The Grammar of the Archaeological Record

22 Principles of typology of the built environment

1. An introduction

Giorgio Buccellati – November 2006

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2.1.1: The built environment

The term “built environment” refers to the complex of spaces and volumes created by, and lived in, by a human community. It is an organic cluster, that implies both contemporaneity of use and some unifying perceptual point of view.

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22.1.2: The architectural dimension

The built environment is essentially framed by architectural elements. But this frame is quite loose at times. Thus, open spaces may be bounded irregularly and haphazardly by specific structures, or the structure may consist of elements which are not typically associated with architecture, as with a well beaten dirt road in the open countryside. Also, non-structural deposits may be part of the built environment to the extent that they are in turn defined by structural elements (such as wind-blown sand or dust in an open space or even in a closed space that was not properly sealed).

It is for these reasons that a typology of architecture, within an archaeological context, must of necessity look beyond architecture – i.e., precisely, at the built environment.

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22.1.3: Degrees of specificity

In an archaeological context, constrained as it is by vast structural damages and by the overriding fact that we deal with a broken tradition, it is at times difficult to reach satisfactory levels of specificity. A space defined by two extant walls, with two additional walls plausibly presupposed even if missing, leads us to reconstruct an enclosure bounded by four walls. This may be defined as a room (rather than as a courtyard if there is evidence, inter alia, for it having been roofed), further as a kitchen (given, for instance, the presence of ovens and food storage).

In the primary definitions used within the Urkesh Global Record, only two generic categories are used, features and aggregates. As the exposure widens and more information becomes available for the analysis, more specific labels can be introduced.

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22.1.4: The archaeological context

In an archaeological context it may be difficult to define such an organic entity as a room, because of uncertainties as to stratigraphic sequencing of structural elements, partial exposure during the excavations, and substantial ancient damages to the integrity of the system.

At Tell Mozan we have an uncommon opportunity in this respect, for one can observe a remarkable coherence in each of the three points just raised:

  1. The stratigraphic sequence is well understood over the entire span of the monumental urban complex (at least 200m wide), and there is a high incidence of contemporaneity of the various sectors, even when the function of some changes.
  2. The exposure is quite substantial.
  3. No damage at all has occurred in the Temple complex.

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22.1.5: Overview

1. Criteria and definitions. – While common sense categories are applicable to most of the data, it is useful to offer specific guidelines on how to identify and label the components of the built environment.

2. Elements and complexes. – The system consists essentially of two categories. The elements are primary building blocks that have a structural coherence but do not, in and of themselves, serve an identifiable functional purpose, as different from structural: the structural purpose of a wall may be to bound spaces and support another element (such as a roof), but if found in isolation we would have no clue as to its proper function. The complexes, on the other hand, are arrays or clusters of constituents. They may be seen to have a functional purpose to the extent that they are sufficiently coherent to be understood in their use of space.

3. Units. – Units are elements or complexes with special structural and functional characteristics. One may distinguish four types: structures, use areas, installations and loose materials.

4. Corollaries – The built environment as we know it from an archaeological context reflects a wide range of elements, which, however obscured by the vicissitudes of damages and adaptations, must be viewed as an organic unit at any given moment in time. Function is the major unifying factor, and the criteria for a proper functional analysis must be spelled out. – Perception as a unifying point of view is a second important factor for any analysis that aims at making sense of such intersecting and often disaggregated wholes as we find in the excavations. – The relationship to stratigraphy is also briefly described.

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