Negotiating the landscape: Prehistoric and early medieval movement in a landscape of esker and bog
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The aim of this thesis is to understand movement and the evolution of routeways. The role of the individual and their decision-making process is discussed as a fundamental factor in the origins of paths and routeways. This process begins with the process of landscape learning, cognitive mapping and wayfinding, and is augmented over time with sharing of knowledge, monument building, technological advances, and the control and appropriation of road systems by elite members of society. In order to adequately discuss this evolution, this thesis involves a diachronic study of movement, beginning with landscape learning and practice of movement in the Mesolithic period. The changes and developments of the Neolithic period, Bronze Age and Iron Age are discussed, culminating in the development of road systems in the Early Medieval period. This topic is explored with a study of North Offaly in the Irish Midlands. It is a complex landscape of wetlands, esker ridges, rivers, dryland, and formerly vast woodland which provides several impediments to movement, as well as a number of natural routeways. The different scales of movement which would have been practiced are evident in this landscape, with a network of wetland trackways facilitating local movement, while natural routeways allow inter-regional movement. The evolution of these paths and routeways are discussed over the longue durée, demonstrating the continuity of movement, as well as occasions in which routeways became obsolete in response to major changes in settlement, social structures or technology. The decision-making process is also considered with the use of digital methodologies. Least Cost Paths and Agent-Based Modelling are used in this research to explore the variables involved as people navigate the landscape and negotiate obstacles. These paths are compared to the archaeological evidence to demonstrate how seemingly elegant structures can arise out of the cumulative behaviours of individual agents.
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