Past Mobilities

Organiser: Jim Leary (English Heritage)

The new mobilities paradigm has had a significant impact in the social sciences – particularly geography, sociology and anthropology (Ingold 2011; Adey 2010; Ingold & Vergunst 2008; Urry 2007; Creswell 2006), however, it has yet to have the same impact in archaeology. Despite this, mobility is fundamental to archaeology – all people move. This session aims to consider the importance of movement in the past in all its multifarious ways – from walking, canoeing and sailing, to horse riding and cart driving, and to recent mobility systems such as rail, car and air travel. It ranges from everyday mobility such as walking to get water or herding animals, to occasional mobilities such as travel to funerals or festivals, proscribed ceremonial movement, or dance; from solitary journeying to movement through bustling crowds; and from small-scale movements to large-scale migrations and diasporas. And not least it covers the hierarchies that develop as a result of differential mobility such as the difference between uninhibited movement compared to bounded or restricted movement, or the archaeology of the highly mobile (the fit, the youthful) compared to those that are less mobile (the ill, the old, the disabled, or the pregnant). The archaeological evidence for travel can take many forms: from the physical evidence of paths, roads and boats, to evidence for the movement of people, animals, and artefacts. Papers can consider any aspect that comes under the rubric of past mobility, but are encouraged to focus on the physical, experiential and embodied act of movement. This session aims to explore the relationship between archaeology and movement in order to develop a mobile archaeology and add an archaeological voice to the broader mobilities discussion.

Adey, P. (2010) Mobility. London, Routledge

Creswell, T. (2006) On the move: the politics of mobility in the modern west. London, Routledge
Ingold, T. (2011) Being alive. Essays on movement, knowledge and description. London, Routledge
Ingold, T. & Vergunst, J. (eds.) (2008) Ways of walking. Ashgate

Urry, J. (2007) Mobilities. London, Sage


‘Why past mobilities are important’

Speaker: Jim Leary (English Heritage)

This paper will introduce some of the recent ideas of the new mobilities paradigm and discuss how they can be applied to archaeology. Our understanding of the world around us is shaped by the way we move through it, yet mobility is rarely studied by archaeologists, who prefer instead to discuss notions of place. Whilst place maybe reassuringly tangible, it is also fixed and bounded. Mobility on the other hand is dynamic, and this provides a more nuanced understanding of what it is to be alive. Mobility is highly variable – it can be freedom, opportunity, an act of resistance; and it can be restricted, controlled and feared. Using a wide range of examples, this paper will discuss why mobility is and always has been diverse, socially constructed, and politically loaded, and why we should all be talking about it.


‘There is nothing half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats’

Speaker: Robert Van de Noort (University of Exeter)

This paper will explore some of the fundamental differences between the concepts of dwelling in the landscape and exploring landscapes by boat. The former approach has been widely accepted as an important perspective in hunter-gatherer studies, and it has produced a range of narratives that challenge older concepts of the place of early human societies within the environments they inhabited. The latter approach is in its infancy, especially in Britain with its dearth of watercraft in the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods. However, the presence of boats dated to these periods in Denmark and the Netherland has not (yet) produced a theoretical rethink on how these people ‘dwelled’ in their landscapes. I hope to show that this form of past mobility offers different perspectives and opportunities, but requires also very different skills and technologies.


‘A Rough Guide to Toghers, Trackways, Mires and Movement’

Speakers: Ben Gearey, Kris Krawiec, Henry Chapman & Nora Bermingham (University of Birmingham)

Trackways and other structures interpreted as reflecting functional solutions to facilitate movement across or into otherwise unstable and inaccessible wetlands tend to be regarded as forming the greater part of the wetland archaeological record. Coles and Coles (1989) concluded that there were around 1000 known trackways from wetlands in Ireland, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany dating from the Neolithic through to the first millennium AD. This paper will present a brief overview of recent archaeological work and thought on a significant set of diverse monuments which often tend to be ‘lumped together’ as essentially ‘practical’ structures, perhaps best summed up by Raftery (1996: 411) as demonstrating a: “…commonly executed, but independently conceived, method of traversing wet bogs.” However, it can be argued that this conception hinders more than it helps. Whilst it is clear that a large proportion of sites were primarily intended ‘just’ to cross or access wetlands, many other structures may have had significantly different functions. Recent thought has, for example, suggested that the ‘practical’ role of various trackway structures, such as the Neolithic Sweet Track of the Somerset Levels may have been overstated (Van de Noort & O’ Sullivan 2006). We will review the key aspects of this and other related debates, considering if and sites which at first glance may be interpreted as constructed to facilitate movement, may also have had other, parallel purposes and functions. In addition, we will outline how the landscape context of wetland sites can in fact include a range of very different environments, with contrasting vegetation and hydrology and subsequent implications for human perception, access and exploitation. We will consider the implications of recent palaeohydrological/palaeoclimatic study for archaeological interpretation regarding issues such as movement onto and across peatland environments in the past.

Raftery, B. 1996. Trackway excavations in the Mountdillion Bogs, Co. Longford, 1985-1991. Transactions of the Irish Archaeological Wetland Unit 3. Dublin. Crannog Publications.

Van de Noort, R. & O’Sullivan, A. 2006. Rethinking Wetland Archaeology. Duckworth, London.


‘Where spirits walk: an archaeology of (dis)embodied non-corporeal movement’

Speaker: Joshua Pollard, (University of Southampton)



‘Social and Physical Mobility in the Cretan Early Bronze Age’

Speaker: Katy Soar (Open University/ University of Nottingham)

It has been argued that several of the Early Minoan house tomb cemeteries of northeast and central Crete display evidence of social hierarchy, manifested by the size and elaboration of the tombs as well as the grave goods found within them, which suggests that there were two distinct social groupings within these cemeteries. This paper seeks to address the idea that this evidence for ‘social mobility’ within the cemetery can also be reflected through physical mobility – that the layout, orientation and movement of the human body deliberately choreographed specific kinds of performance. Through its reflexivity, movement and performance allow us to see aspects of how past societies may have seen themselves

My intention here is to investigate the concepts of space, performance, movement, and the restriction of movement, as well as the placement of tombs and funerary architecture, in order to define physical action and ritual in relation to social status, as demonstrated by a case study from the Early Minoan cemetery at Mochlos in eastern Crete.


‘The Ritual Round’

Speakers: Oula Seitsonen (University of Helsinki), Lee G. Broderick (University of York), Jean-Luc Houle (Western Kentucky University)

This paper examines the issue of mobility in the context of Bronze Age Mongolia.  Recent fieldwork has identified a pattern of seasonal mobility in the Khanuy Valley which shows considerable similarity to present day patterns. Supportive ethnographic work has shown that the issue of mobility is integral to perceptions of identity in the present day population in the same region, and that this mobility is expressed through daily, annual, decadal and generational cycles. The spatial relationship between domestic habitation sites in the region and large-scale monumental complexes suggest that the themes of mobility and liminality were also an intrinsic part of belief systems in the region in the Bronze Age. The theme of movement through the landscape and through the seasons is explored through the analysis of landscape archaeology, ethnoarchaeology and zooarchaeological evidence. It is suggested that understanding past mobilities in the region is crucial to our interpretation of past lifestyles and cultures.


‘The Memory of Movement: early medieval stone sculpture as a tool in the creation of the historic landscape’

Speaker: Joanne Kirton (University of Chester)

In this paper I wish to explore the memory of movement through the landscape, specifically the movement and erection of stone sculpture in different topographic locations. This paper uses examples from North West England to explore concepts of memory making and the performative element of producing and raising stone monuments in the 1st millennium AD. It will contribute to discussions examining the concept that medieval landscapes relied heavily on movement to convey, reproduce and validate meaning.

Stone sculptures played a role in the creation of place through the production of memory generated by movement and the sheer physicality of transporting and raising such a monument. There may also have been a performative element involved in this procedure, generating a landscape of remembrance, altering the way people observed and moved through the local topography. The different topographic locations where sculpture is found are also telling, suggesting different levels of investment in moving these objects. The choice of location and the journey to it may reflect different social strategies whereby individuals or groups were trying to convey or communicate with different parts of society or present specific ideas associated with the locale. The paper will focus on the journey of these monuments through the landscape, mirrored by those groups and individuals associated with their conception and assembly.


‘Space and Mobility in Monuments of Norman Britain’

Speaker: Anne Sassin (University of Nottingham)

The importance of internal features within structures, especially sacred architecture, has been long recognized, as an internalized world which could use the control of light, structural elements, and access to certain space to affect and control human behavior. The relationship between the form of the architecture itself and the activities contained within was not set, and internal space and its use differed depending on whether a structure was ecclesiastical, secular, for a private family, or for public use, making the monuments of the medieval era (i.e. the great churches and castles) particularly useful for establishing how space was transformed within individual landscape settings. Therefore, this paper intends to address movement within structures of the Norman period specifically, assessing the effect of the presence or absence of light, the position of partitions, and the addition of distinguishing sculptural features, in order to evaluate the purpose of such manipulation and their effect on the individuals involved.


‘Changing Rooms – movement and the royal apartments of Windsor Castle’

Speaker: Brian Kerr (English Heritage)

Analysis of the fire-damaged buildings of Windsor Castle from 1992-1997 provided new insights into the construction and development of this complex set of buildings at the heart of the royal apartments. These were developed over several hundred years to meet the changing needs of the king, his family, and the court, on their periodic visits to the Castle. Access to the king and queen was carefully managed through movement between sets of apartments which were designed to impress through their scale and decoration. These increased in privacy and exclusivity from the point of entrance, and the depth to which a visitor could penetrate these suites of apartments would vary according to a number of factors – rank, office, familiary, gender. This paper will focus on two major building programmes, for Edward III in the 1360s and for Charles II in the 1670s-80s, and how developments in customs and practices were reflected in the ambitions of the builders.

‘Mobility and the skeleton: A biomechanical view’

Speakers: Tom Davies (University of Cambridge), Emma Pomeroy (University of Cambridge), Colin N. Shaw (University of Cambridge) & Jay T. Stock (University of Cambridge)

The geometry of long-bone diaphyses has been shown to respond to the strains imposed during habitual biomechanical loading. One of the most significant influences on this aspect of the skeleton is terrestrial mobility. Thus, osteological variation in the diaphysis may provide valuable insights into past behaviour. This paper considers recent research in skeletal biomechanics relating to mobility in both past and living populations, and how biomechanics can be effectively applied in a range of archaeological settings.

New research involving whole-bone biomechanical analyses of lower and upper limbs using 3D laser scanning refines our ability to infer mobility in the past. Biomechanical studies can contribute to numerous archaeological questions concerning mobility, including marine vs. terrestrial locomotion, subsistence strategies, occupational specialization, gendered labour division, diachronic change and spatial patterns. This potential will be illustrated using examples from a range of contexts including the inference of watercraft use and the impacts of agropastoralism and long distance trade in the South American Andes.

Patterns of mobility are complex and skeletal signatures are likely to reflect the most intense or frequent of activities, but nevertheless biomechanics provides a rich source of evidence of past mobility that complements archaeological, biological and ethnographic data.


‘The Spatial Construct of Social Relations: human interaction and modelling agency’

Speakers: Mu-Chun Wu (University of Oxford) & Gary Lock (University of Oxford)

The relationship between the spatial and the social has always been of major interest in spatial analysis. Recent research by social theorists has shown that not only is space a social construct, it is also a constituent of social relations. In terms of a spatial analysis in archaeology, most research has been focused on how social structure is reflected in spatial configuration, and how spatial layout supports and consolidates social order. However, the spatial construction of social relations is rarely discussed. This research argues that interpersonal relationships are not entirely based on social identities, and social relations should also be investigated, regardless of their hierarchical status, but through intimate human interaction. By applying Ingold’s ‘wayfaring’ theory, this research models human agency from a ‘meshworked’ perspective, and demonstrates how social relations are influenced by agents walking around a settlement. By taking a meshwork approach, researchers can examine the agents’ social relations in more detail and gain better control over their relational attributes. Furthermore, this bottom-up approach allows the examination of the allocated social relations as opposed to the delegated social identity, and benefits from understanding internal transformations.


‘Landscapes move too! Entanglements of shifting landscapes and embodied movements of people and animals’

Speaker: Matt Edgeworth (University of Leicester)

When people move, it is in the context of a landscape that is also shifting and changing – rivers that flow, channels that meander, floodplains that morph, fields that change shape, roads that move around, animal tracks that wander, ground that rises and falls. It is important not to regard landscape as a passive or static backdrop to people mobility. Movements of people and movements of landscapes are inextricably interconnected.  This paper looks at some of the material traces of such mobile interconnections, and frames them in terms of ‘entanglement’ – a term meant to convey a sense of dynamic material processes ravelling and unravelling through time. 

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