Frame 6a. Urbanism in Northern Europe, Eurasia and beyond

(Aim 4)

Participants: Prof. Neil Price, Prof. Stefan Brink, Prof. Kevin Edwards, Dr Karen Milek, Dr Peter Jordan (all University of Aberdeen).

Study Field: This project reviews the world-views behind three key spheres of urban development at the Old World frontier, looking at northern Europe, Eurasia and the colonial encounter on the eastern seaboard of North America. In cultural terms, our focus lies with the Vikings and the Celtic kingdoms with which they interacted, the hunter-gatherers of Western Siberia and the Powhatan confederation of Virginia. Through a chronological arc of case studies, we wish to understand what cognitive processes stimulated, promoted or inhibited the urban mind at the Old World periphery, and what happened when these mental landscapes were confronted with those of the New World. a) The start of Scandinavian expansion coincided with the regeneration of urban centres within the former Roman territories of north-western Europe and the establishment of new proto-urban trading communities. These early towns can be examined against the very differing mental landscapes of the northern cultures, and within an environmental context. Crucially, this process did not extend to the North Atlantic region - in sharp contrast to the rest of the Viking world, despite the Scandinavian influence. The rejection of the urban impulse here is a key factor in the study of sustainable settlement. (b). Hunter-fisher-gatherers tend to be viewed as highly-mobile band societies. Their egalitarian ideology is often presented as an antithesis of mentalities found amongst settled, urban-based agricultural societies. This view is too simplistic and we point to centres in the forest zone of Western Asia where populations dependant on hunting and fishing constructed heavily fortified settlements from 1000 BCE. By the medieval period we find local elites occupying a chain of defended political centres with town-like characteristics, linked to the Eurasian fur trade.(c). At the other end of the medieval European urban trajectory lies the mercantile expansion 16th and 17th century. English settlers arriving in Virginia encountered sophisticated tribal federations living in large defended settlements. While archaeologists are accustomed to studying these sites through models of village life, we argue that a more fruitful approach is to examine them through the urban sensibilities of the colonists. Significantly, the Europeans not only had no hesitation in calling the indigenous centres ‘townes’, they also believed that their perception corresponded with that of the inhabitants.

Activities: Survey of archaeological, historical, anthropological, ethnographic and palaeo­environmental data for the study area, outlining the state of current research and including detailed designs for a future research programme.

Deliverables: Three case studies in the mental landscapes of emerging urbanism, from neglected areas of study with great potential for the exploration of Aim 4.

Future perspectives: It is envisaged that the above research programme can be expanded to cover a number of longer postdoctoral projects for each area of study.