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Landscape, Memory and the Built Environment

Landscape has become a unifying trope for the study of space and place in archaeology.  Spaces – both architectural and natural – are socially constructed.  Landscapes comprise the spatial milieu within which bodies and the social and material worlds interact and intersect, as identity and power are negotiated.  Tools such as GIS not only help us examine the regional distributions of sites and resources, they also enable us to model artifact-rich 3D environments, travel routes, and viewsheds.  Contemporary landscape studies move beyond spatialized site and resource distributions to focus on such dimensions as meaning, cosmography, ideology, and memory.  People construct senses of place – emotionally charged, meaningful landscapes – through histories of engagement with buildings and mountains, tombs and trees, stelae and springs.  Meaningful landscapes do not exist without memory – the selective preservation, construction, and obliteration of ideas about the way things were in the past.  Phenomenological approaches can allow us to investigate shifting perceptions and experiences as bodies moved through buildings and across spaces.

Researchers at Binghamton University focus on landscape, memory, and the built environment from multiple, complementary perspectives.  Ruth Van Dyke uses GIS-based and phenomenological methods to investigate the intersections among landscape, architecture and ideology at Chaco Canyon in northern New Mexico.  Her projects on the post-Chacoan landscape focus on the ways ancient Southwestern peoples viewed, interpreted, memorialized, utilized, and obliterated their own, more distant pasts. The embeddedness of 17th century Native American fort sites of New England in oral, remembered, documentary, and archaeological landscapes is the focus of Siobhan Hart's current project.  Nina Versaggi and researchers from the Public Archaeology Facility (PAF), are studying the importance of upland landscapes, particularly drainage divides and source areas for major waterways, as symbolically important parts of Native American cosmology; this perspective imbues the small lithic sites found on these landscapes with new significance as districts with National Register potential.  The "cityscape" is a central point of William Isbell's research on forms and processes that produce new urban places in the transformation of ancient Peru.  Here, completely new kinds of places include the 'palace,' dedicated to producing social difference and centralized power.  Sébastien Lacombe and Kathleen Sterling focus on the construction and meaning of the social and symbolic landscape in Upper Paleolithic societies of Southwestern Europe, particularly the relationship between open air and cave or rock shelter sites. Lacombe's collaborative work both on lithic natural resources and open-air settlements in the French central Pyrénées is dramatically changing our understanding of the Tardiglacial last hunter-gatherers communities. Sterling's work investigates meaningful places without architecture or monuments in the Pleistocene as evidenced by material links and paths.

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Last Updated: 9/4/13