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Culture 2000

European Union


Suggested draft philosophy on landscape characterisation in EPCL; June 2001

  1. It is suggested that the EPCL project adopts the European Landscape Convention definition of landscape:

    "an area, as perceived by people, whose character is the result of the action and interaction of natural and/or human factors".

    The Convention applies this definition to all parts of a country´s territory, to urban as well as rural areas, to everyday as well as outstanding landscapes, to degraded as well as well-preserved places. The Convention can be viewed at XXXX.

  2. As well accepting the Convention as a framework, it is further suggested that for the purpose of characterising cultural landscapes (as opposed to other types of landscape-based archaeological work) EPCL national projects should bear in mind the following additional principles:

    1. Present-day not past landscape: the present-day landscape (as it is here and now) is the main object of characterisation. Learning about past landscapes is also necessary and will also form part of several EPCL projects, but characterisation aims at learning about the historic and archaeological dimension of the present-day landscape to support landscape management and spatial planning;
    2. Time not space: the most important characteristic of a landscape is its temporal history and development, the way that earlier landscapes and changes can still be seen in the present-day landscape and the physical manifestation of past communities who have contributed recognisably to forming the modern environment. Archaeological and historical, not geographical, approaches are the principal methods of understanding; this is what distinguishes historic landscape characterisation from other types of landscape assessment based on aesthetic or ecological approaches;
    3. Comprehensive not selective, the sum of all its parts: Characterisation leaves no land undescribed , and every surface area has a historic character of some sort. All aspects of the landscape, no matter how modern, how mundane or minor, or how transient, are treated as part of landscape character. Semi-natural and living features (woodland, land cover, hedges etc.) are as much a part of landscape character as are archaeological sites and buildings.
    4. Dynamic not static, the "living landscape" concept: change is recognised as a major attribute of a landscape´s character. Hence archaeological approaches are at the centre of its study.Mapping of landscape character, on the other hand describes a set point in time which immediately becomes the past and is complemented by a recognition and acceptance of change;
    5. Pattern and process – not site or monument: characterisation is concerned with the broad pattern of landscape characteristics, and the inter-relationships between landscape components and the structure of cultural landscapes. Additionally it is interested in the historic processes that have created these patterns, predominantly past human interaction and its effect. It is also concerned with the wider territoriality that underlies these interactions. Site-based archaeology, and even site-led landscape archaeology, are separate fields of study.
    6. Area not point data, pattern not place, landscape not sites: landscape characterisation is concerned with area data, not point data; it works with generalised patterns, recording interpretations of characters at an area scale to maintain a broad approach. The identification of landscape character acknowledges that change may take place to individual sites or landscape attributes, but that this need not significantly change the overall character of an area: a specific place can have different levels of significance for landscape and site purposes.
    7. Generalisation not detail: this is partly a consequence of the area-based approach, but it is more than that. The aim is to establish a general description of an area, both to highlight its own internal shared character and more importantly for EPCL, to allow an identification of commonality as well as diversity at a European level. Identifying likeness as well as difference will help to define what makes our 12 areas European despite their differences.
    8. "as perceived by people" Interpretation not record, perception not facts: characterisation of landscape is first and foremost a matter of concepts, ideas and perceptions. It treats landscape as an idea not a thing: although landscape consists of physical objects, it is constructed by our minds and emotions from a combination of interpretation, perception and association. This is what distinguishes "landscape" from "environment". An additional important aspect of landscape characterisation in EPCL is that public perceptions will be regarded alongside expert opinions whereever possible. An important goal of EPCL projects is to discover methods of gathering public perceptions.
    9. Desk- not field-based: characterisation aims mainly at bringing together information that already exists, into new area-based structures at the landscape scale. New fieldwork is useful for validation, but the primary aim is to acquire and analyse data create a broad-based starting point, from which new research approaches or models can be developed and tested. Process not result, provisional not definitive, questions not answers: all historic landscape characterisation is provisional. Both the landscape and our perception or understanding of it changes all the time, so characterisation is a continuing process. It is also a process in the sense that it helps us to reflect about the landscape, identify gaps in our understanding of it, which gives rise to asking new questions.
design: Kai M. Wurm
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