3 Deconstructing landscapes: Historical land-use research and settlement archaeology

The methodologies discussed in this section are the more traditional ways in past landscape research. In works following them the regional division of study areas and land use pattern according to regions seem to be the main two research objectives. Those aims are usually approached ‘top down’ or ‘bottom up’ (Rippon, 2012*, 15), meaning that either study questions or a research area is picked first.

First, let us observe the development of the term historic landscapes. It was first taken into use in the UK in 1993 to advise planners and countryside managers on the historical depths present in the modern landscape (Rippon and Turner, 1993; Rippon, 2012*, 54). A little later, English Heritage developed it into a methodology called Historic Landscape Assessment (HLA), which has been carried out regionally in the UK (Aldred and Fairclough, 2003; Rippon, 2004*).

This is where the concept of region becomes significant. Works on historic landscapes are mostly about a certain region, whether it is a nested study emanating from a study question (see, e.g., Rippon, 2004, 2006; van Beek and Louwen, 2012) or a complete study of a region (e.g., Lang, 1996*; Spek, 2004*; van Beek, 2011*). The concept region comes from the French term pays, which means regions with a distinctive character caused by different natural and social conditions (Muir, 1999; Rippon, 2012*). There are usually frontiers between regions that mark areas of different religions and ideologies, but borders can also be between humans and nature (Corbin, 1994).

Regional division originates from nature geography, where geographical areas of distinctive geology and vegetation were divided into landscape regions (the German School: e.g., Brückner, 1895; Penck, 1909, 1924; for Estonia see, e.g., Granö, 1922; Kurs, 1995; Arold, 2005), but as the term landscape widened with the development of the so-called New Geography, social, political, religious and other kind of human conditions also became distinctive aspects of regions.

Regional division of an area may be entitled a spatial layer of landscape, which can be either geographical or geological, but also cultural (Karro, 2010a*, 185). The cultural way of spatial layering comprises dividing the landscape on the basis of land-use systems. An interesting study based on this was written by Rippon (2012*), where he tried to understand why the land-use was different on each side of the Blackdown hills in England. In Estonia this kind of approach has been used a few times since 1990s. Lang (1996) has analyzed the Iron Age landscape of northern Estonia based on settlement patterns, using the method of dividing the area into settlement districts, settlement areas and settlement units, the first being a large area that includes the second and the third. However, he has used the spatial analysis method of Thiessen’s polygons (Binford, 1977) to form settlement units, but the result is not always adequate with Estonian archaeological material. Often, when a settlement site location is unknown, he has taken the location of a burial site as a starting point for a polygon. This has created a situation where burial sites are in the center of settlement units, but actually it is quite definite that burial sites were erected in liminal areas whereas villages or farms were in the centers of settlement units. The latter is also stated in his definition of a settlement unit, but the results of the polygons tell a different story. Thus, that kind of modeling is not possible to use in Estonia, because there is not enough archaeological material. (Mägi, 2002) has accomplished an analogical aim with the landscapes of the island Saaremaa, however, she has used the terminology of areas and sub-areas created with a different methodology. Namely, her areas and sub-areas follow natural borders and the spread of agricultural land. However, to show that this kind of perspective is not new in Estonia, a work from the 19th century should also be mentioned. Grewingk (1882) compiled a work about a Stone Age settlement site considering geological and geographical conditions. From the field of settlement history Paul Johansen should be mentioned, who has written about the importance of settlement history already in the 1930s (see, e.g., Johansen, 2005*). He emphasized cartography, archaeology, and place-names as the vital tools in studying settlement history, and has called this discipline a significant national task (Johansen, 2005, 13). Among other things, he has published the Liber Census Daniae, which is the record book of land-use from the 13th century northern Estonia, compiled by the order of the Danish king who at that time owned this area (Johansen, 1933). This is the first mentioning of many villages in North-Estonia, thus Johansen’s publication is quoted a lot by historians and archaeologists who study the past of Estonia. Johansen relied much on written sources, and another such example can be found in Latvia – Urtāns (1998) has tried to locate the central castle of the Metsepole regions based on the Chronicle of Henry of Livonia.

Dutch past landscape research is very similar to settlement archaeology adopted in the UK and Estonia, but it is more focused on land-use systems rather than settlement structures. This probably comes from the fact that the Netherlands have always had many people and little arable land, and water-management has always played a great role in land-use systems as a whole. The doctoral thesis of Spek (2004*) is a very good example of a research where the land-use patterns of different periods have been analyzed in the county of Drenthe in northern Netherlands. However, there are other kind of great examples of such from the Netherlands that deal more with the prehistoric and roman past of the country (e.g., van Beek, 2011).

Those two mentioned works show the importance of nature geography in human geography. In other words, it is impossible to understand human behavior without knowing natural conditions they lived in. The present author’s undergraduate thesis about a landscape region in eastern Estonia also followed this idea (Karro, 2010b). Those works are the ones that combine natural and human geography, but there is also a direction called geo-archaeology, which is very severely biased towards natural sciences, dealing less with human behavior (e.g., Monaghan and Lovis, 2005).

To conclude this section, it must be said that historical land-use research and settlement archaeology contribute a lot from natural sciences like geology, geo-ecology, palynology, paleo-botany, etc, and the aim of many of the works is future-oriented – to inform landscape planners that they must consider the relict landscapes of the area in future planning (Rippon, 2012*, 54–55).

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