The "Placing" of Identity in Nomadic Societies:
Aboriginal Landscapes of the Northwestern Plains of North America
Michael C. Wilson
"Natural landscapes are appropriated, organized, and named by people, whose activities are localized to places and are thus transformed into cultural landscapes. Material culture comprises the continuum in the artifact–feature–site–landscape complex that has so often been viewed as mere residuals of human behaviour. But artifacts possess symbolic content and contexts that can be studied from a semiotic perspective as media of communication, as stimulants and reinforcements of cultural values and behaviour, and as signs of ethnicity.2 Further, a taphonomic perspective studies the temporal trajectories of past material culture: the past context within which an artifact, structure, site, or landscape was created; the contexts within which it functioned and was modified or edited; and the neocultural context within which it functions today.Thus, past landscapes may be reconstructed and interpreted as "heritage landscapes" in which each occupant group has left a definable "heritage footprint" advertising their distinctive presence and identity. These footprints overlap and interact, resulting in a virtual palimpsest of overlapping presences in the landscape...
Until recently, there had been few detailed studies of the cultural landscapes generated by hunting-and-gathering groups such as those of the North American Plains. In part, this is because archaeologists and anthropologists have been obsessed with specific sites as opposed to their "environment," which has been treated as being external to culture. For their part, geographers have been slow to acknowledge the role of aboriginal populations in establishing extensive cultural landscapes. They have been portrayed as inhabiting culturally modified "islands" within a wilderness "sea" or, worse still, as inconsequential actors in the long-term structuring of those landscapes.5 This has been complicated by the fact that, so often, the humanly built structures in hunter-gatherer landscapes are of limited extent and tend to reflect the natural setting rather than being strongly differentiated from it..."