This introduction sets out the ambition of this volume: to explore and influence ways of thinking about and studying the earth, its inhabitants and their material formations, through surfaces. In doing so, it surveys classical notions of surface as they have persisted in archaeology, psychology and studies of perception and which lead to a superficiality/depth dichotomy that places limits on ways of knowing. Drawing on contemporary anthropological debate and the contributions of this volume, we argue for a distinct way of knowing and observing surficially, which attends to the transformation of bodies, materials and earth.