PhD research

Since the Late Bronze Age, Europe could be imagined as a complex global network of social relationships. For later prehistory there is sufficient evidence for long-distance trade, assuming strong links, between sites connected by land. Evidence for this long distance trade is also reflected throughout the European Atlantic coastline (Cunliffe, 2001; Henderson, 2007). However, in these instances, the only way that these sites could have developed such a connection would have been across the water.

Traditionally the concept of connectivity is derived from the mathematical analysis of networks. In mathematics, a network is the relationship of nodes and edges plotted in a graph (Wilson, 1996). As a result, a graph is connected when all the nodes can be reached from another node by means of an edge.

In archaeology, the study of social networks is represented by the relationship of single objects, settlements and communities (nodes) and the effort needed to connect with one another via paths or routes (edge variability) (Conolly and Lake, 2007; Brughmans, in press). In the case of maritime connectivity, the edges might not exist as visual representations of these connectors, as might be the case for roads and pathways on land. However, edge variability could be identified by other physical factors, such as prevailing wind forces, tidal streams and flows and geographic morphology.

Research on prehistoric relationships is distinctly centered on understanding connectivity through land-based studies (see Isaksen, 2008; Murrieta Flores et al., 2009). Some attempts have been made to reconstruct maritime connectivity but at smaller scale to its terrestrial counterpart (Horden and Purcell, 2000; Broodbank, 2002; Broodbank, 2006; Malkin et al., 2007; Knappett et al., 2008). It is therefore crucial that detailed research on connectivity is undertaken from a maritime perspective. The Isles of Scilly, off the southwest coast of Great Britain, will provide the ideal test-bed for this research. This is due not only to their unique later prehistoric sites, combined with their excellent level of preservation, but also because of the nature of their maritime landscape and their nodal location between the Atlantic ocean and the English Channel.

Connection cannot and should not be seen as the static relationship of points on a map interconnected by roads or routes. It is the flow of social interaction across space, subject to constant change. Therefore, to understand social connectivity it is necessary to quantify that change.

This research will analyse life in Iron Age (c700 BC-AD 43) island communities, with a particular focus on the maritime connectivity of the Isles of Scilly. My theoretical framework, which places a strong emphasis on maritime rhythmical analysis (space/time), will explain these changes by the innovative use of 4D GIS modelling and computational network analysis. Maritime environments are highly dynamic, therefore the scale of change affects societies constantly. This study’s focus on the temporal component as a way to more holistically reconstruct prehistoric connectivity, will significantly challenge present archaeological and computational studies. It will furthermore provide a solid theoretical and analytical framework, of global applicability, which can be used in subsequent studies of maritime connectivity and social interaction.

1.1      Aims and objectives

This research will generate Iron Age maritime connectivity models to reconstruct island social interaction and change for this period. To create these models, quantification of the temporal scale (rhythm) of both social and biophysical environments will be undertaken through the use of temporal GIS techniques and network analysis.

The main objectives:

  1. To study Scilly’s Iron Age maritime transport. This will be undertaken through a reassessment of the information produced both by academic sources – ‘grey literature’, and through access to archaeological collections for the period. The latter will involve the support of the British Museum, which has already granted full access to their significant Iron Age collections.
  2. To integrate in a geodatabase, specific information regarding the Isles of Scilly’s archaeology, environment and geography, together with all relevant information regarding Iron Age climatic change.
  3. To run in a GIS system Scilly’s Iron Age palaeogeographic reconstruction models.
  4. To run in a GIS system Scilly’s Iron Age palaeotidal regime models.
  5. To successfully combine these models and generate surface-cost models.
  6. To generate heuristic 4D GIS models of maritime transport for Iron Age Scilly.

1.2      Background to the study area and previous research

The Isles of Scilly have not only been a loosely connected area due to their location (Fig. 1), they have also remained, to some extent, isolated from archaeological research. Nevertheless, there is substantial archaeological information present in the area. The Islands are thought to have been occupied since the Late Palaeolithic (Johns et al., 2004), but direct archaeological information for habitation is dated to after the Mesolithic (Ashbee, 1982; Berridge and Roberts, 1986).

1.2.1      Archaeological evidence of connectivity

Since the Neolithic, the Isles were occupied by seasonal migration groups coming from mainland Britain (Berridge and Roberts, 1986), but it is not until the Bronze Age that evidence supports the idea of permanent habitation (Thomas, 1985; Ratcliffe and John, 2003).

Between 1200-700 BC the Isles start experiencing dramatic landscape change, with wide scale inundation of landsurfaces. Precise radiocarbon dating of organic layers (peat) indicates that before 1000 BC, the Isles were a single promontory. It was as a result of the subsequent flooding, caused by a rise in sea level, that the land mass became broken into the diverse scatter of individual islands known today (Johns et al., 2004). In terms of the anthropogenic impact, land cultivation increased drastically, triggering large-scale deforestation. So far, near one hundred and fifty hut-circles, and more than eighty entrance-graves, have been identified for this period, suggesting that a significant number of people were living in the area during the Bronze Age (Ratcliffe, 1989). For the Iron Age, pollen analysis has shown an even more intensified level of agriculture and population growth (Scaife, 1984).

Previous studies (e.g. Ratcliffe et al., 1996; Mulville, 2007; Robinson, 2007) in the area have revealed a considerable change in landscape morphology from the Neolithic into the Iron Age. An increase in deforestation, following the introduction of more intensive cultivation strategies in the Late Bronze Age, suggests the adoption of a new way of life for this period and into the Iron Age. Its relatively late development, in contrast with mainland Bronze Age-Iron Age sites, raises fundamental questions surrounding how these practices are being transmitted to the Isles. A broad coastal zone assessment undertaken by English Heritage (Johns et al., 2004) further highlights important issues over connectivity. The report suggests that for the Iron Age specifically, the connection became stronger between the islands and the mainland (Cunliffe, 1996 in \Johns et al., 2004). This assumption is supported to some extent by the ‘imports’ of ceramic types that contain clays from a specific region in the Lizard Peninsula, Cornwall (Quinnell, 1986), the stationary nature of the sites, in contrast with the alleged seasonality of the Neolithic sites and the burial tradition which are redolent of similarities in the Atlantic façade and Cornwall (Borlase, 1756; Nowakowski, 1991; Cunliffe, 1996). Due to the nature of the report, issues of how and why these connections were taking place and what this tells us about the identity of the islanders during this period could not be fully explored, although it was highlighted as a research direction.

1.2.2      Navigation models and environmental reconstructions

The Isles of Scilly have been known to be a ‘daunting obstacle to shipping’ (Johns et al., 2004) They are low-lying and often covered in fog – extremely dangerous for navigation. It is therefore ‘unsurprising that they have only claimed 771 recorded ships’ (Johns et al., 2004). This plethora of wrecks has seen the Isles as one of the main diving attractions in Britain, where 3 of the best 100 diving shipwrecks are Scillionian (Johns et al., 2004). The Isles’ tropical climate and clear water provide the perfect conditions for recreational diving and shipwreck hunting. On the other hand, a low level of urban development, together with the focus on shipwreck heritage, has protected prehistoric sites from exploitation and tourism. Ironically, it has contributed to a lack of archaeological research in the area. Only a few archaeological documents have been produced for the Isles of Scilly, and most of them constitute development projects and rescue archaeology (Ratcliffe, 1989; Ratcliffe et al., 1996; Ratcliffe and Straker, 1997; Morrison, 2003; Johns et al., 2004).

Despite the maritime nature of the Isles of Scilly, little work has been carried out to understand the ways in which they were occupied during prehistory. Instead, maritime archaeological research has been focused predominantly on isolated post-medieval to modern shipwreck sites, with little focus on prehistoric navigation. The Isles therefore provide this study with an invaluable opportunity to undertake original and innovative research on an important maritime locale, which is at present relatively unexplored or unexploited archaeologically.

Navigation depends entirely on climate and weather conditions. A slight change in the wind direction can turn a comfortable trip into a long and dangerous voyage. McGrail (1983) has proposed a navigation model for the English Channel for Later prehistory. His model constitutes a comprehensive compilation of navigational knowledge of probable navigation points, documented in historical sources. The model’s environmental conditions for the Channel and Bay of Biscay are ascertained from actual Admiralty Pilot handbooks (McGrail, 1983: 304). The author, following Lamb’s studies (Lamb, 1981) considers that the Iron Age oceanographic conditions for the Atlantic were very similar to the ones present today. Although McGrail’s contribution is significant, scholars such as Gregory et al. (1995) have argued that for the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age, until the Roman period, global climate models indicate a significant shift in temperature and humidity, leaving McGrail’s model of minimal change in need of urgent re-evaluation.

Certain environmental models, including sea-level models, have been created for the Isles of Scilly. These have been particularly focused on the reconstruction of the local paleocoastline. Of these, two are known to have been of particular use for the Isles’ ancient landscape reconstruction, but are also known for their disparity – both being the subject of significant debate. Professor Charles Thomas (1985) developed a model of submergence for the Isles. This model, where the Ordnance Datum is calculated primarily on historic sources and oral traditions, suggests that the Island was a single entity until as late as the 11th century with the final separation (producing the numerous individual islands known today) taking place in the 16th century (Johns et al., 2004).

Conversely, more recent fieldwork carried out between 1989 and 1993, by Ratcliffe and Straker (1996) indicate a less dramatic sea-level change, suggesting that the Isles could have been separated since the beginning of the Iron Age (Johns et al., 2004). Ratcliffe and Straker’s model is based on the analysis of radiocarbon dates from intertidal peat.

Thomas (1985) and Ratcliffe’s (1996) models initiate a highly important discussion regarding sea level change and further emphasises the need to carry out comprehensive research. Robinson (2007), however, stresses that in reconstructing marine landscapes, sea level change is only one of the elements in need of consideration. From his perspective, to successfully reconstruct the Isles’ prehistoric landscape, it is not only important to examine sea level changes but also the landscape. Robinson integrates sea level datum with actual topographic information of the Isles, as well as the bathymetric data with the analysis of archaeological remains, to put forward a basic chronology for the Isles’ entire prehistory.

Archaeological and environmental studies in the Isles have demonstrated a primary concern with how they looked in prehistory (Thomas; Ratcliffe et al., 1996). Subsequently, Robinson was more concerned with reconstructing the Isles’ prehistory from the perspective of society and environment (Robinson, 2007). However, little work has been undertaken regarding the historical process of the isles and social interaction with the environment. The Iron Age is an ideal period to demonstrate the importance of rhythmanalytic approaches. The indistinct chronological boundaries used thus far for this period provide a strong exemplar for the need to develop a gradient-type chronology, to reassess the rigidity of chronological categories.

1.3      Proposed research

Archaeological maritime rhythmanalysis engages with the temporal component as a constant gradient of events and less as a timeline with arbitrarily partitioned historical sections (Iron Age studies being a usual victim of such theoretical constructions, commonly indistinguishable from Late Bronze Age and the Early Roman Period boundaries (Hill and Cumberpatch, 1993)). The historical process, therefore, is seen as constant and changeable (Sturt, 2006). Maritime landscape reconstruction provides us with a uniquely wide perspective of change, allowing us to understand what environmental changes affected societies in a detailed temporal scope. In this respect and more generally, this research is of profound importance to our knowledge-base of environmental change and its impact on landscape and societies.

This study, which focuses on understanding life in Iron Age Scilly, will address the following:

  1. the level of connectivity experienced by this area for this period,
  2. the nature of the island’s society and
  3. the nature of both social and biophysical environmental changes.

This considered, the main aim of the proposed research will be to explore the ways to satisfy the following question:

Insular island or connected maritime society? What was the nature of life in Iron Age Scilly?

Connectivity, as previously stressed, is about people’s quantitative and qualitative relationships. Central to this are the associations of particular known ‘social nodes’, which in archaeology can be indirectly represented by artefact distribution throughout the landscape (Graham, 2006; Conolly and Lake, 2007). As a fundamental step in reconstructing Scilly’s Iron Age connections, it is necessary to quantify the level of inter-site connectivity. Probable nodes of interaction must be identified, for which we need to know the origin of imported artefacts. As such, the following question will need to be answered:

What areas of connection exist for this period? Where are the materials and people coming from?

In contrast to simple network mathematical models, archaeological reality is far more complex. Social relationships, a central element in the reconstruction of connectivity, cannot be understood through two-dimensional (dot and line) analyses. To identify areas of connection, a jump in both quantitative and qualitative levels of network analysis must be undertaken.

Flow network analysis introduces directionality as a key variable. It tells us about the kinds of relationship that nodes have, but it also helps us to understand movement in these relationships. As this study is focussed on the nature of Iron Age maritime relationships in space and not as a simple static model, connectivity needs to be envisaged as a flow. For this, the following research question will also be addressed:

What type of connection exists between the Isles of Scilly and the rest of the Iron Age world? When does the connection start and how is material getting to the Isles?

In reconstructing the type of connection (origin and manner), it is important to stress the inherent dynamism. Flows are not constant and monotonous, in reality their intensity varies greatly. Network analysis highlights that within each node we can expect flow impedances (relative or absolute ease that materials travel from one node to another) and capacity constraints (the maximum amount of this material to travel). The introduction of dynamics, therefore, provides for a differential level of relationships between nodes, creating a flow or rhythm. To better understand the ‘nature’ of Scilly’s connectivity, these nodes must be weighted. To do this, we need to know the cumulative nature of the materials and their frequencies in the import/export flow. Hence, to explore these dynamics, the following question will be addressed: What is the frequency of the connections? What is the cumulative impact of materials?

So far, these questions will form guidelines as a way to understand the nature of connectivity in Iron Age Scilly, and form an essential component in explaining social relationships on the Island. Connectivity will be explored as a spatial and temporal phenomenon, whereby; the level of connectivity will be reconstructed through archaeological spatial and network analysis.  There is however another factor to consider and it is intimately related with the way we measure connectivity. That is the interaction of man with the environment.

1.3.1      Understanding interaction through change.

Interaction within connectivity cannot be measured if we are unaware of the level of knowledge in transport technology that people, in the Isles of Scilly, possessed for the Iron Age. So far, we know from archaeological background, that the technology was available for the rest of Europe (see page 3 of this document). However, there is a limited amount of research regarding transport technology for our study area.

Therefore, one of the most important contributions of this research will be to review all available evidence regarding an Iron Age knowledge-base for maritime transport, and its relationship to the Isles of Scilly. Specifically the following question will be addressed:

What is the level of the technological knowledge regarding transport for the Iron Age?

Given that knowledge is experience, it is necessary to know what external conditions man had to overcome, for instance, which places were difficult to access, where was the best place to set course and how did the landscape change – both seasonally or even on a daily basis (e.g. ebb and flow of tides). The dialectic relationship between the social and the biophysical environment is therefore fundamental to an understanding of the level of maritime transport technological knowledge. The relationship that the Scillonian Iron Age people had with the environment did not take place in a planar world, it happened in a three dimensional environment. It is therefore necessary for this research to address the following question: What was the medium through which travel occurred? What was the palaeogeography?

In summary, this research will study Iron Age connectivity through identifying the areas, types and frequency of the connections, with a strong focus placed on the interaction of man with the environment. However, in order to understand such interaction, both social and biophysical environments have to be analysed.

1.3.2      Society on the island

Society interaction will be quantified by matching the change in the biophysical environment against the archaeological evidence of social impact in the Isles. Specifically, we need to know:

What evidence exists of Iron Age settlement on the Isles?

What is the evidence for Iron Age burials on the Isles?

Social impact on the landscape is also reflected in the broader aspect:

What palaeoenvironmental evidence exists for human impact on the Isles?

1.3.3      Changing environment

Within this research, the most important and innovative factor to analyze will be the temporal aspect. Change is measured in time, and as such, any analysis of change must use time as its main tool. The maritime environment is highly dynamic and change can be seen in numerous scales, such as the slow, global rise in sea levels, or the more immediate, smaller scale effect of daily tidal regimes on the coastline. Societal changes are strongly influenced by those of the environment. We cannot fully understand maritime cultures, and their changing nature through time, without understanding the environment dynamics. To understand society in the Isles of Scilly, the following questions need to be addressed:

What impact did sea-level change have on both the social and biophysical environments of Scilly’s Iron Age?

What impact did climate change have on both the social and biophysical environments of Scilly’s Iron Age?

1.4      Methodology

To address the importance of connectivity, and how Scilly was interacting with the rest of the world for the Iron Age, we need to build heuristic models of maritime transport, through the effective use of 4D GIS analysis, based on anisotropic cost surface analysis. This method will allow us to engage with the nature of connectivity and its dynamics through the landscape, but most importantly, it will engage with the temporal scale – it will quantify change.

Briefly, 4D GIS integrates time to a geodatabase. Usually GIS systems operate in 2D and 2.5D, giving a ‘frozen’ characteristic to our datasets. In this respect 4D GIS systems allow the integration of dynamic datasets (Çelik et al., 2004). The use of 4D GIS will allow us to create models of the variables that society had to overcome to create a transport network. Through reconstructing the dynamics of the palaeogeography, specifically the paleocoastline, this research will be able to recognise probable areas of harbour systems together with the dynamics of the social interaction within the intertidal zones of Scilly. Therefore, 4D GIS spatial analysis will create the weight to which we will then correlate the cost-surface analysis. Cost surface analysis consists of the creation of cell-based terrains or reliefs, where each cell represents a value (e.g. prevailing wind, bathymetry, tidal regime, etc.)(Conolly and Lake, 2007: 215). It will rely on cost-surface analysis to match the environmental dynamics with the archaeological data and the palaeogeography.

The following methodology comprises the subsequent phases of research:

  1. The reconstruction of Scilly’s Iron Age palaeogeography, more specifically the palaeocoastline of the Isles. To achieve this we will use Global Eustatic sea-level curves based on the Red Sea model curve proposed by Rohling (1994), Global Glacial Isostatic models (GIA models) developed by Dr. Richard Peltier (2004) and published literature regarding the Relative Sea-level curves (Lambeck, 1991; Shennan et al., 2006; Massey et al., 2008).
  2. The dynamic reconstruction of the palaeotidal regime. This model will be built based on past work, incorporating borehole data to the datasets with the aid of rockworks 15, data published for the NW of Europe via Professor Peltier’s Ice5G model (Peltier, 2004) and recent high-resolution bathymetric data available directly to me by Seazone Solutions (Bentley, UK). The match of these two datasets will give us the input of fluid turbulence, wave and wet-dry surface areas.
  3. Global climate reconstruction, in particular the creation of palaeowind model simulations for Scilly, will be based on Valdes’ approach to global climate modelling.
  4. Create heuristic 4D cost surface models for Iron Age maritime transport. These models will be explored with Partial Anisotropic Network Analysis (Collischonn and Pilar, 2000; Conolly and Lake, 2007).
  5. Generate theoretical models of Iron Age maritime transport by using the 4D cost surface models created, and matching them with the available Iron Age settlement and burial datasets that have been kindly provided by Cornwall and Scilly Historic Environment Record. This correlation of data will allow us to see not only how the society in the Isles responded to climatic changes but also how they modified the maritime landscape.

In summary, this research will be innovative and original to both the theoretical and methodological dimensions of maritime archaeological, environmental and computational studies, and has a strong relevance on an immediate (Scilly, Britain), mid-range (Atlantic) and global scale. The results will contribute to our understanding of prehistoric connectivity and lifeways in a clearly dynamic and yet greatly understudied and misunderstood period, whilst also developing important models that will allow us to see the contribution of prehistoric environmental change to the shaping of our present day landscape.

The demanding scholarly characteristics will be satisfied by the creation of such innovative and widely applicable models, but also by the interdisciplinary nature of the project, closely involving numerous institutions of national and international importance.

1.5      References

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