Life with the stones: monuments, fields, settlement and social practice. Revealing the hidden Neolithic-Early Bronze Age landscapes of Exmoor, SW Britain
thesisposted on 14.06.2017, 15:17 by Douglas James Mitcham
This thesis characterizes and interprets the nature of Exmoor’s late 3rd and early 2nd millennium BC landscapes, including an unusual array of ‘minilithic’ stone configurations. It develops a new theoretical framework using an ontology of assemblages, the concept of affectivity and perspectives on miniaturisation and scale, adopting a Deleuzian understanding of materiality. This promotes an exploration of the processes which led to the appearance, use and dispersal of archaeological entities as assemblages. It includes all forms of people’s interactions with materials, monuments, material culture (lithics) and landscapes; questioning the value of classificatory approaches and studying such themes as monumentality in isolation. The first detailed study of the lithic collections explores how the ontological significance of stone developed over millennia, leading to the emergence of upright stone configurations in the landscape. A detailed synthesis of the available archaeological evidence from excavation, survey, HER and museum datasets is then presented focusing on three case study zones, with entirely new interpretations developed for key sites at multiple scales. It then goes on to explore their wider relationships in terms of chronology, spatial placement, archaeological and landscape context. This is achieved through GIS analysis, original fieldwork (field visits, surveys, geophysics and excavation) and the synthesis and re-interpretation of secondary and archive data. The wider context of Exmoor is then briefly assessed, particularly drawing on evidence from Bodmin Moor. Tendencies to dismiss Exmoor as a poorer relation of such regions is challenged. Exmoor’s monuments challenge thinking on monumentality, particularly regarding the establishment of authority, through the choreography of space, movement and visibility. The miniliths had distinct affective qualities, with a unique capacity for frequent reconfiguration, quite different from megalithic sites elsewhere; yet many of the same practices are apparent. On Exmoor however, what people were doing with these practices was wholly different.