Potential of geoarchaeology to contribute to biographical approaches to urban sites

Karen Beatrice Milek

Research output: Contribution to conferenceUnpublished paper


The understanding of early European urbanism and its effects on different social groups can only emerge from an acknowledgement that each town developed within its own physical and social environment, in a unique historical and economic context, and in a historically contingent network of cultural entanglements. The distinctiveness of each town’s developmental context, subsequent trajectory, and social and material impacts, means that generalisations about early European urbanism will be difficult to formulate, and that research should in the first instance be focussed on the individual biographies of urban sites. Yet the excavation, analysis and interpretation of complex and often highly disturbed urban stratigraphy poses an immense challenge to archaeologists. To understand the full biography of urban sites, it is necessary to seek evidence for the pre-site environment, whether any alterations were made to the site to prepare it for settlement, and whether the development of the site included phases of periodic or seasonal occupation, or activities typically associated with rural contexts. We also need to excavate and analyse sites in a way that enables us to determine whether there were distinct functional areas within the town, the nature of the spatial relationships between craft production/industrial activities and domestic activities associated with daily living, and the degree to which there was a distinctively ‘urban’ daily life experienced by the inhabitants of the town, which might have engendered mentalities and world views distinct from their rural neighbours. Finally, we also need to use methods that enable us to understand the final phases of the town site, and how its material remains have been altered by post-depositional processes. Geoarchaeological methods, when integrated well into an archaeological research design, have the potential to contribute information to each of these aspects of a town’s biography. Soil micromorphology in particular has been tried and tested on both rural and urban settlement sites as a means of providing high-resolution data about site stratigraphy, and the composition, origins, and post-depositional alteration of different on-site contexts, which would otherwise be difficult to infer. Using the micromorphological analysis of soil and sediment from the Viking Age town of Kaupang, Norway, as a case study, this talk will discuss how the high-definition data generated by this geoarchaeological approach can make important contributions to the understanding of the biographies of urban sites.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2016
EventInvited paper presented at ‘Biographies of Place': 1st Conceptual Conference of the Centre for Urban Network Evolutions - University of Aarhus, Aarhus, Denmark
Duration: 18 Jan 201620 Jan 2016


ConferenceInvited paper presented at ‘Biographies of Place'
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