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An Archaeology of Movement: A Methodological Study

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Oscar Aldred


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This thesis is a study focusing on past movement and landscape. It is a theoretical and methodological discussion with a case study located in northwest Iceland. The thesis aims to develop ways to examine the traces of past human movement and assess the impact that a movement perspective might have for landscape archaeology. In problematizing movement as a concern for archaeology, the thesis takes a position that movement is more than simply a change in location; whether it is migration over long distances or quotidian practices of moving, the focus in this thesis is not so much on these types of movement, but rather on the act or event of mobility; of motion itself. Specifically, the thesis explores how archaeology can draw out something of the vibrancy of past human mobilities and inhabitation in a landscape context by considering the relationships between archaeological sites, landscape features and the human body in the process of conducting archaeological fieldwork. This extends the phenomenological method, attempting to capture how motion was materialized in the past and how it is used in forming the archaeological record. The thesis is organized into two parts. The first part offers a review of landscape archaeology, drawing on the author’s own particular educational background, and a review of archaeological studies about past movement. Several features of these reviews are then taken forward in terms of a discussion on methods. The second part of the thesis is based on these perspectives in the context of a case study focused around the farm of Vatnsfjörður in northwest Iceland. There is a contextual landscape history, as well as presentation of the two main site types derived from an extensive landscape survey programme: cairns (or small stone markers) and routes. The empirical evidence is dissected accumulatively across three method experiments. Conventional archaeological methods are used to examine archaeological sites associated with movement, principally cairns, which are then followed by an examination of cairns and routes using the tools of network analysis, operational chains and rhythmanalysis. Each experiment reveals aspects of past movement in the landscape. The thesis offers several conclusions concerning the methods used for studying movement and the consequences of this for archaeological research by reflecting on the experiments, the practices used, as well as the limitations, and future work needed to fulfill the potential of this thesis. In short, this is a study that is one step towards an archaeology of movement in bringing landscape and movement closer together. While it is not sufficient in itself to address issues of landscape inhabitation, some conclusions are reached. A past landscape is represented as a dynamic and vibrant entity, and that this leads to potentially new interpretations about the past, ones that add further real-world complexity to how people inhabited the past landscape and were inter-connected to the environments in which they lived. The main contribution of the thesis is that it puts movement on the archaeological agenda, not only providing the tools to conduct further research, but also impacting on how we understand past movement and landscapes, as well as how landscape archaeology is practiced.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Aldred O

Publication type: Authored Book

Publication status: Published

Series Title: Thesis series

Year: 2014

Publisher: University of Iceland

Place Published: Reykjavík, Iceland

Library holdings: Search Newcastle University Library for this item

ISBN: 9789935918918