Landscape archaeology is the study of the ways in which people in the past constructed and used the environment around them. Landscape archaeology is inherently multidisciplinary in its approach to the study of culture, and is used by pre-historical, classic, and historic archaeologists. The key feature that distinguishes landscape archaeology from other archaeological approaches to sites is that there is an explicit emphasis on the sites' relationships between material culture, human alteration of land/cultural modifications to landscape, and the natural environment. The study of landscape archaeology (also sometimes referred to as the archaeology of the cultural landscape) has evolved to include how landscapes were used to create and reinforce social inequality and to announce one's social status to the community at large.
Landscape generally refers to both natural environments and environments constructed by human beings. Natural landscapes are considered to be environments that have not been altered by humans in any shape or form. Cultural landscapes, on the other hand, are environments that have been altered in some manner by people (including temporary structures and places, such as campsites, that are created by human beings). Among archaeologists, the term landscape can refer to the meanings and alterations people mark onto their surroundings. As such, landscape archaeology is often employed to study the human use of land over extensive periods of time.
Landscape archaeology can be summed up by Nicole Branton's statement:
The term space has commonly been used in place of cultural landscape to describe landscapes that are "produced or mediated by human behavior to elicit certain behaviors". Defined in this manner, archaeologists, such as Delle, have theorized space as composed of three components: the material, social, and cognitive. Material space is any space that is created by people either through physical means or through the establishment of definitions, descriptions and rules of what a space is reserved for and how it should be used (Delle 1998:38). Social space is what dictates a person’s relationship with both others and the material space (Delle 1998:39). Social space is how one uses their material space to interact with others and navigate throughout their world. Cognitive space is how people comprehend their social and material spaces—it is how people understand the world around them and identify appropriate ways of conducting themselves in the many different environments they may occupy (Delle 1998:38-9). Alternatively, the terms constructed, conceptualized, and ideational have been used to describe: the constructed ways in which people engage with their environments, meanings and interactions people place onto specific landscapes, and imagined and emotional perspectives individuals place with their landscapes.
Many methods used to analyze archaeological sites are relevant to the analysis of landscapes. The archaeology of landscapes incorporates multiple research methods into its analysis in order to ensure that multiple sources of information are gathered; allowing for a sound interpretation of the site in question. These methods include pollen analysis, Geographic Information Systems, soil sampling, faunal analysis, ground penetrating radar, archival data (including maps and census data), and of course archaeological excavation methods. Pollen, soil, faunal, and floral analysis allows the archaeologist to understand the natural vegetation of an area, vegetation that was actively grown by area settlers, and the animal life that also lived in the area. An understanding of the plant and animal life specific to an area can lead to, for example, an analysis of the types of food available to members of the community, an understanding of the actual diet typical for a subset of a population, and site and skeletal dating. If landscape reconstruction and preservation, in particular, is a goal of an archaeological research project, pollen and soil analysis can aide in landscape archaeology to accurately interpret and reconstruct landscapes of the past (Schoenwetter pg 278).
Advances in survey technology have permitted the rapid and accurate analysis of wide areas, making the process an efficient way of learning more about the historic environment. Global Positioning System, remote sensing, archaeological geophysics, Total stations and digital photography, as well as GIS, have helped reduce the time and cost involved in such work.
Within the discipline of historical archaeology, specifically within the United States, landscape archaeology initially gained prominence with efforts to preserve the homes and gardens of prominent North American figures (see George Washington's Mount Vernon and Thomas Jefferson's Monticello), the reconstruction of early colonial settlements (see Colonial Williamsburg) and the analysis of gardens (see Annapolis). Archaeologists studying the aforementioned, and other colonial sites throughout the United States, have excavated the gardens of wealthy men and women in order to reconstruct and ascertain the function of these gardens in colonial life. Scholars analyzing the colonial gardens have noticed that gardens were designed in a neat and orderly fashion, displaying symmetry and inspired by Baroque and Renaissance styles (this style is often described as indicative of a "Georgian Worldview" that became popular during the 17th and 18th centuries). Many interpretations have been advanced to explain the function of these gardens. Beginning in the mid-1700s, wealthy elites began to construct large, stately homes and neat, ordered gardens with the guise of mapping superiority and exclusive knowledge onto the landscape. Although the Baroque and Renaissance styles were out of date by the time elites in the United States employed them, this was intentionally done to communicate a knowledge and appreciation of British history that few within the community would have access to. Archaeologists have concluded that the symmetrical, geometric, designs of garden-scapes adopted by colonists in the mid eighteenth to nineteenth centuries made use of "...converging and diverging lines of sight to manipulate the relationship between distance and focal point", making objects appear larger or further away than they really were. These optical illusions functioned to transform the home into a readily identifiable status symbol, and to mark the owners and occupants of these homes as socially distinct from others within the colonial community. Stately homes and gardens constructed by the colonial elite also served to assert authority and to naturalize a social hierarchy onto the colonial landscape. Such analysis and interpretations are neo-marxist in its approach to the understanding and interpreting landscapes of the past.
Stephen A. Mrozwoski has extended the conclusions drawn from the archaeological analysis of elite homes and pleasure gardens into the analysis of the developing middle and working class landscapes and ideologies among industrial communities, noting “in the urban context economies of scale realized through spatial practice also contributed to a social landscape that between the eighteenth and early twentieth centuries was increasingly constructed along class lines” and demonstrate the ways in which the elite constructed their industrial landscapes that worked to restrict perceived amoral behaviors (e.g. drinking, smoking) and to maintain an orderly landscape 97. The landscape also provided an area where "values like orderliness, gentility, and abstinence were important elements of a middle-class culture that, while subject to variability, was nevertheless part of daily existence."
Historical archaeologists have incorporated Foucauldian theories into the understanding of plantation landscapes. On plantation sites throughout the Americas, plantation owners utilized surveillance methods to restrict the behaviors of the enslaved populations. James A. Delle notes that surveillance was often incorporated into the plantation landscape, noting “the planter class who designed the estate landscapes actively constructed plantation spaces…as an active part of their strategy of social control” and power. This was largely done through architectural techniques such as incorporating positions where panoptic views can be achieved into the construction of planters and/or overseers homes or by constructing slave villages that were in the plain view or line of sight of the homes of the overseer and/or plantation owner.
Archaeologists have pointed out that, although home spaces are generally considered to have become increasingly gendered; it is erroneous to assume that only women occupied the private (home) sphere and men the public. For more extensive information on this topic, see Household Archaeology.
Barbara Voss has done extensive archaeological work to reveal how ideas about gender, sexuality, marriage, and ethnic/racial intermarriage were mapped onto the landscape of Spanish Colonial mission sites in California (El Presidio de San Francisco). Voss’ interpretations reveal the lived trauma that is often concealed by popular, romanticized, narratives of relationships established through colonial contact between indigenous peoples and Spanish colonizers The mission landscape became physical and conceptualized space where two genders (male/female) and heterosexuality were to be explicitly expressed and reinforced.
Landscape Archaeology has been useful in the analysis of cultural identities that developed among social and racial groups. It has been argued that the existence and continued use of yard spaces among Black Americans (along with other African-derived practices observed in the Americas) is proof of a distinct, new world, cultural identity. One feature that appears to be widespread throughout the African diaspora is the significant importance of yard spaces in the everyday lives of African-Americans. Sidney W. Mintz, in describing the “house-and-yard pattern” among African-American peasants residing in the Caribbean, explains “…the house, particularly among poorer peasants, is not important in itself as a material representation (i.e. material culture/artifacts) of the domestic group or family”. Mintz further states that while the house “…is usually used mainly for sleeping and for storing clothing and other articles of personal value” the yard is where “…children play, the washing is done, the family relaxes, and friends are entertained”.
Richard Westmacott, Barbara J. Heath and Amber Bennett have echoed Mintz’s statements about the use of yards among African-Americans in their accounts of present day and past African-American communities. Richard Westmacott provides an extensive ethnographic account of the role gardens and yards play in the lives of African Americans in the southern region of the United States in his book African-American Gardens and Yards in the Rural South. Westmacott provides a clear definition of the yard, defining it as a place where leisure activities and artistic expression often take place Similarly, Heath and Bennett describe the yard as a space in which “…food production and preparation, care and maintenance of animals, domestic chores, storage, recreation, and aesthetic enjoyment” often occur at. The use of the yard as an important and integral aspect of a home appears to be an element that many west African cultures hold, which indicates that the function of the yard within African-American households may be a facet of west African cultures that was maintained in the New World, as well as a cultural aspect that aided in the development of African American identities in the Americas.
Similarly, Mrozowski’s study of rear yards associated with the Boott Mill boardinghouses and tenements that housed workers revealed that these yards mainly served practical functions and were not primarily used to grow foodstuffs, and may not have served an integral part in the daily lives of the low-wage workers hired (99-100). Mrozowski also argues that yards also represented social distance and distinctiveness between socio-economic classes of people, due to the particular placement, use, and overall function. "The result was a landscape that created social distance between the agents and the workers who lived only a few feet away. It also represents a significant transformation in the urban space. The ornamental yards of the agent's house and overseers' block signal an important shift in the type of urban space being produced and the manner in which it was utilized."