Historical Landscapes on Naxos

One of the benefits of a day spent traveling is that I get to catch up on my embarrassing backlog of reading. The first article on this stack (pulling them from the bottom of the pile as always) was J. Crow, S. Turner, and A. Vionis, “Characterizing the Historical Landscapes of Naxos,” JMA 24 (2011) 111-137. This relatively short article makes the case for using Historical Landscape Characterization or HLC to describe and structure historic landscapes in the Eastern Mediterranean. The authors apply this method to the island of Naxos and attempt to isolate features of the Byzantine, Medieval, and post Medieval landscapes.

The basic methods of HLC stipulate that each area on a map be given a certain place within a historical typology of landscape. The types available are standardized and range from the almost descriptive (rough ground) to the more interpretative (prehistorical enclosures). The goal of HLC is to produce a stratified map of a landscape suitable for describing historically significant landscapes at a meaningful scale. Generally, archaeologists produce these maps in response to issues of heritage management in the U.K., but the method is sufficiently robust and flexible to be exported to archaeological projects elsewhere. The types present in any particular landscape would vary, of course, according to scale and method for producing the HLC.   

As Vionis and company have noted, this HLC analysis could be a particularly valuable method for framing Mediterranean historic landscapes and preparing regions for study by more intensive means. The study of Naxos, for example, depended upon historical aerial and satellite photographs, documentary sources, results of excavations and surveys on Naxos, and some, albeit limited, autopsy. This work was able to identify, for example, the relationship between “braided terraces” and Medieval churches and to suggest that certain parts of the landscape retained some key  pre-modern features. Vionis was able to argue on the basis of HLC and field survey that the regions around seemingly isolated churches were likely productive agriculturally on the basis of historical proximity. While the arguments made on the basis of these large scale HLC techniques will never satisfy scholars who see excavation as the only method for producing knowledge about the past, this method of classifying a landscape represents a tool for larger scale work. At the same time, Vionis et al. recognized that their work was provisional and by producing it in GIS database they ensured that it could be updated, disseminated, and republished as more data became available. 

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I can immediately see the utility of using HLC methods to describe landscapes prior to intensive pedestrian survey and to produce a set of hypotheses that survey or excavation would test. It also provides a method for describing a more extensive landscape that provides context for the area documented through intensive survey. For example, I think these methods could be particularly useful for the southeastern Corinthia where we have worked to describe an early modern settlement at the site of Lakka Skoutara in the region of Sophiko. We have a significant body of landscape data from the Sophiko region both from several intensive surveys, extensive surveys, and architectural and feature studies, including a new dissertation that dates argues for a Bronze Age date of terrace walls in the region. It would also be an appealing way to approach the landscape of western North Dakota.    

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