Historic Landscape Characterisation: Kobarid, Staro Selo, Drežnica, Ladra.

© Benjamin Štular
Institute of Archaeology, Scientific Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts
© Shane Keller,
Birmingham Archaeology, University of Birmingham

Map 1 | Map 2 | Map 3

Landscape assessment in the UK, in its modern sense, has its origins in the late 1980s, following previously unsuccessful attempts to produce objective, quantified methods. In particular, the attempts in the 1970s were focused on landscape value. Also, they claimed to be an entirely objective process, compared value of one landscape with another and claimed to rely on quantitative measurement of landscape elements. However, on a broader scale the nascent of the method can be recognised as early as the 1940s and 1950s with the creation of the first UK protected areas, known as National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Delving back further into the past, there is a long English tradition of landscape assessment based on the aesthetic values of landscape. A salient example of this was William Stukeley’s work around Stonehenge in the early 18th-century where he attempted to explore the wider relationship between the monuments in that area and placing them within their landscape context.

During the 1990s, there was an increased interest in characterisation, a term used to denote a broad and generalised understanding and appreciation of the overall character and significance of the environment or heritage of an area, preferably at landscape scale. Characterisation tries to take into account multiple ways of valuing, in order to help manage change. Principally, HLC adopts the idea that landscape is not quite the same as environment. In this sense, there is a need for archaeological and historical understanding of past environments which transcend a mere description of the physical traces of the past. What is also important is the particularly cultural essence of the landscape. It is a product of hundreds, or sometimes thousands, of years of cultural action; at the same time the landscape is cultural because it is created only in the present-day and is an intellectual construct of the present day. These ideas have been brought together, focussed and built upon in the European Landscape Convention.

The HLC methodology is an example of transplanting these ideas into everyday practice of landscape protection. As a starting point it borrowed many methods and ideologies from current practices and ideas in mainstream landscape assessment. This was a conscious and deliberate borrowing in order to create a common language that would be readily understandable to non-archaeologists, and in particular to planners and landscape architects.

The approach is based on an archaeologist’s view of landscape, both as material culture and the ‘supreme human artefact’. Therefore, HLC treats landscape as a perception of environment. It is focussed on:

HLC in general aims to identify, describe and map the main historic influences which have formed and defined the present day landscape and provide tools which are readily understandable by the non-specialist and useable in a variety of land management contexts. The principal products of an HLC exercise are typically a series of GIS- based data sets and a supporting report which details, describes and analyses the results. The overall product helps to develop tools for practical input into landscape management decisions at a local level including, if appropriate, further supplementary planning guidance. The overall outcome should be a heightened understanding and appreciation of the historic landscape across the community and in all aspects of planning and land management.

HLCs differ in important ways from traditional methods for describing the historic resource such as inventories of archaeological sites. However, like them, HLC can be used to inform both landscape management and research. The potential uses of HLC are numerous:

Most importantly, HLC as a part of a wider interdisciplinary landscape study contributes an archaeologist’s perspective (only part of landscape) to be combined with other disciplines’ perceptions, such as those of landscape ecologists, geographers, landscape architects, historians or anthropologist. Also, it considers the non-expert perceptions, often through community consultations, that make landscape such a powerful common heritage.

The understanding gained from HLC analysis can be used in many different ways. Most simply, it can add knowledge of landscape to traditional environmental records in order to assist with informed decision-making. It can also be used to identify weaknesses in existing knowledge, to define future research needs, or as a benchmark against which to measure change in the landscape and change in our knowledge and perception of it. HLC also offers closer links to public awareness. The landscape is often more emotionally and intellectually accessible to the public than other types of natural or cultural heritage. Landscape (not ecology or archaeology) is usually what people see, imagine or understand when they contemplate the environment.1

However, introducing HLC to a completely new environment - in this case Slovenia - takes more than just transplanting the methodology. The maps, presented here, are just the first stage. The whole process of transplanting the idea of HLC into a new environment is based on several steps:

Presented here is a case study that was used to implement the first three steps. The larger part of the task, the final two steps, lay ahead.


1 Based on article: Kelleher, Shane and Benjamin Štular: Urban Historic Landscape Characterisation in Practice: Oldbury Town Centre Case study / Historični značaj urbane krajine v praksi: primer zgodovinskega središča mesta Oldbury. - Arheo 2009 (26), Ljubljana, in press (http://www.arheologija.si/revija.htm). The full bibliography is available in the article.

Maps | Description of the Categories | Top