Rediscovering Ancient Landscape Rules

My current project on the siting of Bronze Age sacrificial sites aims to rediscover some of the the period’s landscape rules. In other words, I’m building an heuristic model which might allow archaeologists to search actively for such sites instead of waiting for farmers and drainage workers to find them by chance. I was encouraged to read the following in David Yates’ and Richard Bradley’s paper “The siting of metalwork hoards in the Bronze Age of south-east England” (Antiquaries Journal 90, 2010).

“For some time it has been obvious that metal detectorists have been extraordinarily fortunate in locating previously unrecorded hoards. The same people have found them on a number of different occasions. Discussions with the finders have made it clear that this did not happen by chance. Long before prehistorians had realized that the siting of hoards might follow topographic ‘rules’, metal detectorists had reached the same conclusion. Their ability to make new finds is the clearest indication of the usefulness of taking a fresh approach to this material.” (p. 30)

It’s a good paper. Drop me a line.


  1. #1 Lassi Hippeläinen
    December 21, 2011

    You mean you are adopting the same strategy that was used by the Norwegian expedition to Galapagos Islands in 1952? The expedition lead by that charlatan, Thor Heyerdahl…

  2. #2 Martin R
    December 21, 2011

    The Heyerdahl / Kon Tiki method would in my project’s case entail me sacrificing objects at selected spots to prove that it was possible to sacrifice objects there. I don’t know what he did in the Galapagos in 1952.

    The reason that the detectorists are relevant here is that they have devised a method to find previously unknown Bronze Age sacrificial sites.

  3. #3 Tom Willbanks
    December 21, 2011

    I am an amateur from SW Colorado. We noticed many years ago that the native americans in this area always had some kind of habitation between the ‘Y’ of two converging streams that run all year around, almost without exception.

  4. #4 Martin R
    December 21, 2011

    Interesting! Is there a chronological pattern to the sites? Are the folks of certain periods more interested in the stream-fork locations and those of other periods less interested?

  5. #5 Hartley Bloomfield
    December 21, 2011

    In the northwest section of Colorado archaeologists assign
    the culture to the topographical location. The Fremont (about the same age as the Anasazi) in the valleys, with storage sites on the valley slopes; while the Ute culture is on the ridges. Here in Southwest Colorado the sites are similar. The rock art for all the cultures appears to be similar in location, with sites either along major trails, or in isolated or hidden rims. The latter may be shamanistic. Have a good holiday and many thanks for your blog. Hartley

  6. #6 Thomas Ivarsson
    December 21, 2011

    While talking about Bronze Age here is an interesing redating of Bronze Age Canoe:

  7. #7 Jakob
    December 21, 2011

    It’s an interesting subject for sure but always with the danger of creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Detectorists in particular will look where think there’s something to find and – surprise, surprise – only find stuff where they look. I have no study to prove it but I think Danish detector finds are clustered around medieval churches. The reason would be that it’s “common knowledge” that you have good chance of making good finds there so people spend a lot of time close to the churches. Doesn’t mean there is nothing to be found in between.

    That said, your project made me think of a quite similar topic that Mogens Bo Henriksen from the museum in Odense have written about, the context of gold finds from Late Roman Iron Age and the Migration Period: (download available).

    And an even more recent publication from a seminar on “Depotfund i yngre bronzealders lokale kulturlandskab” at the museum in Viborg: (at top).

    Who knows, perhaps there’s something there you would find interesting or useful.

  8. #8 Martin R
    December 21, 2011

    Bronze Age hoards are pretty rare, so the detectorists are unlikely to create much artificial clustering by bypassing certain kinds of terrain.

    Here’s my review of the Depotfund book. Actually, I just bought an air ticket today for the 8 March follow-up seminar about Bronze Age burial at the museum of Viborg.

  9. #9 Ulla rajala
    December 22, 2011

    Your model sounds like a GIS research strategy, but it is a sensible one. The ritual sites just may be quite rare unless you define different types quite strictly. Hoard sites on the other hand (you seem to suggest you are interested in these) are a sensible target and there should be quite a lot of material available. Detectiorists however look systematically for things and they have at least in Britain an economic interest to do so! The location of treasures is an interested matter, as I suggested just last week in my blog at

  10. #10 Lassi Hippeläinen
    December 22, 2011

    “I don’t know what he did in the Galapagos in 1952.”

    He looked at a map and chose four locations where to look for signs of human visitors. He found those signs in all of them. Pre-incan. The story is somewhere in Aku-aku, I think. I borrowed the book from a library in my early teens, when I was fond of adventure books (which I still am), and the idea of working smart in stead of hard left a permanent impression in my easily malleable young boy’s mind.

    Heyerdahl would have been a great scifi/fantasy writer, if he hadn’t actually been on location all the time.

  11. #11 Birger Johansson
    December 22, 2011

    Is there any chance that the landscape rules may have been passed on since paleolithic times, like the shamanistic belief structure? If so, there may be some similarities across both continents.
    — — — — —
    (OT) Martin, this book provides a skeptic take on the research by Sigmund Freud, and the conclusions he made:
    “Why psychoanalysis never existed!”

    …And here is a claim of a better-than-reciprocating engine that may actually stand up to scrutiny!
    “Shock wave puts hybrid engines in a spin”
    Feel free to identify flaws in the design. These things always make me suspicious.

  12. #12 Birger Johansson
    December 23, 2011

    Other Bronze-age info:
    Remarkable preservation: The Bronze Age – now in 3D
    Earliest Neolithic craftmanship:
    Oldest obsidian bracelet reveals amazing craftsmen’s skills in the eighth millennium BC

  13. #13 Martin R
    December 23, 2011

    I don’t see any evidence that a shamanistic belief structure has been passed down since the Stone Age.

    In Scandyland, people start depositing valuables in lakes/bogs in the Late Mesolithic.

    Freud was discredited decades ago. He never cured anybody and fabricated his case reports. Freudianism is complete speculation.

  14. #14 Nomen Nescio
    December 23, 2011

    internal combustion engines based on rotors of various forms aren’t a new concept; the Wankel engine is only the best known because it’s the closest to being successful. all such designs tend to have problems with sealing and lubrication, and i don’t expect this one will be any exception.

  15. #15 Nomen Nescio
    December 26, 2011

    i’ve looked a bit deeper into that rotary engine Birger linked to (the “wave disk” engine) and it’s at least possible i may have to eat my words. it’s nothing much like a Wankel at all, in fact it seems more similar to a turbine, and it’s at least possible it might not have the Wankel’s sealing issues — or not as badly.

    i suspect its major weaknesses may turn out to be similar to those of a turbine, in fact — limited applications, narrow range of applicability. it’ll have both a clear maximum RPM and a practical minimum RPM, and the range in between them may turn out to be inconveniently narrow. still, as a driver for electrical generators it may find a niche, if it can be made to work. as a powerplant for non-electric or non-hybrid automobiles it may not be useful, though.

  16. #16 Birger Johansson
    December 27, 2011

    A bit off-topic, but still bronze age:

    “Geologists pinpoint near exact source of some of Stonehenge’s stones”

  17. #17 Sarvi
    December 28, 2011

    Not bronze age, but I do know that amateur archaeologists interested in the stone age, who usually search large tracts of plowed land for surface findings, quite quickly get a “feel” for likely spots, though they’re mostly looking for settlement sites and not deposits/hoards.

  18. #18 Jonathan Jarrett
    December 29, 2011

    There is something to be done with this exploration of detectorists’ methodologies. When I was still in museum work we definitely did notice that some people who brought stuff in were often finding exciting things whereas others hardly ever did. We had a lot of first finders and some veterans but not many in between. I guess that to an extent that’s selection: we heard most of all from non-collectors or people whose collections were already full, and we didn’t hear from those who were detecting for sale at all unless they wanted a valuation which we couldn’t give them. But, the successful guys obviously knew something about where to look (unless they were buying or swapping stuff with the others and then pretending to have found it): it would be interesting to work out what…

  19. #19 Jakob
    December 29, 2011

    Regarding settlements and graves Bo Ejstrud wrote his phD thesis on indicative models based on danish material a decade ago: (all but the summary in danish). A short version of the results in english:

  20. #20 kevin
    January 22, 2012

    Would love to see a preview of the landscape rules you’re developing. Do they extend beyond lakes and bogs?

    I’ve wondered whether the common lake and bog finds in Scandinavia are simply due to those locations’ relative immunity to later pilfering, or to second thoughts by the sacrificer. Whether or not water featured symbolically in their sacrifices, it’s a good place to get rid of something for good.

  21. #21 Martin R
    January 23, 2012

    I’ve been looking at the relationship between the sacrificial sites and settlements, rock art and the sea shore. The attract each other, though they don’t exactly hug each other.

    Bronze Age sacrifice in wet spots is ubiquitous across Northern Europe.

New comments have been temporarily disabled. Please check back soon.