Crossing Borders: Approaching Liminal Landscapes

Sponsored by Archaeopress

Crossing Borders: Approaching Liminal Landscapes

Paul Belford (Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust, CPAT, Paul Belford,

Melanie Roxby-Mackey (Birmingham University,

Ian Mackey (Field Archaeologist,

Contemporary interdisciplinary scholarship of border landscapes is dominated by making sense of how we respond to living in liminal spaces in the twenty-first century. Yet how can we claim to understand today’s contested spaces with limited historical context? To what extent has human activity in and around border landscapes today been shaped by patterns of behaviour in the past? If our present-day responses to modern border landscapes are in fact conditioned by those of the past, then there is a value in looking at the longer historical development of such spaces.

Archaeological approaches to the analysis of liminal spaces in the past promise to make a major contribution to our understanding of one of the key debates of our time: how we create and transform our responses to living alongside each other. However archaeologists have not always considered their work in the theoretical framework of border studies. This session seeks to explore border landscapes from both ends of the temporal spectrum. On the one hand it will consider the ways in which contemporary discourse shapes archaeological and historical enquiry into the past. How do contemporary borders and landscapes of conflict impact on archaeological practice? On the other, it will look at how archaeological enquiry might inform the broader interdisciplinary study of present-day landscapes. The session seeks papers which explore any aspect of border landscapes – including frontier monuments and the role of their creation in the establishment and maintenance of hegemonic structures – as well as examples of genuinely cross-border collaboratory research.

Keywords: borders, conflict, landscape, liminal, practice



Illuminating Lowland Iron Age Border Settlement in North-West England: The Poulton Research Project

Kevin Cootes (Liverpool John Moores University,

Lowland North-West England is not traditionally a region which occupies the minds of researchers investigating the British Iron Age. A review of the national literature suggests few identified sites, low population density and little social stratification. In spite of the presence of multiple hillforts and local specialist research this view prevails, but is it accurate? Archaeological investigations at Poulton in Cheshire have revealed a settlement which challenges such models, comprising roundhouse gullies spanning eight centuries of habitation. The accompanying material assemblage is characteristic of status, with burial, industrial activity and ritual practices all represented. The site was ideal due to its position adjacent to the River Dee, overlooking a defensible floodplain which enabled a mixed farming regime. Additionally, water-courses often served as boundaries between tribal entities. The overall results have the potential to serve as a type site, revealing similar settlements and illuminating the Iron Age in North-West England.


A Landscape Full of Time: A Long-Term Approach for the Study of Central Calchaquí Valley (Northwestern Argentina)

  1. Barbich (Universidad Nacional de La Plata,, M. Sprovieri (Universidad Nacional de La Plata,, S. Cohen (UBA,


This paper proposes a particular theoretical approach for a case study of the Central Calchaquí Valley (Northwestern Argentina, South America). In strict archaeological terms, our research focuses on the populations that inhabited the region during the Late Intermediate Period (AD 1000–1500). This area is still inhabited by native communities, currently facing conflicts with different public and private actors (mainly due to land possession).

Based on our research experience, we present our reflections on the possibility of adopting a long-term perspective, one that reviews critically the boundary between past and present, in order to study a Calchaquí landscape. We consider that this perspective allows us to apprehend the multiple dimensions and temporalities that merge in the present-day landscape, producing more plural and reflexive narratives about it. Finally, we take into account the political implications of this positioning with respect to the realities of the current indigenous peoples, as well as how it questions our practice.


Hydraulic Borders? Water and Offa’s Dyke

Howard Williams (University of Chester,

In the interdisciplinary study of borderlands and frontiers, archaeological contributions to the study of early medieval dykes have much to contribute. Specifically, the interaction of terrestrial boundaries and water courses as revealed in the study of early medieval ‘frontier-works’ promises to shed new light onto the complex and changing significances of borders and boundaries in transforming landscapes past and present. To this end, the paper considers early medieval dykes as attempts to create and control frontier zones through hydraulic interactivities as much as by dividing the land.

The paper applies this approach to the late eighth-century linear earthwork – Britain’s largest – Offa’s Dyke. A millennium of erosion has hampered an appreciation of its multi-scalar interactions with water, but so too have over-zealous attempts to define and characterise Offa’s Dyke as primarily a bank-and-ditch in isolation. An hydraulic approach contributes new perspectives on Offa’s Dyke’s design, emplacement and landscape contexts.


Out of Context? Finds from the Calais ‘Jungle’

Louise Fowler (MOLA,

Can using the lens provided by the framework of developer-funded archaeology to look at an assemblage of highly politicised and contemporary material tell us something about the way archaeologists construct the past, and what this means for the narratives we create? By carrying out a post-excavation assessment on a group of objects collected by the photographer Gideon Mendel at the ‘Jungle’ camp in Calais, this MOLA project seeks to challenge some of our usual assumptions. Collected in France but exhibited in London as part of Mendel’s ‘Dzhanghal’ exhibition at the gallery Autograph ABP, the objects have crossed with ease a border that has recently become a flashpoint for the policies of European governments to migration. Collected by an artist, they have no stratigraphic or precise locational context. Can we do archaeology with them? Should we? Can they tell us anything new?


Do You See What I See? Culture, Conflict and Communication across Borders

Melanie Roxby-Mackey (University of Birmingham,

Archaeology has a long tradition of adopting an interdisciplinary approach to the analysis of landscapes. Architecture, ethnography and psychology have, for example, contributed to our understanding of a range of environments. But what are the advantages of applying this strategy to the study of border landscapes in particular?

Why do elites frequently expend so much energy on manipulating these environments as tools for making us see things their way? What messages are they attempting to convey and to whom? What are the implications for the populations of these liminal spaces who are subject to conflicting, competing and changing messages? What challenges do they face? Is it all bad? Might there also be advantages? Are these processes culturally and temporally contingent and if so, how? This paper explores how archaeology, border studies and ecological psychology can help us answer these questions and thereby further our understanding of liminal spaces over time.



Paul Belford (CPAT, Paul Belford,