Anthropology, Department of


Date of this Version



Wandsnider, LuAnn

2004 Artifact, Landscape, and Temporality in Mediterranean Landscape Studies. In Mediterranean Archaeological Landscapes: Current Issues, edited by E. Athanassopoulos and L. Wandsnider, pp. 69-80. University of Pennsylvania Museum Press, Philadelphia.


Copyright © 2004 University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology


Intensive survey over the last several decades has detailed an archaeological surface record in the Mediterranean that Cherry (1983:395, emphasis in original) describes as "likely to consist of a virtually continuous spatial distribution of material over the landscape, but a distribution extremely variable in density." In addition, geoarchaeological work, often coupled with survey, has demonstrated just how dynamic Mediterranean surfaces have been. Both of these field practices, intensive survey and geoarchaeology, were carried out in part to enable regional settlement pattern studies, to collect accurate, reliable, and precise data about past settlements and their location with respect to each other and with respect to aspects of the landscape (Cherry and Shennan 1978).

As a result of intensive surface survey and geoarchaeological work, a paradox has become apparent. This paradox is that the surface archaeological record is of such a quality that the settlement mode of interpretation, the impetus for the high quality work undertaken in the Mediterranean, may be inappropriate. That is, it demonstrates that rather than a record of settlements awaiting discovery and definition by the archaeologist, the archaeological record is better considered a record of places with different material histories, both cultural and natural. Viewed in this way, the surface record, currently interpreted in terms of settlements and using empirical, historical conventions, instead becomes a source of information on the human condition at a variety of spatial and temporal scales.

Below, I make the case for this paradoxical situation (see also Holdaway and Wandsnider n.d.; Wandsnider 2004; Wandsnider and Holdaway n.d.). Archaeologists working elsewhere and not explicitly concerned with the archaeological landscape have come to a similar realization, concluding that a metaphysical shift in the approach to archaeological deposits appears warranted. Given this shift, how should interpretation of Mediterranean archaeological landscapes proceed? Two additions to the archaeological tool kit are suggested: a library of potential multi-temporal processes and a series of three interpretative tools.