4 Changing landscapes: path dependency

When the stage has been set, it is time to animate it. The best way to do that is to rely on the temporality of landscape. This is one of the aspects touched by many landscape researchers. Vedru (2009*, 22) has written that the layers of different time periods are intertwined in the landscape and create a unique whole. Palang (2001) in his definition of landscape also emphasizes the importance of temporality, for it is one of the components of landscape. One of the present authors has found in her earlier article that time is the dimension that ties together all the layers of landscape (Karro, 2010a, 184).

Deriving from the idea of temporality, it is possible to say that landscape is a continuity of succession formed by multiple sequences of events. Those events have causal effects on one another, and sometimes small-scale events can cause powerful responses and move systems in a new direction (Zariņa, 2013*, 4–6). This is how the path dependent approach can be explained in the context of past landscape studies.

Path dependent sequences of events are sequences in which the outcome is not that important as the events that trigger changes or so-called breaking points (Mahoney, 2000; Zariņa, 2013). So, the key concept here is change, on which past landscape studies should actually focus on instead of objects, like settlements, fields, etc. (Muir, 2002).

Change in the landscape can and has been approached from different aspects. It is possible to study the changing character of a single object, or a wider landscape that has been, for example, influenced by a certain political system. Next some examples of both will be made.

Archaeologists very often speak of monuments. When heritage protection is concerned, such approach is sensible, because it is much easier to protect one monument instead of a landscape. However, to find that protection-worthy significance in a monument, its life-story has to be compiled, and it very often is path dependent. In other words, such a life-story can be called the analysis of monument re-use, which was very popular in the British archaeology at the end of the 1990s and the beginning of 2000s (e.g., Holtorf, 1998; Bradley, 1998, 2000*). Although such re-use analyses deal more with single monuments than with whole landscapes, it is an interesting way in past landscape research and is definitely worth mentioning in the context of this article. When dealing with change in wider landscapes, it is crucial to find events in a landscape’s life that modify it. When whole landscapes are concerned, political and ideological, also religious changes transform them. Estonia with its Soviet past is, of course, a very good example for that, and Palang (2010) has analyzed the landscape before and after the Soviet era. When prehistory is concerned, e.g., Mägi (2006, 2007) has studied Estonian burial customs and tried to find ideological and religious reasons why collective burial traditions suddenly became individual in the 7th century island of Saaremaa. To make an example out of Estonia, e.g., Spek (2004*) has argued that transformations in social and political landscape change land-use systems and therefore the physical landscape. Such transformations have also been researched by, e.g., Mägi (2008, 2013) – she is convinced that changes in the social and ideological system are reflected in the establishment and localization of prehistoric harbors.

All in all, those examples show that past landscape research is abandoning single objects and starting to focus much more on change instead. After all, when archaeology is concerned, the analysis of a single monument or an artefact should be a tool, not so much an aim. An aim should, instead, be a perception of an animated landscape with its breaking points and physical results in the terrain and the social and political space.

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