Routes and Landscapes in Eurasia:
exchange and movement from prehistory to the present
Department of Archaeology, University of Sheffield
SATURDAY, 7th MARCH 2009
Toby Wilkinson & Sue Sherratt
It has long been recognised that the exchange of goods, people and ideas is instrumental in social change through human history. Archaeological accounts have tended to be one of two types: (1) material-led analyses of the distributions of objects, aided by scientific provenance studies; or (2) more general theoretical approaches addressing the possible mechanisms of exchange based on ideas from anthropology and economics. While both have been successful in recognising patterns in the material, and critiquing assumptions of our modern worldview, the missing factor has often been the mechanisms of movement, and the specific routes by which such exchanges could have taken place. A detailed understanding of the landscapes within which past peoples moved is thus necessary. Though there are significant challenges, this is increasingly becoming possible with GIS and remote sensing data, where the opportunities of advanced mapping combining multiple datasets allow archaeologists to return to the specificity of the landscape, rather than an abstract notion of space. They also make it possible to take account of both phenomenological understandings of landscape and map-based mathematical approaches to terrain and environment. The participants in this workshop showcase their work on routes, and address a set of questions on the importance of routes to exchange, and the ability of archaeology to solve such problems:
- To what extent can archaeology be used to trace ancient routes of trade, migration or cultural exchange?
- How can new technologies (GIS, remote sensing, predictive modelling, digital mapping) help us to approach routes of movement in the past?
- How can we model the nature of route systems using new GIS technologies combined with social theory?
- How do trade routes come into being?
- In what way do landscape types affect movement of goods, people and ideas?
- How do formalised systems of trade function differently from more informal exchanges?
- How do polities attempt to control routes, and how can we visualise this?
- Can we identify route 'bypassing', such as smuggling? What role do environments play in this? What effects can such 'short-circuits' have?
- What makes a potential route an actual route? When can we call a route of movement a trade route? Are there different levels or kinds of movement?
- What is the long-term relationship between routes and settlement growth & decline?
- What are the effects of different route types (eg. the geometrical nature of Roman roads vs. mountain pathways which snake across passes) on social development, and on the nature of exchange?
- What lessons can we take from anthropological and/or historical accounts of routes?