism in the Later Mesolithic. The key variables for sedentism and complexity for all these authors are ecological and economic. This is also true for the debates on sedentism in the Neolithic. The European Neolithic had traditionally been taken as nomadic in nature, as Rowley-Conwy (2003) has elaborated. The Irish evidence, of substantial houses and pre-bog field walls, has called this into question; Cooney (2000, 47) notes that similar evidence has been produced in Britain. From an ecological and economic perspective, Rosenberg (1998, 654) has commented that sedentism may require more daily mobility than more generally mobile communities “partly because of the need to range farther as local resources are depleted”.
In discussing the concept of sedentism in archaeology Engelstad (1990, 27) has similarly noted that for researchers to posit social complexity, they must first of all “establish the existence of sedentism”. She comments that if one moves beyond the economic and ecological parameters of investigation, and studies what she describes as a “culturally defined landscape” perspective, a different picture can be drawn of sedentism (ibid., 27-8). She highlights this by contrasting the landscape use of Scandinavian Sami hunter-gatherers and ‘sedentary’ fishing communities, both of whom share the same landscape, and postulates how archaeologists would interpret the different sites. She argues that the fishing communities would typically be considered sedentary, with substantial permanent settlements and the faunal remains indicating year-round use. In contrast, the Sami population would be interpreted as having moved with the seasons, or semi-sedentary (ibid., 29-30). She suggests that in fact the transitory nature of the fishing communities – due to immigration and emigration as well as the need to move with the fish stock – created a migrant workforce and hence community. And while the Sami did indeed move through the landscape, their communities could be viewed as sedentary in their habitual landscape (ibid., 32). Engelstad concludes by suggesting
“in discussing sedentism an archaeologists (sic) attention is most often focused on the amount of time spent at a single location by a group of people…[however] that way of looking at a group’s relationship to space is perhaps not totally relevant for an appreciation of their connection to the landscape or the permanence of their settlement within this landscape” (ibid., 32-3).
In their classic exposition of the Mesolithic, Mitchell and Ryan (2001, 115) account for Mesolithic communities as being “restricted by their inability to clear large areas to roaming along the shores of lakes and rivers and along coasts, catching fish and collecting nuts and seeds as seasonal opportunity offered”. The sense here of people ‘roaming’ conjures up images of people aimlessly moving across the landscape, a landscape as backdrop, devoid of soul and meaning – not of a knowledgeable people in a lived-in landscape, a landscape which was intimately known, with locales named, and stories told of. The sense of restriction relates that the Mesolithic communities were unsophisticated pawns in their environment, rather than at home in their landscape – they lacked the common sense and know-how to clear land, to settle down, and to progress. Ultimately, the sense of opportunism alluded to is suggestive of a lesser people than the impending Neolithic farmers – the Mesolithic peoples were on a lower rung of humanity; unable to provide for themselves, they were at the mercy of the seasons to provide them sustinence.
However, a different picture can be constructed of Mesolithic landscapes. Rather than at the whim of nature, we can see the Mesolithic communities actively involved in their landscape, indeed in transforming this landscape in the process. As we saw in the previous chapter, there is substantial evidence for the construction of various types of ‘sites’ in the landscape. The Lullymore Bog trackway was unfortunately destroyed after its discovery so it is unclear what kind of activity was taking place in the locale. Brindley and Lanting (1998, 58) have taken a pragmatic, functional approach to the interpretation of this trackway, seeing it as a “response to the demands of a particular environment and representative of similar activities in other bogs of that date”. However, one can also see this as being a quite elaborate attempt to create a dry path across soggy ground. At about 1.8m wide you could drive a herd of cattle down it, let alone have a pathway for a family of hunter-gatherers. It is unclear how long this trackway ran, from where to where. Indeed, it is unclear whether this was in fact a trackway per se at all, or rather another example of some type of platform (not to say that these platforms were not connected by trackways). What we do have are signs of Mesolithic communities actively engaging with and transforming their landscape – working large trees and creating social arenas in the landscape.
As mentioned, at Mitchelstowndown East, Co. Limerick and Valencia Island, Co. Kerry Mesolithic dates were returned with no evidence of lithics. At Valencia (6560±120 BP) the stone platform had a baulk of fossil oak dated to 8910±150 BP. The wide range in the last two dates may also be saying something interesting. We have a piece of timber almost 2500 years older than the peat. As the Mesolithic communities were certainly adept at woodworking, and would have intimately understood the properties of the various woods in their landscape, the use of such an old timber may have been significant. Of course, I am not implying that they would have regarded the age of the timber in the linear sense of time that we understand it – in being such-and-such calendar years old – but arguably they would have recognised it as different in some way.
As we have seen in the previous chapter, at Lough Kinale there was the construction of a platform on a natural island, with a lack of a functional reason such as the creation of a fishing spot, and some of the crannogs on Lough Gara may represent Mesolithic platforms. The excavations of Moynagh Lough by Bradley (1991) again showed evidence of the construction of islands in the Mesolithic, and the excavator found it difficult to explain the white marl layer. Little (2005, 91) has suggested that the use of the marl would have created “white islands” and these “would have made a profound visible impact on those approaching the structures”. Fredengren (2002, 135; 139) has argued that these constructions can be seen in the light of monumentality, whereby these creations, which are suggested as having been covered seasonally by the rising water levels, were “important in the creation and maintenance of the identities of these small groups in their yearly cycle”.
Little has commented on Fredengren’s interpretations of these Mesolithic constructions, and while substantially applauding Fredengren’s thesis on them, she is hesitant on the use of the term monumentality:
“just how useful a term monumental is in describing the role of these artificial islands within the wider landscape is a whole new debate…rather than seeking to identify acts of monumentality – where interpretations often work at such a grand scale that they exclude the possibility of distinguishing other smaller or ‘intimate’ social exchanges, such as would be necessary in the construction of a platform – it is more productive to engage with the specifics of the material” (2005, 91).
I think Little’s unease with the term monumentality may also stem from the clear appropriation of the term by archaeologists of the Neolithic and later periods. To bring the term into Mesolithic studies brings with it a lot of baggage. While The concise Oxford dictionary of archaeology (Darvill 2002, 270) describes the term monument as “in common usage the term is taken to mean any large artificial structure of archaeological interest”, it is clear that in the case of early prehistory a monument or monumentality conjures up certain images. Of course, a standard dictionary reference shows that a monument can be something artificial or a natural landscape feature (Webster's third new international dictionary 1961, 1466), and Bradley (1998; 2000) has discussed the archaeology of ‘natural places’ as a useful line of inquiry, and also raised the issue of whether or not Mesolithic people thought ‘monumentally’.
I also share Little’s unease with the term monumental. What else can we call these places in the landscape? Tilley has suggested for natural outcrops that they can be called ‘non-domesticated “megaliths”’ (Tilley 1994, 99). However, as we saw earlier, Descola noted that while the wild animals of the Amazon were not domesticated, in a sense they already were as they were a part of human lives, and intertwined intimately with the spirit worlds which dominated all aspects of the world, from the waters, to the land, to plants and animals through to people. Does the term personalities in the landscape help? Can we have a landscape of personalities? As artefacts can be investigated biographically (Kopytoff 1986, passim), can we see sites in a similar manner?
Initially, this idea of personalities in the landscape is based on the clarification of the notions personhood and individuality as conceived in the modern west. Taylor has commented that the modern idea that a self is something that comes from within a single individual is a peculiar, historically contingent understanding, and a difficult one to see beyond:
“who among us can understand our thought being anywhere else but inside, ‘in the mind’? Something in the nature of our experience of ourselves seems to make the current localization almost irresistible, beyond challenge” (1992, 112).
Finlay (2003C) has approached the ‘entity’ of the microlith from this perspective of the partibility of people and things; using Strathern’s work on the concept of multiple authorship, she highlights how the composite nature of the making and use of the microlith epitomises this idea. She has suggested that with the transformation from microlith to macrolith, “collectivity was [then] expressed in the ownership of places and resources” (Finlay 2003B, 92). Fowler (2004) has outlined various differing anthropological studies of individuality and dividuality, such as the concept of partible people and multiple authorship, and also of permeable people. He elaborates how these differing ways that people conceive of themselves in the world do not stand in clear distinction from the current modern western idea of the individual, but rather
“each person negotiates a tension between dividual and individual characteristics, and, in all societies, personhood emerges from the constant reconciling of one with the other. In some contexts, like modern Europe, individual features are accentuated, while in others, like contemporary Melanesia, dividual features are accentuated – but these are dominant features, not factors which completely repress or override the other” (ibid., 34).
So, how can these places be termed as personalities? First of all, a personality in the landscape can move away from the idea of an artificial basis for a monument. As we have seen, although a natural feature may be described as a monument, this is not the case in archaeological discourses. Indeed, Tilley (2005, 33), commenting on the menhirs of Breton states “these stones were the first culturally fixed and enduring points in the landscape and are closely associated with its post-Mesolithic transformation”, and he raises the critical question of “why were huge ancient trees, wooden posts, rock outcrops or the large stones that would have served as physical markers of place and identity during the Mesolithic deemed no longer sufficient?” From this we can get a sense that archaeologists make a division between the ‘natural’ rock and the ‘artificial’ monument implicitly and explicitly.
Second, to see them as personalities in the landscape can highlight – again related to the context of the binary opposition of the natural and cultural – as bridging the gap between humans and the environment: the constructions that the Mesolithic communities undertook were part of themselves as much as they were part of the landscape. These were persistent places; they were elaborated over time. These were renowned locales, named places – this is spot A of the children of B; or this is spot C of the heron.
Third, as personalities in the landscape, these can be viewed as having altered their meanings over time. These personalities in the landscape were probably contested locales. As generations passed, differing groups with differing agendas appropriated these in their own ways. Not only altering them materially, but also altering them in the context of their placement in the landscape, as this changed over the generations.
Therefore, by describing sites and locales as personalities, we can see people situated in an intimate landscape, a landscape of persistent use and understanding – a thought-out landscape whether consciously or unconsciously. The personalities built by Mesolithic communities included themselves in the construction. They were mnemonic devices in the landscape, and as persistent elements, if only visible seasonally, they enabled a manner of use of the landscape. Therefore, these personalities were involved in the social reproduction of the communities. They presented places for the dynamic traditionalism (sensu Gosden 1994, 31) of the communities to elaborate. Objections to the use of this term for what could otherwise be called monuments might be that yet another boundary between the Mesolithic and Neolithic is probably unhelpful. However, the term personality in the landscape can also be applied to the Neolithic constructions, not just to precursors of monumental constructions.
One other example of a personality in the landscape that is apparent especially along the Shannon system, as well as the Corrib and in Clare, is the mushroom stone (Dunne and Feehan 2003). These distinctive wave-cut stones consist of dissolved limestone blocks and many are taken to be signatures of the early post-glacial lake levels, and in the 2003 publication they recorded 63 such stones. In my fieldwork I noted some more along Lough Cullin, Co. Mayo, Lough Inchquin and Lough Cullaun, Co. Clare, and also some more along the River Corrib, Co. Galway (Plate 4-1). These are clearly not monuments in the sense of artificial constructions, but they are personalities in the landscape, landmarks that would have been noted and talked about, part of the mythopoesis of the landscape. These stones were just one facet of the landscape that we can discuss. In terms of sacred places, Bradley (2000, 23) has listed “mountains, promontories, caves, trees, groves, lakes, rivers, springs and the sea” – from this list one has the sense of what was not sacred in the landscape.
This ties in to the concept of the taskscape. The difficulty for investigating taskscapes and landscapes is that we are trained to look for cultural clues, rather than seeing the landscape as a continuum of built and unbuilt features. Is that a monument, or is it natural? Is that a glacial erratic, or was it moved 50 yards and placed there? We need answers, we need empirical proof. We need a division between the cultural and the natural. If there is not a checklist of telltale signs of an object being cultural, it can be written off the map. A lot of landscape studies that focus on the monuments in the landscape end up describing a series of points in the landscape, and leave out the landscape in between. As Warren (2001, 24) has commented, ritual landscapes so described are not really landscapes as such, but rather “just networks of highly visible sites”. Bradley (2000, 42-3) has written on the dilemma of how to treat the ‘natural’ landscape. He was critical of Tilley’s 1994 approach, commenting that the ‘unbuilt’ landscape features such as
“rocks, mountains and rivers enter his interpretation only because of their relationship to these buildings [i.e. monuments]…Tilley accounts for the placing of these particular tombs through a kind of retrospection: such structures must have been built there because those natural features were already important in the experience of local hunter gatherers” (ibid.).
He then poses the question: “is it possible to discuss the role of entirely unaltered features of the natural landscape”? (ibid.). Interestingly, his case studies that follow leave the Mesolithic behind and start in the Neolithic.
In his earlier publication, The significance of monuments, Bradley (1998, 10) commented on the incongruence of studying aspects other than monuments: “although sites of many different kinds may contain the new styles of artefacts adopted during the Neolithic, there seems little prospect of using this evidence to interpret the patterns of everyday life”. Warren (2001, 24) has highlighted the danger of such a stance: “such a statement is of deep concern for it implies that we must interpret Neolithic life in terms derived from monuments alone. By extension it also suggests that we will not be able to provide any kind of interpretive account of the Mesolithic”. Moreover, what happens when researchers work in areas in Ireland where there was a non-megalithic Neolithic? Equally pressing, I would argue, is Bergh’s (1995) comment (noted in chapter 2) that although we have a picture of monuments in the landscape, what was happening in the middle, where and how these people lived and worked is exceedingly unclear. I would concur with Warren that, contra Bradley, focusing solely on the monumental aspects of prehistory will not reveal these integral aspects of the lifestyles in the Neolithic.
I maintain that the taskscape can be a useful approach to studying prehistoric peoples, whereby our analysis immediately situates both us and the communities under scrutiny in the landscape, not divorced from the immediate physical reality of existence. At the same time, the taskscape allows us to see both natural and artefactual evidence on a continuum as opposed to bracketed off into two separate spheres of investigation. As Ingold (2000) has said, the taskscape is unending, and the landscape is never complete, it is perpetually under construction, and reinterpretation. Critically, the taskscape entails that sociality can be seen as the lynchpin of our analysis of material culture; to see aspects of the landscape such as natural features and constructed platforms as personalities, the sociality of the landscape is again centred upon in our investigations.
This notion of the ingrained pathway, and the constructed tracks, is cognisant of Whittle's (1996, 236) comment on the possible short life of the Sweet track: "the fen may have overwhelmed it within a generation or so. It is hard to envisage that this outcome was not foreseen by people familiar with their surroundings".[return].