Theoretically our project is grounded in so called “symmetrical archaeology” (Olsen 2003, 2006, 2010, Shanks 2007, Witmore 2007), an approach proposing a more equal distribution of power and influence among humans and non-humans than what most social and cultural theories allow for. This will be used as an interpretative framework in relation to three central and closely related phenomena of concern: landscape, material culture and animals:
- Landscape: central to our approach is that landscapes and places are not just cultural constructs but are real entities that have inherent qualities that seriously affect the way we live, think and act. A key concept here is the notion of “affordance” derived from James Gibson “ecological psychology” (1986). The “affordances” of a landscape are what it offers to people or animals, a repertoire of possibilities of action that varies according to the specific characteristics of that landscape.
- Material culture: a symmetrical approach assigns things a collaborative and constitutive role in social formation and change (Latour 2005, Olsen 2010). In other words, the hearths at the sites in question should not be conceived as mere expressions of household and communities but as integral parts of these composite and collective entities. As such they may also have acted “socially”, for example, in mediating tensions between equality and difference, stability and transition (Hedman and Olsen 2009).
- Animals: Opposing the view that the transition from hunting to herding involves a change from “trust to domination” (Ingold 1980, 2000), our approach brings to attention the intimate knowledge, care and man-animal reciprocity that reindeer herding involves (Oskal 1995, Roturir and Roué 2009). Neither should this transition be subjugated to the either-or logic of prevailing socioeconomic taxonomies, but allow for more flexible and hybrid options, i.e. that those who tented at the hearth row sites were both reindeer hunters and herders.