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Regional Survey in China

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Regional Survey in Archaeology
Small village in coastal Shandong Province, China

Small village in coastal Shandong Province, China

(c) Linda Nicholas

Not every archaeological study is focused on a particular site: in fact, much of modern archaeological research involves understanding how a site or set of sites interact, how the people lived in their landscapes. Part of that type of research is regional survey. This photo essay combines an introduction to this interesting subject and an interview with Gary Feinman, long-time practitioner of the art and science of regional survey, focusing on the strategies used by Feinman and Linda Nicholas, who over the past 30 years have conducted regional survey from Mexico to China.

The introduction to this essay was written jointly by Kris Hirst, Gary Feinman and Linda Nicholas.

What is Regional Survey?

Regional survey, to an archaeologist, involves inspecting large tracts of land for traces of past behaviors that are visible on or near the ground surface. It is the most effective way for archaeologists to gain a perspective on the past that extends beyond single archaeological sites. As today, people in the past lived in communities, went to market, buried their dead, visited their neighbors, and farmed their fields. These types of behaviors leave material residues and remains that provide archaeological evidence of these activities.

Regional survey also can give the archaeologist an idea of how people used land and other resources. In what settings were their villages built--near woods for the timber, near water for power or irrigation, on hills for security? Where were the farmsteads, where were the forts, where were the sacred places? How did the people use the available farmland, was the land modified, were there public roads or avenues of communication?

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