My time this past week has mainly been spent on editing my thesis chapters. When writing new material, I have been focussed on the use of the term landscape. We often hear people use such phrases as ‘the landscape is beautiful’ or ‘it’s a picturesque landscape’, and I have used the term ‘landscape model’ in a previous blog entry, but what is meant by ‘the landscape’?
The term landscape embodies a western notion, having developed during the latter years of the 16th century when Dutch artists began painting scenes of rural life with reference to changing conditions. It appears to have been a technical term of painters, entering the English language as a Dutch loan-word which, over time, came into common use (David and Thomas 2008, 27).
A tension exists between landscape as an aesthetic entity, to be viewed at a distance, or landscape as a context of activity (David and Thomas 2008, 27). Through action and interaction landscapes are created by people, both consciously and unconsciously (Bender 1993, 1). Landscapes are the location of human existence, but this goes beyond merely the physical environment on which lives are lived. It encompasses spaces and places within which lives are lived. Landscapes comprise meaningful things, objects which are not abstract but actively involved in experiential and social praxis (David and Thomas 2008, 38). To borrow from Hodder’s theory of entanglement, people are dependent on the landscape in which they act, just as landscapes are dependent on people to maintain their current form (Hodder 2012, 92).
Archaeologists often discuss ‘past landscapes’ where they are no longer extant. At Saqqara the ‘past landscape’ is a visible palimpsest in the present. The necropolis of Saqqara is a busy place today, teaming with tourists who are transported in via coaches on a regular schedule throughout each day. Activity occurs across the majority of the site and, at the more popular monuments, it can often be a chaotic press of bodies vying to get the best view or photograph. Auditory and olfactory senses are included in the experience of being within this funerary landscape; the sounds of people moving around the monuments; the smells of food and animals. The past landscape of ancient Saqqara would likely not have been much different; festivals to celebrate the dead, with sounds and smells and all the attendant celebrants moving along pathways through the monuments; the priesthood going about their daily tasks; the animals on the plateau, both sacred and otherwise. Modern notions of ‘landscape’ often display a ‘pervasive visualism’ (Feld 1996, 94) where other sensory modalities are subordinated. Landscape is much more than just scenery.
Bender, B. 1993. Introduction: Landscape – Meaning and Action. In B. Bender (ed), Landscape: politics and perspectives, 1-17. Providence: Berg.
David, B. and Thomas, J. 2008. Landscape Archaeology: Introduction. In B. David and J. Thomas (eds), Handbook of Landscape Archaeology, 27-43. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.
Feld, S. 1996. Waterfalls of Song: An Acoustemology of Place Resounding in Bosavi, Papua New Guinea. In S. Feld, and K. Basso (eds), Senses of Place, 91-135. Santa Fe: School of American Research Press.
Hodder, I. 2012. Entangled. An Archaeology of the Relationships between Humans and Things. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.