Session 17 – Historical Ecological Lives in a Digital Ethos: understanding past life in current-state Landscape Archaeology

Timetable: Saturday morning 0930-1200 in the Whitney Battle-Baptiste Zoom Room

Format: Standard

Organisers: Pablo Barruezo-Vaquero and David Laguna Palma


Landscape Archaeology has greatly evolved since its inception. In such a development, however, there is one constant feature: technology. In this sense, Landscape Archaeology has been one of the most avant-garde subdisciplines within Archaeology. Currently, it is seemingly impossible to make top-tier landscape research without using digital technology (i.e. Digital Archaeology) -as it also happens in other archaeological subdisciplines. Our ethos, therefore, is immanently digital.

On the other hand, understanding past human-nature/non-human interrelationships has been one of the main concerns in Landscape Archaeology. This is also applicable to people’s and ideas’ movement. Archaeologists, aided by theories from diverse disciplines, have conceived different approaches which aim to address these fundamental questions. It is in this frame where Historical Ecology, Human Ecodynamics or Social-Network-Analysis emerge, shedding interesting light to the conundrum of past lives.

Ironically, there is some epistemological tension between the first and second paragraph. When we apply digital technologies to our analysis so that we can enhance our research, we do so at the peril of losing sight on past realities. For example, tension arises when we apply network-analysis to understand past movements, or for modelling human-non-human interactions: our research might yield quite complex and interesting results, yet they are a present-cognitive deformation of the past in itself.

In this session we aim to:
1. Elucidate how profound this tension is and what implications might this has on understanding past lives from a landscape perspective.
2. Discuss how to surpass this tension.
3. Give a thought to the implications of the “Digital” in deforming (or not) posthuman theory.
4. Debate about how different computational approaches enhance Landscape Archaeology.


0930 – Housekeeping and introduction to the session

0935 – Landscape ontologies and digital interpretations. A case study of the Dewil Valley (Philippines)

Zuzanna Kowalczyk, Adam Mickiewicz University

While the western tradition of thinking has privileged the form overthe process, the landscape should not be considered only in visual and/or representational categories. The concept itself may include various non-visual empirical features, perceptions and meanings such as social practices, collective memory, stories, myths, legends, archaeological interpretations, archaeological discourse and spatial management policies. As Tim Ingold claims, landscape is a process that is continually carrying on, and it is never complete: neither ‘built’ nor ‘unbuilt’ (Ingold 1993: 162). This approach can be supplemented with other ontological features of landscape such as: relationality, transformativity, temporality, hybridity, and animism. This paper aims to investigate the relationship between the landscape ontology and digital, archaeological interpretations. Analyzing the case study of the Dewil Valley (Palawan, Philippines) I raise number of research problems: what is the role and potential of digital documentation and visualization in relation to the landscape? Is it a part of the landscape discourse or rather a completely new ontological entity? How can we define its agency? How can the previously mentioned ontological elements of landscape be reflected in digital interpretation? How this may affect the practice of the landscape research? I discuss why the digital interpretations of the landscape are not landscape as it really is, but rather they represent simulacra and why it is important that such digital interpretations must be considered as ontologically distinct and separated from the landscape. In conclusion, I propose that an in-depth analysis of landscape ontology may broaden the spectrum of understanding and create more complex digital interpretations.

Ingold, T. 1993. The Temporality of the Landscape. World Archaeology 25 (2): 152-174

1000 – The challenges of using digital technologies for understanding ancient networks in the Lybian Sea: the PERAIA Project experience

David Laguna Palma, Universidad de Granada; Maurizio Toscano, Universidad de Granada

The PERAIA project emerges within a research framework that aims to reconceptualize Mediterranean connectivity. PERAIA aims at representing and analyze the social, economic, and cultural impact of the historical transport networks between territories in the context of the ancient Libyan Sea, from the Late Bronze to the Early Iron Age (c. 1500 – 700 BC).

This international project envisions land (landscape) and maritime (seascape) human interactions not as fixed physical networks, but instead, as dynamical, social, and dependent on the ecological context. Thus, the project represents these networks as a bidirectional process, where the networks influence and at the same time are influenced by these factors. For this reason, our methodological approach combines the use of satellite imagery, GIS spatial analysis, and social network analysis (SNA).

In this paper, I will seek to reflect on some of the theoretical caveats brought by this approach. More specifically, the challenges of correctly identifying what and how to map material remains that can serve as proxies for tracing ancient social networks and the importance of assessing critically how to deploy SNA. These digital challenges, I argue, should be confronted with other landscape data, such as understanding the mental-phenomenological approach of cultural movement in harsh, dry, environments – and, conversely, the environmental effects on the development of these societies. With this, I aim to show the importance of a critical assessment of digital technologies, which both help and problematise our understanding about the landscape.

1020 – Break

1045 – A bumpy road: potential and pitfalls of network analysis in archaeological research

Arianna Sacco, Austrian Academy of Sciences

Network analysis has a huge potential in helping us understand past lives and societies, as repeatedly demonstrated by recent research. The growing popularity of this methodology in archaeological research, and its application to a diversified range of periods and regions of the ancient world, constantly leads to new ways of using it.

At the same time, this also requires us to keep reflecting not only on the usefulness of network analysis, but also on its pitfalls, especially in selecting the material, compiling the database, and choosing the right algorithms. A growing body of literature is available, which specifically focus on these issues to both improve and further solidify this relatively new methodology.

This paper uses the circulation of material culture in Egypt during the Late Middle Kingdom and the Second Intermediate Period (ca. 1850-1550 BC) as a case study. This paper will focus not only on the results achieved thanks to network analysis, but also on the problems encountered and how they were tackled. This is based on the presenter’s recently completed PhD dissertation, which, for the first time, applied network analysis to Egyptian archaeology.

Furthermore, the presenter will introduce her new project, on the circulation of pottery in the same period and region, focusing on the material and the database and on its differences when compared to the databases created for her doctoral project.

1110 – The Digital: advancing and deforming our understanding about landscapes – the TAG session in retrospective

Pablo Barruezo-Vaquero, University of Glasgow & Universidad de Granada

The aim of this paper is offering a reflexive viewpoint from the session. Rather than just being an outlining of the different papers gathered, this last paper will first present some personal considerations regarding the thematic concerns. Drawing on Huggett’s ideas and Žižekean double usage of fetishism, I will first argue that the digital is always deforming our vision about the past. But this deformation, which should be carefully taken into account, is at the same time part of our research – being us, in this way, entangled within posthuman productions of knowledge. This posthuman and Latourian stance should make us aware of the dynamics of digital-knowledge-production, specifically in what attains to our interpretations about landscapes. This latter argument will be purported by intertwining the cases garnered in this session. The fundamental questions, however, remain: are we trapped within this network? Can the digital really advance our research? Is there scape from the posthuman deformation?

1130 – Final discussion

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