Date of this Version
Published in Great Plains Research 19.2 (Fall 2009): 259.
In 1962 Lewis Binford (American Antiquity, 28 :217-25) classified archaeological objects into technomic, sociotechnic, and ideotechnic categories. In the following decades the New Archaeologists, largely concerned with societies at the Domestic Mode of Production, emphasized the technomic objects. Prehistorians of state societies were much more frequently faced with socio- and ideotechnic objects, ritual and state symbols; the significance of these to all societies eventually crawled back into the thinking of prehistorians of band and tribal systems.
Thence come landscapes into the archaeological discourse. As with manufactured objects, landscapes can be categorized into technomic, sociotechnic, and ideotechnic classes. And the authors of this volume engage landscapes from all three perspectives. The editors address the diverse perspectives of the chapters by pointing out the multitude of definitions of the word landscape and the commonality in these definitions revolving around the “emphasis on the negotiation between people and their physical surrounding” (5). “Negotiation” is an ambiguous word, and if all of the authors buy into this perspective I think they do so in very different ways. However, the editors’ point that the natural world is at once natural and cultural is important. In Binford’s words, “If there is one principle that anthropological field studies have affirmed over and over again, it is that the intellectual contexts of behavior in different cultures renders rationality a relative phenomenon” (Working at Archaeology 1983:220). The editors, though, overstep their bounds a bit when they state “Hunter-gatherers primarily conceptualize rather than construct their landscapes, that is, they imbue features on the land with meaning rather than physically alter the land itself” (8). If by this they mean that foragers do not cause global warming they are undoubtedly correct. However, to ask whether hunter-gatherers ever affected their environment to a degree that endangered them, the answer should probably be yes.