Relationships to landscape and place are also being investigated through experiential analysis. Experiential approaches refer here to research undertaken in the field recording the landscape experience of embodied participants. The rationale behind this is that knowledge of landscapes, either past or present, is embodied. That is, it is gained through human experience and engagement with the landscape. Consequently, archaeologists cannot understand how people in the past understood and related to their landscape and environment simply by looking at two-dimensional depictions of a landscape, such as on a map. Instead, we must enter the landscape we are studying, using our senses of sight, smell and hearing to learn more about the way in which people in the past would have understood and interpreted it. This method of studying landscape has attracted considerable debate and criticism within wider archaeological circles. However, we believe it is a perspective that will add to and enrich our understanding of the past landscapes, monuments and structures that we seek to study, complementing the knowledge gained from more conventional landscape archaeologies.
However, applying experiential approaches to the sites at Lochbrow is far from straightforward. This is because all the sites we are studying are cropmark sites, meaning that there are no above-ground remains with which to engage and experience. Additionally, the landscape has altered considerably since the prehistoric past. Today the Lochbrow landscape is one of modern fields and farmland (set out in the late 19th century), subdivided into rectilinear fields by fences and walls, with movement choreographed along modern roads and tracks. When the cursus and timber circles were built, none of this would have existed. The landscape would have been predominantly wooded, probably with scattered clearings and openings in the woodland canopy, and the river is likely to have formed an important means of movement. This means that it is important to gain an understanding of landscape change, and use it to inform and enrich our experiential approaches, something which the project also aims to do.
Therefore, despite these challenges, experiential approaches will form an important part of the Lochbrow Landscape Project, and we are developing a methodology that will help us to better understand the prehistoric landscapes here and the engagement of past societies with their topography and environment.