In 2010 an interesting find was uncovered in Paris. A lady left her apartment during the World War II and never returned. She kept paying the bills for it, so the flat stood untouched for 70 years, until it was opened again in 2010 (Samuel, 2010). When the first eyes were laid on it in 2010, it was probably like a snapshot from the middle of the 20th century. It was a past landscape – not reconstructed, but saved – a supposedly real past landscape. This is certainly something that most landscape archaeologists and historians would like to uncover instead of having to fill in the blanks – a museum of an actual lived landscape. In this case most researchers probably agree that this find includes a great deal of reality. Past landscape researchers should strive for reality, but it is also important to understand that not only snapshots are sought but dynamic changing landscapes, and this is what the article is going to discuss.
According to the European Landscape Convention (ELC) landscapes are areas, as perceived by people, which character is the result of the action and interaction of natural and human factors. However, there are other circumstances that should be noted when talking about landscapes. Landscapes are constantly being transformed by the people living in them, thus, landscapes are never frozen entities but lively and dynamic. Landscapes can be considered as lived spaces or lebensraum, however, Tim Ingold has used the term meshwork to replace the German term, which has a more nuanced meaning than the English space (see also Lefebvre, 1991; Simonsen, 2005*, 7). When the ELC suggests that landscapes are more like the occupation of worlds already built, then for this article landscapes are the very process of inhabiting the Earth (Ingold, 2009, 30–34).
As we are constantly living our contemporary landscapes, it is important to realize that the same happened also in the past – the inhabitants created their world by transforming and retransforming the environment around them (see, e.g., Gosden and Lock, 1998*) – their landscapes were animated, and this is why past landscape researchers should also try and find that long gone life underneath layers of later activity and tie this into a coherent unity (see also Antrop, 2005).
As this article is dealing with past landscapes, let the term be divided into two – past and landscapes. First, let us discuss the latter term. Landscape is a human geographical notion that has numerous definitions, let some of the most famous landscape researchers be cited below:
“Landscape is a social and cultural product, a way of seeing projected onto the land and having its own techniques and compositional forms; a restrictive way of seeing that diminishes alternative modes of experiencing our relations with nature.” (Cosgrove, 1984, 1, 269)
“Landscape is not merely an aesthetic background to life, rather it is a setting that both expresses and conditions cultural attitudes and activities, and significant modifications to landscapes are not possible without major changes in social attitudes.” (Relph, 1976, 122)
“Environment changes into landscape in the eyes of the beholder who constructs landscape from the material environment.” (Fairclough, 2008, 409)
But, landscape can also be understood as a group of places connected by roads, paths and stories (Tilley, 1994*), whereas lives are not lead inside places but through, around, to and from them, from and to places elsewhere (Ingold, 2000*, 229). Also, landscape has been defined as a work in progress (ibid., 199). Numerous books and articles have been written on different meanings of landscape and how this notion has developed (e.g., Johnson, 2007; Widgren, 2012), but in no condition it is possible to neglect that landscape has a temporal dimension and it is closely connected with anthropogenic activity (Ingold, 2000). Or, as Sylwan (2011*, 11) has put it – we inaugurated our own age as an independent ecological factor. As a remark it is also interesting to note that already the old German meaning of the word lantscap had the additional anthropogenic meaning to it – it meant the territory of land, but also the community connected to it and its traditions (Olwig, 2002; Elerie and Spek, 2010).
From the previous discussion it is possible to conclude that landscape really does no exist out of human mind (see, e.g., Vedru, 2002) nor out of time. Thus, this brings us to the former and the key part of the phrase mentioned at the beginning of this section: past, or in other words, temporality. When archaeological or historical landscapes are concerned, always the time that has already passed is being studied, and this is what makes this research object difficult. Landscape itself is formed by continual succession of events (Zariņa, 2013*, 6), that can be set in a period of time. Those events usually have a causal or path dependent connection with each other, and the latterly mentioned approach can be one of the ways to look back in time, and it will be explained below.
The term reconstruction is mostly used when past landscape research is concerned. One possible definition to the word is re-creation on the basis of available data,1 which conveys well the essence of the word. Herewith, study of past landscapes is always re-creating the landscape of a certain period and place out of the available evidence. The word create definitely refers to an imaginative aspect. Thus, it can be claimed that the reconstructions of past landscapes are imagined, and may or may not be real. Unfortunately, it is impossible to say how much reality those reconstructions actually include, because treating evidence and the use of different theories and methodologies affect the result (e.g., the difference between retrospective and reconstructive method: Widgren, 2006).
The notion of landscape is rooted in different disciplines, including archaeology, history, geography, anthropology, and several natural sciences. Therefore, to study landscapes, inter- and trans-disciplinary research must be conducted for the best result, and this article will follow the most important contemporary directions in past landscape research, including settlement archaeology, phenomenological landscape archaeology, landscape biography and path dependency. In other words, ways to reconstruct an animated past landscape will be sought in the next pages.