Household Dynamics and Landscape Change ____________________________________________________________________________________

Between 1997 and 1998 while I was writing my dissertation about the Gibbs site I became interested in the idea of tracking landscape change between different households at domestic sites.  The Nicholas Gibbs site was occupied by four generations within the same lineal family, consisting of the father (Nicholas), son (Daniel), grandson (Rufus), and great grandson (John).  Intergenerational landscape change at the Gibbs site was archaeologically visible in the movement of artifact midden over time and the accumulation of material closer to the residence over time.  The movement of outbuildings and expansion episodes to the house were also frequent landscape events at the Gibbs houselot.  Having identified these cultural-historical-archaeological processes at the Gibbs site, I then looked for other examples of landscape change at sites occupied by successive households in the same lineal family.  Comparative examples were not difficult to find, suggesting similar landscape processes were potentially active at sites occupied by multiple generations in the same family or between biologically unrelated households that occupy a site over time.  The results of this study were published in a 2004 Historical Archaeology article.


Artifact distribution map showing midden shift between successive households at the Gibbs site.



Floor plan of the Gibbs house showing room additions over time.


Midden shift between the George and George W. Bush households at Bush Hill Plantation.



Groover, Mark D.  2004    Household Succession as a Catalyst of Landscape Change.  Historical Archaeology 38(4):25-43.



Most residences investigated by historical archaeologists were occupied by several households.  Consequently, the domestic landscape is a dynamic context that often reflects the occupational history of a former dwelling or houselot.  Interestingly, major site events and landscape changes typically coincide with important junctures in the life history of households.  Household succession, in which different residents occupy a dwelling, appears to be a significant transition that influences the domestic landscape.  Shortly after inhabiting a residence, new occupants may expand a dwelling, move or raze extant outbuildings, alter fence lines, and change the location of refuse disposal areas.  In turn, during excavation historical archaeologists are often confronted with a challenging array of features, deposits, and landscape modifications.  In this paper, the influence of household succession upon landscape change is explored through consideration of several sites that collectively were occupied between the 17th and 20th centuries.  The study sites suggest that household succession is an important catalyst of landscape change.


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