Unravelling the Landscape: An Inquisitive Approach to Archaeology. Edited by Mark Bowden
Tempus. 1999. 223 pages, 88 figures, 22 colour plates. ISBN 0 7524 1447 X.

         Recently there has been a renewed interest in archaeological fieldwork. This trend, however, is usually presented as a simplified experience, producing immediate and gratifying results, without deliberating sufficiently on the experience and process of thought used by the archaeologist. It is therefore refreshing to read a book which provides a detailed and thoughtful account of the survey of archaeological landscapes from a perspective of experience.

         Bowden, in 'Unravelling the Landscape', draws on the massive experience and knowledge of himself and his colleagues at the Royal Commission for Historic Monuments in England (RCHME), and has produced a beautifully illustrated and well-handled guide, of use to professional archaeologists, surveyors and students of the discipline, but the presentation of the material is not without its problems. Overall the volume presents an incisive background and document of approaches to fieldwork, reflecting the modern techniques utilised in the discipline. Not all of the areas reviewed in the volume are dealt with in as much depth or understanding as the range of skills and material held within the Royal Commission's own sphere of expertise.

         The volume is divided into three sections. It commences by introducing the subject of archaeological survey within a landscape context. The introductory section illustrates the reasons for archaeological fieldwork, and the overall purpose of the volume, stressing the way in which monuments and landscapes have been and are perceived, aiming to "…encourage an inquisitive approach to archaeological sites and landscapes through examples of methods, procedures and best practice." By this statement, Bowden establishes the tone of the volume as a book of archaeological interpretation of sites and landscapes in their context, leaving both technical demonstrations and theoretical approaches on the subject to other sources. The overriding principle is that of an 'inquisitiveness' in approaching survey, and this approach does incredible justice to the systematic and thorough processes of field survey, combined with the intuitive understanding of the results. The section is not without its flaws, lacking for instance a clear definition of terms such as 'site', where such a distinction would be useful to the novice, and the introduction does not discuss enough of the reasons for undertaking survey. These criticisms apart, the introduction provides a clear insight into the people, places and landmarks which have featured in the development of archaeological survey, from 18th century antiquarian interest, to the work of the RCHME. The emphasis of the text is on brevity, illustrating the main historical pointers with sufficient source material for those interested to interrogate the subject in greater depth. This is a trend which the book follows throughout, aiming at a comprehensive insight.

         Chapters one and two concentrate on the approach to field survey, to the archaeology, its landscape context and the different resources which can be applied, as well as preparation before entering the field. Chapter one addresses the task simply enough, by detailing the processes involved in recording a landscape and its archaeological elements. It deals in terms of processes of thought, and the logistical problems to be addressed, and it does so in a very thorough way. However, it does not explicitly state what is the subject of these approaches and emphases. We can assume that the chapter is concentrating on the strategies of field survey in general. The problem is associated with the fact that the foundations set out here are very much established on the approach of the RCHME in undertaking an earthwork survey, even though these aims are readily applicable elsewhere, to different strategies and subjects. Apart from this lack of definition, the chapter is detailed and explicit on the pressures and constraints which are present in undertaking a field survey. It assesses the advantages and limitations of intensive and extensive approaches to the discipline, listing and explaining the different strategies applicable, viewed in the light of the variety of archaeological remains that may be present. Critically, Bowden stresses the validity of a holistic approach to field survey, exploring the advantages of method integration to gain as much information on a site or landscape as possible.

         The second section of the volume concentrates on the practical aspects for different methods of survey and investigation. Dealing initially with the measurement and interpretation of earthwork survey, Bowden offers a comprehensive description, unclouded by technical jargon and overly complicated descriptions of equipment (these descriptions are presented in the appendices). It assesses the logistical tasks involved in survey, (even including a small section on Health and Safety issues) and provides information on methods of measurement acquisition, from use of plane table to Global Satellite Positioning system (GPS) survey. Importantly, chapter four also sets out the levels of accuracy and overall methods of control necessary to ensure a complete and effective survey. This is complemented by the following chapter, which relates to the interpretation of results. It is here that 'Unravelling the Landscape' scores above many other landscape archaeology books. It vividly demonstrates in text and with examples the way in which the shapes and forms perceived in the field are interpreted and represented. In a way it is hardly surprising that this section of the volume presents a water-tight review of survey practice and interpretation, furnished by the tried and tested field methods of the RCHME. By contrast in this section the other chapters covering survey and interpretation lack a certain depth, never fully convincing the reader of the intuitive nature of landscape archaeology as implicitly as those covering earthwork survey. This point is demonstrated particularly in chapters six and eight, covering ground photography and 'other' survey techniques. In the former, the author describes eloquently enough the reasons for photographing landscapes or objects, and the main practical considerations. However, it sits uneasily with the tone of the previous chapters. As a topic it of relevance to the methodology of earthwork and building survey, but never really deserves a chapter of its own.

         Chapter eight falls short by reviewing geophysical survey and surface collection techniques, but not elaborating sufficiently on them. In short, the coverage of these techniques is too brief, either geophysical survey or fieldwalking requiring their own chapters even to introduce the reader to their respective complexities. This perhaps directly reflects the form which archaeological survey has taken in the Royal Commission, based on earthwork and aerial survey, with limited integration of certain other methods in some instances. Nevertheless, Bowden provides a sound overview of other survey methodologies, referring the reader to key sources for each topic, such as Clark (1996) and Haselgrove et al. (1985), where a more thorough background to the methods can be gained. These instances withstanding, the section also provides a detailed and well-illustrated background to the methods and uses of aerial photography (chapter seven), drawing on the vast coverage of oblique air photos held by the Royal Commission, and giving a succinct description of the processes which create cropmarks, and the interpretation of such anomalies. The point at which Bowden departs from a traditional review of methods and best practice in survey is in the final consideration of different forms of archaeological landscape. In regarding a series of different landscapes as both presenting a challenge to the archaeologist, and providing various different means of interpreting the archaeological record, Bowden successfully maintains the inquisitive approach which he sets out to demonstrate. He provides a useful and intelligent approach to the concept of fieldwork in difficult or remote locations, giving a concise background and approach to each example. In considering the importance of buildings in the landscape, the author continues this intuitive view of the archaeological landscape. The chapter does not undersell the complexity of the subject of the recording of historic buildings, referring to more detailed works on the subject of practical application such as Wood (1994), or the ways in which a building or complex of buildings can be understood. It provides a clear insight into the relevance of structures in a landscape context, and the importance of such buildings in the interpretation of the landscape as a whole.

         For the final section of the volume, the author stresses the importance of report production, archiving of data and publication. Both the reproduction of a textual account and survey drawings, as part of an integrated report, are deemed necessary. Although the chapter on report production shows a definite bias to the creation of earthwork survey, an overview of computer graphics, maps and plans is also given.

         Also of benefit to the surveyor is the chapter on collation and storage of archive material. Again the information presented is rather brief, but Bowden produces a comprehensive guide to the storage of different data types from paper to magnetic media.

         In general, the main themes of the book are supported by a variety of secondary information. Throughout the volume, case studies of surveys from different sites, environments and locations are given, emphasising the approaches to the specific problems encountered. Each is designed to illustrate a form of archaeological landscape or site, and the individual approach to the recording of the archaeology, with examples as diverse as field systems in Cornwall (Siblyback), more complex stratigraphic archaeology in Northumberland (Greenlee Lough), and industrial archaeology (Waltham Abbey). In addition, two appendices provide the reader with details on the levels of archaeological recording and details of survey equipment. There can be little doubt that 'Unravelling the Landscape' presents an incisive background and document of approaches to modern archaeological fieldwork. Although not totally successful in relating all aspects of the subject, it advances considerably the concept of thoughtful application of archaeological survey, requiring that the reader ceases to be complacent about the technical aspects of the methodology, and turn his or her attention to the intuitive understanding of the recorded evidence. While it does not provide a complete, stand alone manual of techniques and strategies, or a flawless handbook of archaeological interpretation, the message which is implicitly stated throughout is that a curious, thoughtful and inquisitive approach to the landscape is vital to the various strands of fieldwork. It is a message which should be heeded by students and seasoned practitioners of archaeological fieldwork alike.

Kristian Strutt
Department of Archaeology
University of Southampton

Review Submitted: November 2002

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Wood, J (Ed.) 1994, Buildings Archaeology: applications in Practice. Oxbow Monograph 43. Oxford.

The views expressed in this review are not necessarily those of the Society or the Reviews Editor.

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