Theoretical archaeology at the coast

Andrew Fleming has for a long time discussed issues concerned with islands (Fleming 2005 and Fleming 2008; however see also Rainbird 2007) and how we can assimilate data-gathering of archaeological/geo-historical research into a broader context that incorporates folklore, historical and contemporary literature, fine art and contemporary cultural views. Some of these approaches have already been undertaken by researchers such as Hannah Cobb and Fraser Sturt (Sturt 2004). Using these avenues we can construct diverse narratives, which can be compared with current and past scenarios. However, it is through theoretical discourse that researchers in the coastal, intertidal or maritime hinterlands discover the fortuitous connections that our subject has with many other overlapping areas of research.

One area where theoretical archaeology and coastal archaeology have been fruitfully integrated is the spread and adoption of religious practices, for example the location of Pictish barrow cemeteries. It is commonly accepted that the positions of Pictish barrow cemeteries are often associated with watercourses and locations adjacent to the coastline (see Cowley 1996, for examples of sites associated with watercourses in Dumfries and Galloway). However, the reasons why these locations become the focus for the burial of individuals and groups are something that can be explored and elucidated through comparisons with other cultures and religious practices. In this way, theoretical perspectives can help us understand a range of coastal sites, encompassing chapels overlooking seaways, hermit’s caves, and other dwellings that were located in remote coastal locations.

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