Session 20 – A Place to call home: the archaeology of space and belonging

Timetable: Friday afternoon 1430-1730 in the Theresa Singleton Zoom Room

Format: Standard

Organisers: Rachel Cartwright and Manuel Fernandez Gotz


Places are more than just mere geographical locations, as they can evoke a powerful sense of belonging and become a fundamental part of people’s identities. Place identity has long been used in environmental psychology and is often interpreted as part of a person’s self-identity. This sense of being is developed through one’s interactions and experiences with physical spaces. Overall, place identity stems from the multiplicity of ways in which particular spaces provide a feeling of belonging, mediate change, foster the development of attachments, and help to construct meaning. Articulated with place identity is the concept of place attachment, which is a bond that links persons with specific places and landscapes. In the past, as in the present, places and particularly landmarks were key structures in the formation and consolidation of individual and community identities.

This session aims to discuss the archaeological evidence for the formation of place identity and attachment in the past. Indigenous concepts, such as the Māori notion of tūrangawaewae (a place of strength and belonging, a place to stand) and the Hawaiian understanding of honua (earth, also signifying relationships that span kinship and spiritual bonds between people, nature, and the supernatural) illustrate the powerful emotional ties that can exist with the land. We welcome papers addressing archaeological means of interpreting place identity and attachment, illustrating the emotional and spiritual bonds with place and space that create a sense of belonging. Presentations can range from theoretically informed discussions of specific case studies to broader comparative analyses.


1400 – Introduction to the session

Rachel Cartwright & Manuel Fernández-Götz

1410 – Hillfort Communities: Learning to Live Well Together

Oliver Davis, Cardiff University

Over the last few decades, the role and function of later prehistoric hillforts has been much debated. However, while a few hillforts appear ‘empty’, a common function shared by most is that they were places of settlement, either permanent or temporary. Indeed, in many parts of the world the development of the hillfort represents a significant point where for the first time large numbers of people, beyond merely the extended family, lived together in a centralised location. This has a range of important implications. For instance, once persuaded to move within the confines of a hillfort’s boundaries, how did these new ‘hillfort communities’ deal with the various social challenges? Groups who were used to living in dispersed, rural, settlements were now faced with dwelling in close proximity with neighbours. To some, this transition must have been difficult – the limitations on access to private space for instance may have accentuated one’s social condition, highlighting status distinctions and triggering petty differences and disputes. This paper will think through some of these issues by examining the arrangement of settlement within the interiors of hillforts and other fortified settlements throughout Europe. I will argue that in many cases the layout of occupation areas, and use of particular architectural features, were deliberately manipulated by hillfort communities in an attempt to learn to live well together.

1425 – Creating and Curating Communities in Iron Age Scotland

Lindsey Büster, University of York

In contrast to the ritual landscapes of earlier periods, Iron Age Britain is dominated by domestic settlements. The dead continued, however, to play a major role in the lives of the living. This paper will draw on the archaeology of two long-lived sites — Broxmouth hillfort in southeast Scotland and the Sculptor’s Cave in northeast Scotland — to demonstrate the different ways in which their communities drew upon the material remains of ancestors in the creation and curation of memory (both real and imagined) at a number of scales. At Broxmouth, it was the settlement remains and objects of past inhabitants, encountered during the mundane tasks of daily life, that shaped communal and household identities, while at the Sculptor’s Cave, it was the (rare!) physical presence of the dead and repeated interactions with them that saw the power of this sacred landscape drawn upon by generations of communities over the course of several millennia.

1440 – Heuneburg Sweet Heuneburg – Small Group Identities in Large Settlements

Dominic Bachmann, Bochum University

The princely graves in the vicinity of the Late Hallstatt Heuneburg point to a presentation of a person or (family) group. The opposite picture can be observed on the hilltop plateau. Here the respective groups of houses appear to be quite isolated. This impression is strengthened by the position of the entrances, which usually tend to be withdrawn from view. This paper takes up these observations and focuses on how “private” spaces can be archaeologically identified within the Heuneburg using practice-theoretical concepts (as promoted by Reckwitz and Schatzki) and how these are created in the everyday practices (German “Praktiken”) of the Late Hallstatt period. In particular, it is practices of the everyday life that create group identities and demarcate groups from one another through their inner logic of the general (German “Logik des Allgemeinen”) and the logic of the special (German “Logik des Besonderen”).

1455 – Discussion

1510 – Building Home: The House in the Cantabrian Iron Age

Lucía Ruano, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid

Architectural space is designed not only for functional reasons, but also for social and cultural ones. The aim of this contribution is to discuss the Iron Age domestic architecture of the North of the Iberian Peninsula from a social perspective, in order to understand the identity processes that are hidden beneath the arrangement and use of physical space. Within the presumably homogeneous panorama of the “hillfort communities” of the Iberian North and Northwest, we have focused on the structures of a territory traditionally considered peripheral by the scientific literature: the western Cantabrian façade. Here, constructive, typological and spatial analysis of the archaeological remains of almost fifty settlements allow us to recognise their spatial narratives and propose the existence of a sequences of architectural and organisational models over more than a thousand years of history, which provides us with new clues to comprehend the emergence and consolidation of individual and community identities. With this study of Iron Age dwellings, our aim is to provide social content to the spaces we analyse, investigating the archaeological record to discover the nature of the human groups that designed, built, inhabited, reformed and abandoned the domestic structures.

1525 – The Circularity of Belonging: Connecting People to Place through Dynamic Architectures within Circular Economies

Tanja Romankiewicz, University of Edinburgh

Research into later prehistoric buildings in northwest Europe has highlighted how much reusable, renewable building materials such as earth and turf influence the character of dwelling spaces. What has emerged is a dynamic concept of prehistoric architecture as a metamorphosing process rather than a fixed product. What ties these shifting shells into place is their embeddedness into circular economies, of sourcing and curating these natural materials locally from a specific space, then building and living in this place, while renewing the source locations and the resources to restart the cycle. Within this circular practice, human lives and minds are woven into materials and matter – and become interwoven with place through the reuse and recycling of these materials. This new concept of a circular economy takes a holistic, long-term, multi-scalar perspective compared to more functionalistic, linear “cradle-to-grave” interpretations of buildings, i.e. the traditional concept of “house lives” as birth (build) and death (abandonment). This new research here argues for a cradle-to-cradle approach to understanding Being, Becoming and Belonging in the built environment – an approach that also translates into modern ecological economics concerned with natural and social capital accountancy, identifying tangible values of space, place, and belonging.

1540 – Break

1600 – At Home with the Gods: Ritual Foci, Assemblages, and the Mnemonics of Space in the Longue Durée

Manuel Fernández-Götz, University of Edinburgh

Places of ritual significance can represent focal points for communities at different scales, from the local to the regional or even beyond. The long-term perceived sacrality of certain locations is a phenomenon that has been frequently recognised, but still remains undertheorised. Understanding has also often been hindered by the establishment of dualisms such as pre-Roman/Roman or pagan/Christian. Going beyond these dichotomies to adopt a more fluid and bottom-up approach, this paper will incorporate elements from assemblage theory to explore how identity is mnemonically connected to certain spaces, and how particular landmarks can be reinterpreted in a fluid way to act as elements of collective anchoring despite the transformation of ritual performances. The work will draw upon case studies from Iberia and Central Europe, and incorporate ancient written sources and information from folklore in addition to archaeological remains.

1615 – The Island in the Lap of Wild Ocean: Psychogeography of North Rona

Rebecca Davies, Royal Agricultural University

North Rona is Britain’s remotest formerly inhabited island, located 45 miles north of Lewis. It is far off of the map both mentally and physically. The island is one kilometre long, yet for up to thirty people at a time it was their entire galaxy. Indeed, to have to abandon Rona was regarded as a fate worse than death. We can attempt to begin to understand this mind-set by examining the extraordinary number of place names.  Each rock and crevice was named, creating an active participatory living space, which we can perhaps relate to the ideals of the Burra charter. The modern concept of North Rona`s agency will also be discussed, starting with its absence from maps   The island and the rock of Sula Sgeir were designated a National Nature Reserve, transformed from a dynamic human occupied space to a `changeless` `natural` environment. The different architectures will be examined, along with the modern day `intrusions` of the naturalists hut and the lighthouse. And finally the North Ronan presence in the Historical Society Museum in the Port of Ness, which, like Rona herself, is in Barvas parish.  These consist of the Rona Cross and St Ronan’s Stone.  How do these esoteric artefacts communicate the concept of this faraway place?  Do these cryptic artefacts really say much about context?  How could Sense of Place be imparted to people who have never heard of Rona? This paper will be illuminated by photos the author took herself when she experienced the island in 2009.

1630 – The Creation of Space in Ancient Maya Hinterland Settlements in Northwest Belize

Patricia Neuhoff-Malorzo, University of Texas at Austin

For the ancient Maya, sites were more than just locations in the landscape, and more than just the architectural constructions; they are also creations of the socio-political organization and belief system of the culture. From the largest urban centers to the smallest of plazuelas, social and political organization influences the creation and accumulation of the spaces inhabited in terms of construction, form, and content. Based on recent work and comparative analysis of the available data combined with geophysical survey for three settlements in Northwest Belize, several factors influencing the creation of space are identifiable. Constructed spaces in this region are as much practical creations as they are reflective of ancient Maya social organization. For the ancient Maya of this region, and specifically at the compared target settlements, architecture and construction of spaces are, in part, the vehicle employed to reinforce and reflect the social roles and relations of the people that constructed those social spaces.

1645 – Feeling at Home in the North Atlantic

Rachel Cartwright, University of Minnesota

Migrations can occur for many reasons, whether forcible or otherwise, and can have a variety of factors leading to them. Neverthelss, leaving one’s home in search of another can be an arduous and emotional journey. In interpreting migrations of the past the ‘emotivations’ behind choosing a new location to live should be considered by archaeologists. For instance are people immigrating to a landscape that is similar to that of their homeland? Or is the soil perhaps similar to that they were used to working? Aspects such as these can help people to transfer the place identity from one area to another enabling them to connect and feel at home where they settle. This paper will analyze instances of this phenomenon during the Viking Age in the North Atlantic using written sources, archaeological evidence, and geological features. The Viking Age migrations will then be compared to those of Swedes to North America in the 19th century and evidence for the sense of belonging that can be evoked by landscapes during the process of immigrating from one land to another.

1700 – Forgotten Places Remembered: The Ethnohistory of an Urskog

T.L. Thurston, University at Buffalo, State University of New York

In Medieval and Early Modern Sweden, less than 10 percent of the land was arable and the majority of rural people lived in vast uninterrupted forest tracts and on inhospitable mountains and plateaus.  The poor who lived in these agriculturally marginal but economically important regions were perhaps the most circumscribed of all populations, on one hand by nature itself and on the other by the state.  There were over a dozen legalistic descriptors for their huts and cottages, which parsed their heavy obligations and scant privileges in minute detail.  Yet despite these conditions, there is ample evidence of dwelling rather than mere inhabiting, of livelihood rather than mere labor, and of deep attachment to both built and natural places. Communities of the urskog (primeval forest) provide case studies on the long-term persistence of places.

1715 – Discussion

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