2015 May 13 / 16:00
Round Table
Matt Edgeworth

The Archaeosphere: Beyond the Surface of Anthropocene Landscapes

Landscapes have depth. They have vertical as well as horizontal stratigraphy. In mapping the densely-wrought terrain of the anthropocene, we must do more than merely chart the surface. The depth to which the material trace of human influence extends downwards is as important as the lateral extent of surface features. It is useful to think of landscape in terms of the accumulation of material residues of human existence, forming an anthropogenic layer called here the archaeosphere. The archaeosphere is comprised of the totality of truncations, construction cuts, landfills, industrial waste dumps, urban occupation deposits, layers of demolition rubble, archaeological earthworks, cultivation soils, agricultural terraces, and other physical traces of human activity in the ground. These are inter-bedded with each other into what can be regarded as a single stratigraphic entity. Imagine it as a kind of carpet of near global extent, thick-piled in places, thin and threadbare in others. It forms the ground on which people live, build and work.

That does not mean that anthropocene landscapes are merely passive imprints of past human action, or eventhat they are completely human-made. The archaeosphere is one of the most rapidly changing parts of the Earth, generating its own massive effects on Earth systems. It is inhabited by numerous other species whose habitats have been encroached upon by human activity, and who play a part in its continued formation and transformation. Moving through and across it are material flows such as rivers which intermesh with human agencies to form hybrid entities, neither natural nor cultural but a mixture of both. Such entanglements challenge us to re-think traditional views of landscape.

Video 1:35:57

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Matt Edgeworth is Honorary Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Leicester, United Kingdom. He obtained his PhD in Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Durham in 1992, then worked for both commercial archaeology units and universities throughout Britain and abroad, directing archaeological investigations in places as far apart as the Orkney Islands in Scotland and Carthage in North Africa. In the last ten years he has been Project Officer at Birmingham University, Research Officer at University of Leicester, Senior Archaeological Investigator at English Heritage, and now works freelance. He is most at home when out in the field, in direct contact with emerging material evidence. He has written extensively in archaeological theory, with interests largely in areas of overlap with other disciplines. Books include “Ethnographies of Archaeological Practice” (2007), and “Fluid Pasts: Archaeology of Flow” (2011). He recently edited a forum on “Archaeology in the Anthropocene” for the new “Journal of Contemporary Archaeology”, and has published papers on the correspondence between geological and archaeological approaches to anthropogenic ground. Matt is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in London, and a member of the multidisciplinary Anthropocene Working Group.
Image:
Lincoln Central Library and Lincolnshire Archives, ref LCL 26000