Here is a wonderful guest post (part 1) from my collaborator, archaeologist Keir Strickland:
Hi, I’m Dr Keir Strickland, and I’m a lecturer in archaeology at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, based up here under northern skies in the Orkney Isles. I’ve been an archaeologist for approaching 15 years now, but had been fascinated by the past since I was much younger. Fascinated by its seemingly foreign and exotic nature – in much the same way that I was fascinated by far off lands, so too I was drawn to the past. Moreover, I was drawn to the discipline of Archaeology over that of History – with the former embodying an apparently neutral physicality that seemed (to teenage me at least) to be so missing from the authored records of that same past. Archaeology offered a far more physically immediate gateway to the past – the opportunity to hold artefacts that had been crafted, and used, by someone else’s hands years (sometimes a few, sometimes thousands) ago, the opportunity to uncover and piece back together homes, towns, and even entire societies.
This interest initially took me to South Asia, where I studied the “collapse” of civilisations (or complex societies) including the Rajarata Kingdoms of Sri Lanka – and it was this interest in the transformation of societies, and the accompanying transformation of place (with all of its associated significance, meaning, and values) into space that lead to a complementary fascination with the act and aftereffects of abandonment – the abandonment of the Scottish Highlands during the Clearances, the abandonment of northern Sri Lanka following the fall of the Rajarata Kingdoms, the ongoing urban abandonment of Detroit. The act of closing doors one final time, deciding what to take and what to leave, the decision to leave and the subsequent decisions not to return. Inherently, all archaeology deals with abandonment – the abandonment of artefacts (whether deliberate or accidental), the abandonment of places – archaeological sites are de facto abandoned places.
Within artefact studies there has been, in the past decade or two, far greater attention paid to the abandonment of artefacts – to structured deposition. However, within landscape and settlement studies it is relatively rare that we, as archaeologists, specifically study the actual act of abandonment – the interest is always in reconstructing the fluorescence, the occupation and function of a structure, the development of a landscape – and the final abandonment and collapse is often almost seen as akin to a veil that needs to be removed to better reveal the events that preceded them.
Instead, I want to examine that veil – to examine the act of abandonment, the transformation of place to space, and the ways in which we (as archaeologists) define abandonment – how we temporospatially bound abandonment , and how we present that to our peers and to the wider public. And it is that which I will return in part two of this blog post.