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Durham University

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Landscapes of Complex Society Research Group

A research group of the Department of Archaeology.

Current Major Research Themes

The Group’s research is focused on the landscape dimension of complex polities, and draws upon case-studies from across Eurasia.

Landscape Signatures and Settlement, and the nature of large settlements
The recognition of settlement and landscape features and the analysis and interpretation of long-term change is a core element of the Durham approach to archaeological landscapes. This has been extensively developed in the Middle East, through projects using a combination of remote sensing and ground survey to identify archaeological features, and thus map the changing scale and nature of human activity in the landscape. The AHRC-funded Fragile Crescent Project charts the rise and fall of Bronze Age urban centres within the Fertile Crescent, with a focus on the nature and distribution of large sites in the 5th through 3rd millennia BC, and the different landscape contexts within which such sites developed. Graham Philip's work around Homs in western Syria has identified previously unrecognized dimensions of human activity in stony upland regions, which appear contemporaneous with these developments, while the nature of large settlements in western Europe is under investigation by Tom Moore A capital landscape: survey of the Stanwick ‘oppidum’ and its environs. Robin Coningham's work at Anuradhapura (Sri Lanka) is shaping our understanding of low density urbanism, and has now moved to investigate the role played by hinterland communities in the development of the urban centre. Prof. John Chapman is examining precocious urban settlements in the Ukraine (Early urbanism in prehistoric Europe?: the case of the Tripillia mega-sites), currently a missing chapter in the story of world urbanism. Nebelivka; for example is a 300 ha Neolithic site, within which geophysical survey has revealed evidence for around 2000 structures, raising questions about the significance, permanence and function of large settlements.

Landscape Dynamics
Penny Wilson's work in the western Nile Delta, and Chris Gerrard's Shapwick Project for Medieval Britain which has combined historical data with intensive survey, address the interrelationships between environment, human activity and the creation and modification of landscapes. These projects explore the nature of urban: rural distinction at different times and places, and the impact of technology such as water management, and the role of routes and patterns of connectivity.

Landscapes of Empires
The scale of landscape studies is well-suited to the investigation of extensive ancient empires. The work of Rob Witcher and Jamie Sewell is addressing the impact of Rome upon settlement across the Italian peninsula The Roman impact on the urban settlement pattern of peninsular Italy (350BC to AD200), while Derek Kennet’s research projects at Qarn al-Harf (UAE) and Kadhima in Kuwait are exploring the interrelationships between settlement, landscape and the economy in the Gulf from the Sassanian Empire through the Early Islamic period.

Work on frontiers, is an increasingly important part of the group’s activities and has been explored through the work of Richard Hingley and Rob Witcher through the AHRC-funded Tales of the Frontier Project which seeks to reinterpret Hadrian’s Wall Tales of the Frontier: political representations and practices inspired by Hadrian's Wall. This initial study was followed by a cross-disciplinary focus on the Materiality of Frontiers through the ‘Life of the Frontier’ project supported by the Inst. of Advanced Studies. Complementary work on the Gorgan Wall, at the frontier of the Sassanian Empire in northeast Iran, and a subsequent project Persia and it's Neighbours is led by Tony Wilkinson, working jointly with the University of Edinburgh and the ICHTO in Iran.

Religious Landscapes
Robin Coningham is examining the nature of monastic landscapes in South Asia (The Natal Landscape of the Buddha), and is using archaeological evidence to supplement and question, current text-based accounts of the past. Chris Gerrard’s work Religious orders on the frontier: monks on the edge of Christian Europe explores social and economic impact of the establishment of the religious orders and monastic houses following the Christian reconquest of NE Spain, while David Petts recently begun using geophysical survey to understand the organization of the island settlement and monastic community of Lindisfarne in North-East England.

Research students
The group includes a large group of PhD students, and we welcome enquiries about potential research projects at post-graduate and post-doctoral levels. Interested scholars should contact the relevant people within the research group in the first instance.


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