8.2 Inhabited Landscapes

Linking the material aspect of landscape with matters of perception and experience are the movements, tasks and practices through which people inhabited their world. Archaeologists create knowledge of the material elements of past landscapes and of those historic elements and patterns which have persisted into the present and which continue to structure our lives today. These material characteristics were both created by people and creative of people: the results of action and the conditions which facilitated or constrained action. We can build on our knowledge of the material to interpret past actions, movements and routines and, from there, to construct an understanding of how people may have experienced the world in different ways.

In recent years, archaeologists of the modern Scottish past have begun to do just this. Studies of agricultural improvement have linked changes in settlement form and pattern, field systems and the use of upland pastures to a shift away from co-operative farming practices towards individualised ones (Dalglish 2003). Here, tangible changes to the land are linked to changes in the ways the land was worked and lived and, from there, to the transformation of social relationships. Interpretations of Clearance landscapes in the north of the country have explored the rupture in the routines of daily life which would have followed from the emptying of inland glens and the resettlement of their inhabitants as crofters on the coast (Lelong 2000).

Future research should extend from and critically evaluate such interpretations of past landscape relationships and meanings. It should do so by taking advantage of the rich evidence available for past practices, habits, tasks and movements. Fifty years of work in rural settlement studies – a long-standing cross-fertilisation between archaeology and historical geography – in combination with the more recent rise of archaeological landscape survey has provided us with a solid grounding in the material of modern-era settlement and land use. Work by academic, professional and non-professional archaeologists has demonstrated the potential of this material for our understanding of changing, varied and constantly-emerging farming practices and social relationships.

Scotland’s industrial archaeology has also taken a landscape turn (e.g. Adamson 2008; Boyle 1998), and our understanding of industrial work and life will benefit greatly from studies which interpret past inhabitation of the landscape on the basis of material evidence including transport and communication routes, pits, quarries, mines, waste heaps and other extractive infrastructure, and production facilities linked to the exploitation of natural resources such as wood, coal and ore. Such material evidence speaks to the congregation of labour or its dispersal across the landscape, the relationship between home and work and the extension of labour relations into the wider urban and rural landscape, the flows of resource procurement, processing, manufacture and shipment, the practices, tasks and movements of industrial life and the tangible effects of industry on the environment.

To these long-established fields of rural settlement studies and industrial archaeology we can add two more recently-established fields: environmental history (a collaborative endeavour involving historians, environmental scientists and others in the investigation of past human/environment relationships) and battlefield and conflict archaeology, through which we have come to understand something of the material character and the movements and practices of landscapes of military and civil, small- and large-scale confrontation (See Nation and State above).

Future research should capitalise on the rich and voluminous material evidence for the modern-era Scottish landscape and it should both build on and question established traditions of scholarship. These traditions separate out the tangled relationships of landscape into distinct analytical categories, and more integrated approaches will provide different and often richer perspectives. We could also do more to question the received narratives of modern landscape history: Was the Scottish landscape really as radically transformed through improvement and industrialisation as we, and our improving and industrialising forebears, have suggested and to what extent have pre-improvement and pre-industrial landscape structures persisted to influence our lives today (see Boyle 2009; Dixon and Fraser 2007)? Many studies of modern Scottish landscapes have described the changing modern landscape in quite blunt, uniform, homogenous ways, but just how true to life is this? Landscape is a matter of experience and relationships, and thus it is a dynamic, variable and always multiple phenomenon.

Realisation of the potential of the material – archaeological, environmental, historical – requires us to understand that it was bound up with and is evidence for the practices, tasks and activities through which landscapes were inhabited and created: hunting, ploughing, planting, felling, mining, walking, marching, droving, shieling, pilgrimage, the daily commute, holiday-making and much besides. The modern landscape is a complex of experiences, with a complex past of differing and diachronic sequences of development.

See also the ScARF Case Study: A Landscape of Task, Season and Meaning


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