How does an archaeological site reflect its landscape? This image for VM_365 Day 63 shows how important location within a landscape is for the choices that are made on where to live, work and celebrate.
Bronze Age round barrows like this one at Ramsgate were formed by digging a circular ditch into the hard chalk of the hillside to create a mound in the centre from the spoil from the ditch. Very frequently, but not in every case, the central mound covered the burial of an individual which was itself laid in a chamber created by cutting a rectangular pit into the chalk.
But what motivated the choice for the location of each round barrow? This image contains one answer to this question in the vista over Pegwell Bay which can be seen beyond the section of the ditch revealed in the trench. From this position the land from Deal, the eastern mouth of the Stour and the mouth of the valley of the Wantsum, sweeping through to the northern side of Pegwell Bay where the open sea was visible beyond the land. On a clear day the cliffs on the coast of France can also be seen on the horizon from this location.
In general, similar Bronze Age funerary monuments in Thanet have been found in commanding locations on the convex slopes of hillsides and valleys which the undulating chalk downs of Thanet possess in abundance. In each location the commanding view demonstrates that the position was carefully chosen and surveyed to assess the suitability of the site.
Before we interpret the motives behind such choices of position, we need to consider that the landscape has changed from that of the Bronze Age through coastal erosion and sea level rises. The Bronze Age barrow burial rite also lasted some centuries and within the monuments recorded we need to consider what influence the choices of earlier people had as time passed.
Many of the best sites may have been taken at an early stage, or perhaps the best locations were identified and rationed in some way that was determined by the culture and contemporary ideas of rights and status. To date there has been little evidence that barrows were partially overlapped to usurp the space taken by an earlier monument, although we do have evidence that the ditch of an earlier barrow was re-excavated and trimmed, possibly to accommodate a new burial. Perhaps it was acceptable to re-use a barrow, respecting and associating a new person with the personality and status of the earlier burial, but it was not acceptable to damage an earlier barrow and erase the memory of the significance of the earlier burial.
The landscape seems to have had a deep resonance in the culture of Bronze Age Thanet, although we can only work out the ways these were turned into cultural forms by reasoning from our data on the location of features within the landscape and considering the logic of the placement of the sites within the space and land forms that were available. In short, archaeology loses an important dimension if context within its landscape does not form part of the archaeological investigation that is applied to it.