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Durham University

The Fragile Crescent Project

Landscape Transformation Processes

In order to investigate ancient landscapes, it is vital to build a theoretical framework from which to deal with the natural and cultural changes which may mask or entirely destroy specific features. The approach we are developing in the Fragile Crescent Project involves delineating certain parts of the landscape as zones of destruction and zones of survival (Taylor 1972). The central idea here is that any human trace left on the landscape will remain there until it is destroyed, over-run or incorporated into a later landscape. Along with natural processes such as alluviation and aeolian deposition, successive occupations by different cultures have an impact on the remains of preceding societies. Through a careful characterization of the different landscapes associated with certain cultures, it is possible to define 'signature landscapes' (Wilkinson 2003; 7) and relate these chronologically. An integration of textual and archaeological analysis will enable us to consider the form, size, purpose and organisation of settlement during the Bronze Age, as well as the successive signature landscapes which occurred in the preceding periods. By comparing and contrasting signature landscapes it is possible to ascertain where likely landscapes of survival or partial survival might be. Whilst pristine prehistoric landscapes are rare, often confined to upland and desert areas which have not seen later settlement or agriculture, techniques such as landscape stratigraphy and topographic analysis provide a framework for the reconstruction of ancient features from the integrated modern landscape. These methods involve the identification of ancient features, such as Roman roads or field boundaries derived from early maps. These can then be used to date certain patterns of settlement or agricultural practice which can then be removed from consideration for earlier periods (see Williamson 1987, 1998). The integration of such techniques with detailed high resolution satellite imagery, such as that provided by the CORONA missions, will be a key area of analysis.

Taylor, Christopher C. 1972. “The study of settlement pattern in pre-Saxon Britain.”Pp. 109-114 in Man, Settlement and Urbanism, ed. Peter J. Ucko, Ruth Tringham, and G. W. Dimbleby, (eds.). London: Duckworth.

Wilkinson, T.J. 2003. Archaeological landscapes of the Near East. Tucson: University of Arizona Press. Williamson, Tom. 1987. “Early coaxial field systems on the East Anglian boulder clays.” Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 53: 419-31.

----. 1998. “Questions of preservation and destruction.” Pp. 1-24 in The Archaeology of Landscape, Studies presented to Christopher Taylor, ed. Paul Everson and Tom Williamson. Manchester: Manchester University Press.