Archaeology, Landscape, and Dwelling

Authored by: Julian Thomas

Handbook of Landscape Archaeology

Print publication date:  December  2008
Online publication date:  June  2016

Print ISBN: 9781598742947
eBook ISBN: 9781315427737
Adobe ISBN: 9781315427720


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In this chapter, I argue that phenomenology cannot simply be drawn on for a methodology for landscape archaeology, commensurate with other techniques and methods. Rather, it requires that we should think about landscape in a wholly unfamiliar way: only then can the insights of an experiential approach enlighten or challenge more conventional perspectives. Over the past 15 years or so, phenomenological thought has come to exercise a considerable influence over the way that archaeologists address past landscapes. The phenomenological tradition in philosophy concerns itself with the conditions that make possible the human experience of the world, and it maintains that experience and interpretation are fundamental to human existence (Thomas 2006). It is not simply that people experience their world and make sense of it, as one kind of activity among others: we are distinguished by being interpreting beings. This perspective has informed approaches to space, place, and architecture that focus on the ways that topographies and structures might have been physically encountered and negotiated by people in the past, whether as a complement, or as an alternative, to more conventional landscape archaeologies (see Tilley, this volume). More recently, Andrew Fleming (2006) has presented a series of criticisms of this form of “postprocessual landscape archaeology” that demand serious consideration. Fleming contends that experiential archaeologies are unwise to neglect (or reject) the field skills that have been gradually perfected within orthodox landscape studies; that “phenomenological” fieldwork is often subjective, personal, and consequentially difficult to test or replicate; and that the written products of this kind of work gravitate toward a “hyper-interpretive” style that exceeds the capacity of the evidence to substantiate it (Fleming 2006: 276).

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