Populating Coastal Landscapes

International conference Sept. 25th-27th 2018 in Alta, Northern Norway

All participants at the conference outside Alta Museum Foto: xxx


Coastal foraging communities have long been argued to form a distinctive group within hunter-gatherers in general. It is well known that marine resources are often plentiful and stable, allowing for more sedentary settlement patterns, while at the same time long distance mobility and transport is supported by the use of boats, enabling groups to operate over large areas from relatively fixed bases. Archaeologically this is manifested in many circumpolar regions through clusters of pit houses or similar types of dwellings.

With prehistoric demography now back on the research agenda, the circumpolar region and its diverse kinds of datasets hold significant potential for investigating the background for and consequences of  demographic patterns in coastal foraging communities. Specifically, we would like to explore the dynamics between demographic structure, environmental factors and socio-cultural or economic strategies. Key issues in this debate include the following:

  • Did population levels and settlement distributions fluctuate over time, and why?
  • To what extent did settlement organisation and population size changes correlate with environmental variations?
  • How was the population distributed across the landscape, and what were the implications?
  • What are the dynamics between population size and distribution and the innovation, maintenance and spread of technological innovation?
  • How are knowledge and practices (of landscape, technology and socio-cultural activities) transmitted in such small scale coastal societies?
  • What is the role of ritual sites, and can we observe any correlation in their distribution with mobility patterns or economic and technological networking?
  • To what extent can we identify resilience in small scale coastal foraging populations?

While acknowledging the diversity in the circumpolar region, we also recognise comparable methodological and interpretative challenges presented by coastal or riverine sites across the Arctic and Subarctic. This conference aims to discuss approaches related to methods and interpretations concerning demographic patterns in coastal foraging groups. In particular, we wish to explore how the processes of populating the landscape were impacted by topography, resource variability, climatic fluctuations, settlement structures, communication across landscapes and seascapes, as well as social and technological developments.

The conference springs from the project «Stone Age Demographics», investigating the dynamics between prehistoric coastal populations in northern Norway and the landscapes they inhabited. The intention is to explore how archaeologists can “populate” coastal landscapes in different ways, using a variety of data sets. The “Stone Age Demographics” project, for example, employs SPD-analysis of 14C dates to evaluate long term demographic fluctuations and Bayesian chronologies to discuss contemporaneity of dwellings at each site. Other potential approaches include quantitative and topographical studies of dwellings across wider regions to study demographic clustering and the implications for mobility, and lithic studies for information on the intensity of interaction. Other fundamental demographic parameters that could be addressed include relative and absolute population size, annual mobility patterns and detection of travel routes, and investigations of the role of social and ritual practices in binding people and landscapes together.

We invite papers from predominantly northern regions, but papers on more general methodological and theoretical issue are also welcome. The number of papers will be limited to allow for discussions in plenum and during breaks.