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Archéologie du territoire, de l’Égée au Sahara

Archéologie du territoire, de l’Égée au Sahara

Edited by Georgia Kourtessi-Philippakis and René Treuil (CahArch 1[2]). Pp. 329, figs. 75. Publications de la Sorbonne, Paris 2011. €45. ISBN 978-2-85944-658-1 (paper).

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In only a few decades, the archaeology of landscape has achieved “street cred” in the Anglophone world and beyond (for Germany, see the papers in W. Bebermeier et al., eds., “Landscape Archaeology: Conference (LAC 2012),” eTopoi Special Volume 3 [2012] What is meant by landscape archaeology, of course, still varies considerably from one author to another. In the French-speaking world, where an “archéologie du paysage” was proposed in the 1970s, a plethora of spin-off trends flooded the academic market, such as archaeology “de l’environnement,” “du peuplement,” “spatialiste,” “géotopographique,” indeed, “archéo­géographie”/“archéohistoire des paysages” or “géotopographie archéologique.” In the 1980s, there was talk of an “archéologie du territoire” (or “du terroir”), and the present volume attempts to put the French “archaeology of territory” on more solid footing. An “archaeology of territory” is in Anglo­phone scholarship at best ancillary to landscape archaeology and generally has not (yet) received independent treatment (but see M. Zedeño’s dense article, “The Archaeology of Territory and Territoriality,” in B. David and J. Thomas, eds., Handbook of Landscape Archaeology [Walnut Creek, Calif. 2008] 210–17).

The volume reunites 20 contributions presented during a research seminar at Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, with an introduction and conclusion by the editors (the table of contents is available at The contributions deal mainly with the prehistory of the Greek mainland and islands, with a few more general essays and case studies from the Sahara (articles by Amblard-Pison and Baroin), France (Brun, Beeching, and Brochier), and even the transition from Aurignacian to Gravettian in the Balkans (Kozłowski).

The introduction by Kourtessi-Philippakis defines territory as an “economic, ideological and political appropriation of space by human groups who share a certain representation of themselves and their history” (8). This resembles some archaeological definitions of landscape/“paysage,” although the similarity is never addressed in the volume. Then she challenges the reader by claiming that it is impossible to study the territory without using “psychology,” and she expands the notion of “territory” to also mean “a founding myth” or “a book” (e.g., the Bible, the Qur’an). Her statement that any social territory is a product of human imagination (8) is echoed in the final word by the other editor’s (Treuil) stance that territories are culturally invented (therefore, “territory is a behaviour” [313]) and that the use of archaeology to investigate the cultural dimension of the territory is “illusory” (314).

This somewhat contradictory position is reflected in two different aspects of most of the articles in this volume—first, in their authors’ vast variety of definitions of territory and of approaches to the archaeology thereof, and second, in the general skepticism that such an archaeology could actually achieve significant results. A good number of the topics chosen by (or allocated to?) the contributors turn out in fact to not be quite suitable for a successful illustration of applications of the archaeology of territory, because (as the authors do not fail to point out) they deal with areas with insufficient or no excavations/surveys, or where preservation is bound be minimal. For example, in the editor’s own analysis of the Ionian Islands during the Paleolithic period, Kourtessi-Philippakis suggests that a proper study of territory ought to deal with the relationship between people and resources as well as with representation systems (64). Then she observes that this cannot be done for the Ionian Islands in this time period and limits herself to some considerations of economical geography and to a debate as to where coastlines actually lay in the Paleolithic.

Some articles are not directly connected with archaeology: territoriality of chimpanzees and fur seals (Pouydebat and Eggert), ethnography of the Toubou in northern Chad (Baroin), and the historical geography of Epirus (Dausse). Articles by Desse and Desse-Berset and Théodoropoulou deal with Mediterranean fishing (of grouper and other fish), marine “territories” being, for example, coastal vs. deeper waters. Yet others are more philological, discussing the vocabulary for boundaries in Hellenistic cities (Coutsinas) or reading political territories in cadastral texts from Late Bronze Age Pylos (Zurbach). Some make the most of a daunting task. Thus, the article by Taborin studies interfaces between territories, places of contact between communities (lieux de brassage), essential for the study of the Magdalenian culture of the spear foreshafts (navettes) in the Upper Danube. Astruc and Briois offer a case study of the preceramic Neolithic in Cyprus and compare the site of Khirokitia with the newly discovered site Shillourokambos, and Lespez does the same for Dikili Tash in Macedonia (with the counterintuitive conclusion that Neolithic sites are not where the soils were easiest to work). The anthropization of the Aegean landscape is analyzed by Malamidou, the knowledge of territory being advanced by a combined study of fortifications, houses, and tombs. Such anthropization is also emphasized by Amblard-Pison for Neolithic sites in southeastern Mauretania, where soil was brought to cover the sandstone outcrops. Phialon contrasts written documents (including the spectacular cache discovered in Thebes in the 1990s) with, this time, architectural remains and tomb distribution to reconstruct political territories in Late Bronze Age Boeotia. In turn, with the aid of sites from the Aldenhoven plateau in the southern Netherlands and the Aisne Valley, Allard rethinks Linearband­keramik territories, as known from Bylany, in terms of dwelling units, implantation of villages, and finally regional and supraregional exchange. By a strange coincidence, none of these articles alludes to roads, but otherwise the analyses are rich and instructive.

Because of an apparent difficulty in finding material that would be compellingly relevant to the study of territories, most articles show one or both of two tendencies. One has to do with introducing secondary strong points, such as the presentation of (otherwise certainly interesting) archaeological data for the sake of data and not for the sake of discussing territoriality (Christidou on bone implements). The inherent risk of such a generous conception of the topic is the dissolution of the specificity of the object of study. The other tendency is visible in working from postulates presented en passant and which, attractive as they may be, are only hypotheses. For example, in the Bronze Age, matrimonial contacts over longer distances were maintained by the elite in order to secure prestige goods (218); the similarity of Paleolithic paintings from Siberia to Spain proves that the painters spoke strongly related languages (33); the purpose of the crouched position of Neolithic inhumations is to save space (113).

Treuil is surely right in saying that it is difficult for archaeology to deal with territorial markers such as “courtyards, gardens, cultivated fields, vineyard, paths ... irrigation systems, transhumance routes ... pastures, sheep pens ... hunting lodges, lime-burners’ huts, truffle fields, threshing areas” (312). However, some of the articles tackle well a few of these issues (e.g., transhumance [Acovitsioti-Hameau]; grottes bergeries, caves used as sheep pens, where Beeching and Brochier’s field projects in the Rhône Basin identified manure, coprolites, and deciduous teeth). Moreover, intensive research is bound to find more than originally expected (J. Cherry, J.L. Davis, and E. Mantzourani, eds., Landscape Archaeology as Long-Term History: Northern Keos in the Cycladic Islands from Earliest Settlement Until Modern Times [Los Angeles, Calif. 1991]).

Three of the articles only include in the bibliography titles written by their authors, and at least two have their bibliography split into half at the end and half in the footnotes. Also, to see a French article referencing the English translation of a Lévi-Strauss volume seems inconsistent (33).

Finally, it would have been best if the reader (esp. the Anglophone reader) could have been told explicitly what province of landscape archaeology/“archéologie du paysage” the archaeology of territory is actually concerned with. Despite the obvious partial overlap between the two, the volume is generally written as if landscape archaeology had not yet been invented. Wherein lie the differences between the two for the authors? Should the reader infer that territory is basically landscape sans GIS (never mentioned in the text)? Is territory a special instance of landscape that is chronologically, politically, or economically circumscribed? One gladly grants that, by studying territory at the intersection of physical and mental boundaries, and by proposing a rich variety of approaches on human territoriality (from ethological ecology to space syntax models to site catchment analysis, although the last is paradoxically considered by one editor to be “naïve” [314]), this book offers a thought-provoking lecture. But perhaps by not casting the net so widely, the catch might have been richer.

Catalin Pavel
Kennesaw State University
1000 Chastain Road
Kennesaw, Georgia 30144

Book Review of Archéologie du territoire, de lÉgée au Sahara, edited by Georgia Kourtessi-Philippakis and René Treuil

Reviewed by Catalin Pavel

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 117, No. 2 (April 2013)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1172.Pavel

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