chapter  4
26 Pages

Landscape survey

This first day in the field was spent field-walking or collecting artefacts from the surface of a ploughed field (FIG 4.1). We might have spent it looking for earthworks or mapping field boundaries, for the sort of traces we are after show here and there as ruins or humps and bumps or as rubbish scattered on the surface (FIG 4.2). To use a famous phrase, the landscape is a palimpsest – that is, as in a well-lived life, everything that has happened to it is etched upon its face to various degrees. If we

can disentangle the thousands of markings, like a wall which carries generations of graffiti, then we should be able to read its story. We are not just finding sites, not even just making a map – we are compiling a sequence in time. The rewards of exploring landscapes are as uplifting as those of excavation: “Landscapes viewed from afar have a timeless quality that is soothing to the human spirit,” wrote Gregory Retallack in 2001. Landscape survey gets you out and about in many lands, in fair weather and foul. There is no better way to acquaint yourself with the territory on which ancient people moved and lived than clambering about it or flying over it yourself. But it requires a certain dedication, like fishing: patience, cunning, focus and an unflagging sense of expectation.