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period, her case study of Overk, Co. Carlow—an area
of high-density ‘Anglo-Norman’ settlement types (e.g.
mottes and moated sites)—records the highest number of
Gaelic-Irish alongside the highest concentration of ‘AngloNorman’ moated sites. Her well-illustrated and comprehensive paper concludes that settlement typology is complex
and evolved, and can no longer be linked exclusively to ethnicity alone.
In the first of three papers on tower houses, Rory Sherlock takes a fresh look at social and functional division of
internal space. The hall, it is argued, is interwoven with the
social environment of later mediaeval society. He demonstrates the design and use of space was subject to contemporary ‘spatial grammar’ and changed through time from
increased ‘privatization’ of the tower house to the demise
of the lordly hall, eventually evidencing the ‘shift from communal living to a more hierarchical society’.
In the second consecutive paper on tower houses,
Gillian Eadie takes a regional landscape approach to the
study of functionality and design, contrasting three castles
in Co. Down in northeast Ireland. Features are well illustrated and defined in terms of specific needs and priorities
of the owner. She concludes that form and function are not
always related.
The final paper on tower houses, by co-editor Vicky
McAlister, critiques the castles of Co. Down in relation to
the demise of the tradition overall. Three possible causes
are usually proffered as reasons for decline: new building
style, new warfare techniques or economic decline. McAlister argues for the latter, at least in the case of Co. Down,
from trade shifting towards Belfast port and increased
Fiona Beglane introduces us to the study, identification and appreciation of high-mediaeval parks in Ireland.
Deer parks were restricted to the top tier of Anglo-Norman
society and therefore are indicative both of high status and
of ethnicity of settlement. Although not subject to the same
scholarly attention as elsewhere (e.g. England), the identification of deer parks presents the potential for a more
detailed understanding of the layout and management of
Anglo-Norman manors.
In his comprehensive illustrated essay, James A. Galloway demonstrates, from the documentary sources, evidence for the later mediaeval local and regional economy
of Drogheda town and its hinterland. His study demonstrates how a pre-eminence of adjacent arable production
conflicts with increasing demands on the same land for fuel
and timber and reliance on a supply chain that can limit the
potential for growth and expansion. The basic needs of the
town are often fixed within the broader landscape characterization of the hinterland, leading to potential pressures
on the hinterland from expansion and contraction of the
In his discussion of new methodical approaches to
Irish battlefield reconstructions, Damian Shiels combines
use of historical sources and archaeological investigations
and highlights differences in Irish examples to European
The book is concluded by eminent Irish scholar and
co-editor Terry Barry, who stresses the importance of promoting settlement studies and producing works, like this
book, that enquire, and inspire further research in the future.
He also notes that this book is part of a projected series on
future trends in research developments on past settlement
patterns in Ireland, mainly but not exclusively in the mediaeval period, and we look forward to future publications in
due course.
In summary, Settlement and Space is a call to arms for
the emerging discipline of settlement studies in mediaeval
Ireland. Contributors are to be commended for the vibrancy
of writing, extensive footnotes and comprehensive bibliography. The volume is significant in its breadth and scope,
beyond the narrow remit of research into historic mediaeval
settlement studies, and offers welcome, if fleeting, insights
into alternative theoretical perspectives. It will be of interest
to researchers in the history, geography and archaeology of
mediaeval Ireland and northwest Europe.
Paul Stevens
School of Archaeology
University College Dublin
Newman Building, Belfield
Dublin 4
The Archaeology of Darkness, edited by Marion Dowd &
Robert Hensey, 2016. Oxford/Philadelphia: Oxbow Books;
ISBN 978-1-78570-191-7 paperback £32 & $38, ebook $24,
xiv+144 pp., 33 b/w figs, 15 colour plates
Holley Moyes
The Archaeology of Darkness is a slender edited volume comprised of papers garnered from a 2012 conference held at
the Institute of Technology, Sligo, Ireland, entitled ‘Into the
earth: the archaeology of darkness’. The papers consist of
an introductory chapter by Robert Hensey, 10 case studies
and two final papers, the latter of which is a brief summary
of the volume. The papers vary considerably in length, focusing on the theme of darkness, ranging from testimonials
of modern cavers, to historic examples, to archaeological interpretations. As noted by Gabriel Cooney in the final chapter (p. 140), the volume is primarily Eurocentric and about
half of the contributions focus on underground spaces such
as caves or mines. Editor Marion Dowd is considered to be
the leading cave archaeologist in Ireland (p. 139) and her coeditor Robert Hensey specializes in Neolithic passage-tomb
traditions. Both of these scholars have clearly encountered
darkness as a context in their own archaeological work;
CAJ 27:4, 722–724
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therefore the impetus for the volume is clear. But how does
one establish an ‘Archaeology of Darkness’ and what benefits might be derived from such a field of inquiry?
In chapter 1, Hensey provides us with an interesting
general discussion of how darkness is perceived, using a
number of anecdotal examples. He concludes that it is a
‘pre-eminent characteristic of human experience’ that has
gone ‘unacknowledged’. However, in my experience as a
cave archaeologist I see this topic as an on-going theme that
dates back at least 25 years. Charles Faulkner (1988), who
identified the ‘dark zone’, was one of the first archaeologists to argue explicitly for the importance of the quality of
light as a context for interpretation. This has given rise to numerous studies of cave dark zones, including Paul Pettitt’s
thoughtful spatial analysis of Paleolithic cave art in chapter 2, in which he considers the quality of light as a context
in the placement of paintings. Here, Pettitt carefully differentiates between light, twilight and dark areas and contemplates how darkness may have played a role in ancient belief
Other chapters also engage the meaning of darkness.
In chapter 5, Richard Bradley takes a diachronic approach
in discussing Neolithic to Bronze Age monuments, contrasting the increased association between sunrise and domestic spaces, with tombs and circles connecting human
remains and death with the night. Sian James (chapter 7)
presents a brief discussion of beliefs and ritual practices associated with mines and mining at the Great Orme mines
on the north coast of Wales, which reminds us that both
man-made and natural underground spaces are morphologically and contextually similar and may therefore be conceptualized and treated in similar ways. Sue Hamilton and
Colin Richards (chapter 8) investigate cosmology on Rapa
Nui (Easter Island) that equates darkness with sacrality, and
John Cary (chapter 9) examines mediaeval Irish texts. Cary
notes that, unlike the gods of many Indo-European peoples
that live in the sky, Irish deities live in the darkness underground. In chapter 10, Charlotte Damm discusses ethnographic examples concerning responses of Arctic people to
long, dark winters, and in chapter 11 Gillian Allmond takes
a structuralist approach to understanding treatment for patients at an Edwardian public asylum for the insane. In her
formulations she equates darkness with madness, barbaric
brutality, depression, tranquilizing effects, an unhygienic atmosphere and the promotion of disease.
Four chapters are explicitly about caves, including
Dowd’s case study of Robert’s Den, a Bronze Age cave
site in Ireland. Ruth Whitehead (chapter 3), writing on
caves in prehistoric Italy, and Robin Skeates (chapter 4), discussing archaeological caves in Sardinia, take explicitly phenomenological approaches to their work, and in chapter 12,
Tim O’Connell writes about his own caving experiences.
Phenomenology in archaeology is often associated with
Christopher Tilley’s landscape approach, which has undergone considerable criticism. Tilley argues that, to understand landscapes, archaeologists must document their own
engagement with them as they move through the space;
therefore, one’s own body becomes an archaeological tool
that can serve as an analogue for understanding the experience of people in the past (Tilley 1994, 73–5; 2004, 27–8).
His critics note, among other things, that within landscape
studies there is too much emphasis on the visual and that
the approach does not account for the diversity of human
experience (Brück 2005, 50, 57; Hamilakis 2013, 98). Additionally, Julian Thomas (2004, 143, 216–17) argues, following Heidegger, that perception is always an act of interpretation. Therefore, as modern humans, our own perceptions,
which are culturally constructed, will never allow us to understand how people of the past perceive and conceptualize
their worlds. This is one of the more serious questions that
archaeologists grapple with, and it is beyond the scope of
this review to do justice to a thorough discussion, but one
must consider whether we, as modern humans, are able to
imagine worldviews of past peoples, as Collingwood suggests, or whether past worlds are incomprehensible to our
modern minds. I suspect that there is not a clear binary answer to this conundrum, but rather that there are likely to be
some points of commonality and some disjunction between
ourselves and those we study.
As a caver, I understand the appeal of Tilley’s phenomenology. Caves, perhaps more than most other features
of the landscape, lend themselves to such an approach, or
at least a weak version of it. The act of leaving the well-lit
world and moving into a dark space, as Whitehouse notes
(p. 32), does create a particular kind of experience: your
eyes do have to adjust; sounds are amplified when vision
is restricted. The quality of light is important to understanding human affordances in these spaces and complex
cave systems are in fact disorienting (Montello & Moyes
2012). Even experienced cavers can get temporarily lost in
what should be familiar spaces. Darkness or even low-light
conditions do produce effects on the mind as demonstrated
by years of research on sensory deprivation, as I have
found in my own experimental work (Moyes et al. in press),
and as noted in this volume by O’Connell (p. 135). As
opposed to wide-open landscapes, cave systems, like many
interior spaces, can channel, define, restrict and determine
movement, therefore limiting one’s options. These are all
important factors in understanding contexts, and perhaps
we are remiss by not reporting our own sensory experiences as part of our archaeological inquiries, as suggested
by Hamilakis (2013). Therefore, despite the weaknesses of
Tilley’s phenomenological approach, I do see the value of
the self- reflexive reporting that we find in the chapters by
Whitehouse, Skeates and O’Connell.
The strength of this volume is that, despite the lack of
New World offerings, the reader is provided with interesting anecdotal information as well as examples of how dark
spaces have been conceptualized and used by people in the
present and past. What it does not do is grapple with the
meaning of these papers cumulatively. Yet taken together
we see over and over again that conceptually darkness is
equated with mystery, power, death and disease, and that
dark spaces are used cross-culturally and over time in very
similar ways, usually associated with sacrality. Case studies and personal accounts may be considered a first step
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toward an ‘Archaeology of Darkness’, but to establish ‘darkness’ as a sustainable and fruitful realm of inquiry it will be
necessary to go beyond descriptions, to develop questionoriented studies and to establish methodologies that advance such research. The study of darkness is not a trivial
matter and is potentially the key to understanding a part
of our shared humanity that goes beyond a culturally and
historically situated embodied cognition.
Songo Mnara and Ujiji, as well as other notable projects from
Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and the Comoros. However,
Wynne-Jones’ more significant contribution here, and the
reason this volume should be of interest to archaeologists
beyond the relatively narrow community of specialists in
East Africa, is her demonstration of the powerful insights
that come from developing ‘biographies of practice’ for the
categories of material culture archaeologists encounter, detailing the activities with which ‘objects are entangled and
through which societies are experienced and reimagined’
(p. 10).
In arguing for archaeology’s duty to produce such
biographies of practice, Wynne-Jones engages explicitly
with concepts explored in archaeologies of materiality,
drawing on Peirce’s semiotics (1992; 1998) and notions
of distributed agency (Gell 1998) to develop a dynamic,
practice-centred perspective (pp. 5–10). Importantly, this
perspective is distinguished from approaches to object
agency in material semiotics (Law 2007) through greater
focus on the contexts created through the interactions of
people and objects, hence ‘biographies of practice’ rather
than ‘object biographies’. More generally, her approach also
connects with trends in archaeology (e.g. Roddick & Stahl
2016; Sassaman & Rudolphi 2001) and beyond (for instance,
Ekert 2000 in linguistics) towards studying ‘communities
of practice’ as the relevant social unit. While the focus here
is on objects rather than people, attention to the activities
that bring people and objects together is a crucial shared
component. It prompts a shift from externally defined categories to those employed by the people involved, realized
through their actions and made tangible through these objects. In the context of eastern African archaeology, this shift
entails a move from material-culture traditions defined by
archaeologists used to organize chronologies and document
connections across space, to a contextualized consideration
of what different categories of material culture were used
for and how those practices reveal the structuring principles
of Swahili life.
Having developed this framework for biographies of
practice in the first chapter, Wynne-Jones then applies it to
eastern African archaeology in subsequent chapters, providing an important reinterpretation for Swahili specialists
and a useful case study for those coming to the volume from
further afield. The second chapter provides background to
Swahili archaeology and introduces the different categories
of material culture (e.g. local and imported pottery, glass
and shell beads, architecture, etc.) and scales of analysis
(from stone houses to the entire Western Indian Ocean) that
will be explored. The third chapter considers the archetypal
Swahili stonetown, Kilwa Kisiwani in Tanzania, exploring
the ways in which materials became intertwined with practices that gave meaning to the emerging urban space. As
Kilwa’s inhabitants erected stone buildings in pulses of construction activity—first mosques and tombs, later palaces
and elite housing—they collectively defined an Islamic, urban coastal sphere of activity distinct from mainland populations. These pulses also enabled individual practices of
display (of imported ceramics in public, then in private,
Holley Moyes
University of California, Merced
5200 North Lake Dr., Building A
Merced, CA 95343
Brück, J., 2005. Experiencing the past? The development of a phenomenological archaeology in British prehistory. Archaeological Dialogues 12(1), 45–72.
Faulkner, C.H., 1988. Painters of the ‘Dark Zone’. Archaeology 41(2),
Hamilakis, Y., 2013. Archaeology and the Senses: Human experience,
memory, and affect. New York (NY): Cambridge University
Montello, D. & H. Moyes, 2012. Why dark zones are sacred: turning to behavioral and cognitive science for answers, in Sacred Darkness: A global perspective on the ritual use of caves, ed.
H. Moyes. Boulder (CO): University Press of Colorado, 385–
Moyes, H., L. Rigoli, S. Huette, D. Montello, T. Matlock & M. Spivey,
in press. Darkness and the imagination: the role of environment in the development of spiritual belief, in The Oxford Handbook of Light in Archaeology, eds. Constantinos Pappadopoulos & H. Moyes. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Thomas, J., 2004. Archaeology and Modernity. London: Routledge.
Tilley, C., 1994. A Phenomenology of Landscape: Places, paths and monuments. Oxford: Berg.
Tilley, C., 2004. The Materiality of Stone: Explorations in landscape phenomenology. Oxford: Berg.
A Material Culture: Consumption and materiality on the coast
of precolonial East Africa, by Stephanie Wynne-Jones, 2016.
Oxford: Oxford University Press; ISBN 978-0-19-875931-7
hardback $120; 232 pp., 60 b/w figs, 11 colour plates,
2 tables
Matthew Pawlowicz
With extensive research experience along the East African
Swahili Coast, Stephanie Wynne-Jones is well placed to provide a general synthesis of recent work in the region. Indeed, this volume provides detailed accounts of both the
author’s own work at sites such as Kilwa, Vumba Kuu,
CAJ 27:4, 724–726
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