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Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology



Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
Brown University
Box 1837 / 60 George Street
Providence, RI 02912
Telephone: (401) 863-3188
Fax: (401) 863-9423
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April 2009 Notes:

When I first read 'Meaning and Identity in a Greek Landscape' in april 2008, I noted a textual deemphasis on archaeology and archaeological results, these being somewhat lost amidst the excellent ethnography. In my second reading, I found evidence to support this idea but also I noticed how archaeological data and theory are quite present in the text, appearing, disappearing and recurring like outcrops of geological strata. On my second reading I first revisited the 'Conducting Fieldwork on Methana' chapter and noted that little more than one page was devoted to discussing the Archaeological Survey, compared to 12 pages on cultural ecology. And that during the field seasons, Forbes "spent what spare moments I could visiting old friends in villages and keeping abreast of developments in their lives" (109). In the following section on the use of archival sources (111), he notes that "During the archaeological survey in the 1980s, most of my energies were expended on maintaining contacts with friends from the initial fieldwork." I don't take this to mean that this truly excluded the archaeological work, but that there is a pressing and literal immediacy to the ethnographic work.

I am impressed with the way that the archaeological places are incorporated into the meaningful landscape of Methana, particularly with the cisterns, pressing floors, storage dens and field houses that have recent historical use, and how archaeological theory is woven into and altered in Forbes' analyses. I feel that use of archaeology in the book mirrors the world, in that it is usually present and incorporated, but often very subtly and unpronounced, and the aspects that lack current or recent relevance are forgotten or mythologized. I wonder if the more accessible and narrative aspects of the interdisciplinary study are too distracting to allow enough of the archaeological data and methodology that form the underlying structure to shine through. I think that the book is very successful and actually quite poetic, but is the use of archaeology too subdued? Or is it just a revisionary archaeology that the book walks away with, a new kind of creature?


I initially read Hamish Forbes' 'Meaning and Identity in a Greek Landscape: an archaeological ethnography' about a year ago, and wrote some notes about it at that time, comparing some of what Forbes writes with my experiences growing up on a small island. Below are some notes and excerpts from a letter to Prf. Harmansah about the first two chapters.

April 2008 notes on introduction and chapter one:

I very much appreciated the attention Forbes and his cited authors give to the importance of senses other than the visual in the first chapter. The visual landscape tends to be very slow-moving and static in comparison to smell and audition. Motion and danger I find to be usually most readily identified through audition.This is true on a basic neurological level, audition being vastly more temporally acute than vision. When I was in Providence in December a friend and I were walking down the train tracks alongside Roger Williams Park and I heard a faint high pitched ping, mused on it for a moment and then pulled my friend off of the tracks, as a train was very rapidly approaching. I saw the sound and music scholar David Toop talk at Brown a few semesters back and he coined a term that had been on the tip of my mind for years: “paranoid listening”. To one who is attenuated to their sonic landscape, sound is often the first cue for any encounter, and provides a huge amount of information about activity across broad swaths of landscape at the same time. Maybe vision is more spatially limited by frames and points of view, and hearing is temporally confined, as sound needs action for its creation, and rapidly dissipates.

The island where I grew up is mostly forested and sound is the primary sensory modality for medium to long distance perception. The approach and passage of visitors and neighbors on foot is identified by hoots and birdcalls as well as the distinctive sound of a human moving through the forest that is distinctive from the passage of smaller creatures. Like a modern version of the goat bells of Naxos, engines also perform a significant part of the soundscape on the island, with the vehicles of different neighbors being identifiable by the sound of the motors and direction, chainsaws identifying who is cutting wood, and then all of the boats and planes going to and from other places placing us in the midst of a busy commercial and tourist region. The visual landscape is often very limited in scope and actively pertinent information. Sound can also be very place specific, even between homogenous elements. Again, the island where I grew up is mostly forested, and it is also often quite windy. Once an older community member commented to me how delighted she is that the sound of the wind in the trees is different at every different place on the island. The wind and the trees are ubiquitous, but each point of interaction is unique, and the observation depends on the human element.

As Forbes notes in his work, this kind of observation is not something that is necessarily collectively recognized by the community at large. Landscape meanings occur on all kinds of different scales and directional vantages. New things stand out, memories remain, stories and names remain, diminishing or growing in scale of reach and attention or are lost depending on the level of monumentalization and/or transmission. On my island home, as with examples cited by Forbes, names and meaning in the landscape are mostly associated with names of people by property ownership (land areas and homes identified simply by family or personal name), significant architectures and monumental landscapes. Singular names for dominant features prevail: “the dock, the county road, the gravel pit, the school, etc.”, within a family’s property this occurs as well, “the pond, the barn”, with the adjectives “new” and “old” being used most frequently to distinguish multiple sites. Certain names such as “the point” will refer usually to the point of the island closest to the home of the speaker, with other points being referred to by their proper map name. I could go on and on about this with further examples of different place meanings from different perspectives… Also there is the aspect of built environment social relationships, such as someone’s house that was built by another person, or an orchard that was purchased by a neighbor, or a trail that someone didn’t want crossing their property.

My considerations of the notions of movement as thinking, survaillance, appropriation give rise to the question of mere circulation? It is about destinations and returns, with observation and thinking occurring on the way… my view at least, going between the meaningful points of in a persons economic/social/spiritual landscape-life, with destinations and way points, such as stopping in at a church or at a friends house on the way to the field. Many places on the way are static, containing stories, but not being actively ‘appropriated’(?).

There is an eliteness to the mode of movement that is for the express purpose of observation rather than just circulation. This type of motion can be something very desirable and associated with freedom and power; as in tourism, “just looking thanks”—this reminds me of even simple things like just ‘going for a walk’. Circulation in the everyday is filled with stories and events, however, as forbes notes about villagers telling stories about trail births, they just need some kind of trigger to come to the surface of recognition. While I do think that a coherent vision of observation is much more muddled from an indigenous perspective, it is in no way excluded, just not as tidy as the view from the outside.

I like how Forbes negotiates an active space between the the underemphasis of self-awareness and human agency of procesualist archaeology and the sheer perspectival abstraction of extreme phenomenological approaches. It is a continual frustration, I think for so many of us, to continually have to bridge this gap between humans as ‘natural’ beings who merely respond to their environment, and as active minds manipulating the physical world in deliberate ways. It so often seems to me that this incommensurable abyss is the realm that we really wish to study.

For one thing, the landscape needs to be rescued from being ‘natural’. This is wrapped up in a historical hierarchy of sciences in which that which is ‘physical’ dominates and determines that which is biological, and what is biological determines what is social. As can be readily observed, especially in urban conditions, humans are landscape intensive, actively defining it in a long-term fashion. The landscape of Methana now is terraced—despite their discontinued use—that is now the landscape of Methana. It is interesting to note that the landescapeness in the sense of static and distant visual scene is all the more observable now that less people have a direct relationship to the terracing of the land and the need for and meaning of the terraces—a meaningful landscape becomes objectified… It can all be rather difficult to realize, however. I didn’t fully realize that the character of the forests and cliff faces on my island home were the result of large scale logging and mining until I was in my early twenties.

In the other direction, the landscape actively defines the humans it is a sheer physical reality that human organisms are constructed of matter that up until these recent times was mostly of local origin. That is to say, that on a physical basis, people really are/were of the land. This contributes to the fearsome critique of dissociation in which we can see ourselves and others as tragically unsituated in our local environments. The notion of huge populations of people whose physical composition is assembled from a vast geographic range gives an interesting twist to modeling anthropogenic movement of material. In order to avoid the existential angst of this tragic dissociation it makes sense to privilege motion through, and vision of the landscape in our studies.

‘Sites’ merely as focal points for the arrangement and translation of landscape—regional survey (15-17) Architecture as making the window—tilley et al. just for the archaeologist? Nodes of landscape extraction and exclusion, activity, artifacts and monumentalization to exploitation of the environment. Ok, that was a bit of a blob of ideas at the end there…

(p. 17)—I don’t think that this is to be entirely discarded, so much as not universalized, what is the relationship of nurturing extracting etc.; the varied expressions of ‘homo oeconomicus’. Integration of ‘economic irrationality’—religious/economic/ecological worldviews

Homogenization of phenomenological approaches (p. 20) See above note about differing scales of landscape meanings and interaction. Personally I find that much of my interaction with the visual landscape that I live in affords a familiarity that is somewhat complacent, and that I am more attentive to smells and sounds that often show a shorter temporal frame than to what is visually taken for granted. New things stand out, memories remain, stories and names remain, diminishing or growing in scale of reach and attention or are lost depending on the level of monumentalization and/transmission. Phenomenological critique based on heideggers tool being or the other thing, basically that only unfamiliar things really call attention, and other things are just there? Tilley (in Forbes, 24) Heidegger-distance between observinf…bluug…

→adoption of technique, how does it transmit? Terrace building for example, or boat building?

Cooney, relationship with landscape that is of it, the meaningful productive landscape, each microhabitat being potentially important or noteworthy.

Referencing work about fiji; “the “here and now-ness” of place expands to a more distant horizon, constituted by past and ongoing relationships such as garden making and home building” (41) example of Mittelstadz farm.

Entrance at specific points with a general agenda: p. 45, wanting to learn local ag. Leading to web of internodal polysemy of landscape, people, stories, places, techniques, relationships, economics