Paper Short Abstract:
In this paper I will argue that prehistoric coastal, and specifically island communities did not just gaze across the sea, but physically engaged with it on a daily basis. In this way, I will suggest that the sea was not inherently symbolic but achieved significance through peoples active engagement with it, acquiring an intimate knowledge of its currents, wave patterns and locales through the daily practices of seafaring and fishing. Through such activities, the sea like the land, becomes socially constructed. Firstly I will discuss how the anthropological record suggests the sea might be engrained with meaning. I will then use the example of the Isles of Scilly, off the Cornish coast, to discuss how we might begin to rethink the concept of the ancient seascape.
Paper long abstract:
In the last 20 years landscape archaeology in Britain has developed in many directions, providing increasingly sophisticated understandings of prehistoric people's sense of place. Such studies have however, predominately focussed on inland landscapes, ignoring the significance of the sea for people in prehistory and its influence upon the formation of social identity.
In this paper I will demonstrate how a consideration of the social construction of prehistoric seascapes is central to an understanding of the archaeological record of island and coastal communities in British Prehistory. Using data from the Isles of Scilly and West Penwith in south-west Britain, this theme will be explored through a detailed examination of Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age chambered cairns. The social and symbolic meanings of these monuments will be investigated through an examination of their distribution, configuration and relationship to marine and terrestrial topography. It will be shown that these monuments are intimately linked with their island environment and that through their construction; experience of the later prehistoric landscape and seascape was manipulated and transformed. I will argue that the seascape was not merely a neutral backdrop for human action but was an active medium through which prehistoric communities lived, experienced and ordered their world.
Seascape: anthropological and archaeological approaches to the human habitation of the sea