University of Southampton OCS (beta), CAA 2012

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Markers, visibility and the structuration of past landscapes. Analysing the role of megalithic monuments as waypoints during Iberian Late Prehistory.
Patricia Murrieta-Flores

Last modified: 2011-12-15


The topic of movement in archaeology has been extensively studied. Research on human movement during prehistory has become one of the bases in archaeology and anthropology to understand dynamics of social and economic relationships, technology, social identity and territoriality between many other relevant themes. Although archaeological investigations related to movement have increased in the past years, the majority have usually relied on “static” evidence. This is to say, in the analysis of the materials or objects that are found in specific sites, focusing on the establishment of the correlation between them and their points of origin or destination. In the last years using spatial technologies, more research have been looking to investigate movement from a landscape perspective, where further attention has been being paid to the processes that might happened along journeys, analysing the possible factors of influence in the decisions made regarding which paths to take, the mechanics of movement, and the archaeological evidence related to this.

In the specific case of Iberia, megalithic monuments are among the archaeological elements on a landscape scale that have been linked to potential patterns of movement, and it has been argued that besides their symbolic and funerary meanings, they may have been utilised as landscape markers as well.

In archaeology, following Saxe’s (1970) it has been proposed hypothesis that megalithic monuments could have been used as markers with territorial connotations. Nonetheless, due to their physical and spatial characteristics, other hypotheses have also arisen specially in Iberian archaeology, pointing out that megaliths not only formed important part of the visual structuration of prehistoric landscapes, but also that they sustain spatial relationships with historical pathways, opening the question of their possible use as markers, but with a different connotation than that of territorial definition.

These ideas have resulted in the hypothesis that megalithic monuments might have acted indeed as landscape markers, but playing a role as waypoints in terrestrial navigation during the journeys performed by these societies. Although the employment of megaliths as landscape markers during prehistory has been implied in many investigations, there has never been a particular research in Iberia testing the spatial relationships observed in field. In addition, the concept of landscape markers has been interchangeably used, but there has never been defined in the context of archaeological studies.

In this manner, the purpose of this talk is (1) to propose a theoretical definition of landscape markers to establish the base of an spatial and quantitative exploration of the potential uses beyond the primary symbolic and social purpose of megalithic monuments during Late Prehistory and (2), to show the results of an experiment set to investigate their possible role in terrestrial navigation through the development of two visibility methodologies with Geographic Information Systems (GIS). We tested the hypothesis of the potential use of megaliths as waypoints along pathways, using as case study the Copper Age (c. 3100-2100 BCE) societies of the mountain region of western Sierra Morena in Andalucía, Spain.


visibility; megalithic monuments; landscape markers; Late Prehistory; Iberia; GIS; Spatial analysis; viewsheds; Higuchi viewsheds; Directionla viewsheds