Phenomenology (archaeology)

In archaeology, phenomenology applies to the use of sensory experiences to view and interpret an archaeological site or cultural landscape. It first came to widespread attention among archaeologists with the publication of Christopher Tilley's A Phenomenology of Landscape (1994), in which he suggested it to be a useful technique that can be used to discover more about historical peoples and how they interact with the landscapes in which they live. He argued that, simply by looking at two-dimensional depictions of a landscape, such as on a map, archaeologists fail to understand how peoples living in hunter-gatherer and agricultural societies actually relate to those areas. He believed, therefore, that investigators should enter the very landscape that they are studying, and use their senses of sight, smell, and hearing to learn more about how historical peoples would have interpreted it.

Phenomenology "has provoked considerable discussion within the discipline",[1] receiving considerable criticism from the archaeological community who deem it to be "unscientific" and "subjective".[2] In contrast to this, it has also been supported by a great number of archaeologists and nowadays is often used in fieldwork alongside other, more traditional methods. It has been used particularly in understanding prehistoric sites, such as the Neolithic Tavoliere Plain in Italy,[3] and the Bronze Age landscape on Bodmin Moor, England.[4]


  1. Brück (2005:45)
  2. Hamilton & Whitehouse (2006:31-32)
  3. Hamilton & Whitehouse (2006)
  4. Tilley (1996)
  • Brück, Joanna. 2005. Experiencing the past? The development of a phenomenological archaeology in British prehistory in Archaeological Dialogues #12 (1) 45–72
  • Hamilton, Sue; Whitehouse, Ruth. 2006. Phenomenology in Practice: Towards a methodology for a ‘subjective’ approach in European Journal of Archaeology Vol. 9, 31-71.
  • Tilley, Christopher. 1994. A Phenomenology of Landscape: Places, Paths and Monuments. Oxford: Berg.
  • Tilley, Christopher. 1996. The Power of Rocks: Landscape and Topography on Bodmin Moor in World Archaeology #28, 161-176.
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