Defining Seascapes

Organisers Rachael Reader (University of Bradford) and Rachel Crellin (University of Newcastle)

The sea is often seen in a romantic way, as a liminal and dangerous place or only exploited for its economic value. However these are very simplistic theorisations and the concept of seascape is one we feel that is little discussed in the archaeological literature, whereas the past 15 years have seen a proliferation of landscape studies and theorisation. Few archaeologists would deny the integral nature of the landscape to past lives, therefore why should this not extend to the seascapes?

This session invites papers on perceptions of the sea and in particular, we wish to discuss how the sea can be incorporated into a wider theoretical discussion and how we overcome the lack of data so readily available when studying the landscape. Anthropological studies have shown the relationship coastal communities have with the sea and how, for the Vezo of Madagascar, learning to swim and ‘knowing’ the sea is vital to identity construction (Astuti 1991). With such a wealth of ideas about the sea in anthropology, how do we use these analogies in an archaeological context? In an environment where few traces of past people can be found, how do we understand their dwelling and relationships with the sea? This session is seen as complimentary to the ‘NegotiatingCoasts andIslands’ session.

Astuti, R. 1991 Learning to be Vezo: The Construction of the Person Among Fishing People of Western Madagascar Unpub. PhD Thesis, University of London


Archaeological manifestations of a ‘maritime ethos’: How an anthropologically informed approach can be used to examine the social context of past maritime interactions.

Speaker: Annalisa C Christie

While archaeological approaches to understanding maritime societies have developed considerably over recent years, the relationship between coastal communities and the surrounding seascape is often seen from a predominantly techno-economic perspective. Such studies have tended to focus on the role of the sea as a resource base that played a part in subsistence economies, or as a means by which these coastal societies could engage in long-distance trading networks. Anthropological studies such as Hviding’s (1996) Guardians of Marovo Lagoon, or D’Arcy’s (2006) study of maritime communities in Oceania (amongst others) frequently indicate that the sea plays a more fundamental influence on these communities suggesting that perhaps it is the presence of the sea itself (as opposed to the resources it provides or trade it facilitates) creates a ‘maritime ethos’ that shapes explicitly maritime identities.

This paper presents the results of recent research in the Mafia Archipelago, Tanzania in which an anthropologically informed approach was used to examine the socio-cultural complexities of the islander’s interactions with the sea in an archaeological context. While it is often considered archaeologically ephemeral, this paper will demonstrate two ways in which this ‘maritime ethos’ can be examined in the archaeological record.

Landscapes : Seacapes? Sailing onwards.

Speaker: Rachel Crellin (Newcastle University)

The premise of this session is that we need to theorise and approach understanding seascapes differently to terrestrial landscapes. Seascapes are often presented as less static than terrestrial landscapes and lacking in the built environment of terrestrial landscapes. Dualistic oppositions, such as the one posited between sea and land, never hold when we probe into them more deeply. Therefore in this session I explore the tension between the two kinds of ‘scapes, presenting both similarities and differences in how we might understand and approach them. From this comparison I will draw points that seek to adjust and re-focus our concepts of both seascapes and landscapes.

Moving forward, I suggest that evidence for dwelling in seascapes will never be as good as evidence for dwelling in terrestrial landscapes. I argue we need to re-imagine the seascape into our work and that, despite the illusive nature of the evidence, we can re-connect with the seascape through tracing material assemblages that mediate experience of the sea or imply its presence in peoples’ lives. Whilst the resultant seascapes might not be as deeply textured as the terrestrial landscapes we can describe, they are ones that need to be written into our pasts.

More than a resource: Broxmouth Hillfort and its ‘seascape’

Speaker: Rachael Reader (University of Bradford)

Excavation of Broxmouth hillfort in East Lothian (1977-8) was one of Scotland’s largest rescue archaeology projects and had unparalleled structural, artefactual and ecofactual evidence. The site was located less than 1km away from the coastline, and the evidence from Broxmouth suggests that the inhabitants exploited this as a resource. There is abundant evidence for shell and fish bone, however we also have artefacts collected from the coast, including querns and roundhouse fabric.

This presentation outlines the use of coastal resources at Broxmouth and how the exploitation changes over time. However, rather than seeing these within an economic framework, this exploitation is crucial to understanding how the people of Broxmouth interacted with the sea and how it may have impacted upon them during the later prehistoric period. This also involves moving beyond Broxmouth to explore coastal resource use at other, broadly contemporary sites and to also incorporate the wider landscape, creating a narrative of land (and sea) scape utilisation from the late Bronze Age through to the Roman period. This case study also seeks to highlight the need to consider the use of the coast and the sea within a wider theoretical framework.

An Archaeology from the Sea to the Land & Back Again: Maritime Archaeology in Speightstown, Barbados.

Speaker: Joel Sperry (University of Winchester)

Muckelroy (1978) defined Maritime Archaeology as having little relationship with the material culture of the land. I have always questioned this as being from Portsmouth the influence of the Sea was all around. The material culture of the sea has profoundly shaped both the structure of the city and the people of Portsmouth. This question has shaped my research in several ways and in a sense has led me to my current work.

At it most extreme it can be argued that Barbados is an island that is the very definition of being shaped from the sea. Simplistically put the people who have created such a vibrant and thriving culture would not have been resident on the island if not for the sea. In a very real sense the island as we see it today could be seen to be all the material culture of the sea. This presentation will link the archaeological research I have carried out within the sea and foreshore at Speightstown and position this work within a context of ‘a cultural relationship’ that with the sea that has shaped and shifted the fortunes of Spieghtstown as a continuum from past to present.

Muckelroy, K 1978 Maritime Archaeology Cambridge :Cambridge University Press

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