From the Bottom Up: Hilltop Use and Significance in Antiquity

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 81st Annual Meeting, Orlando, FL (2016)

Archaeologists have interpreted hilltop sites as spaces serving heterogeneous purposes, ranging from functional explanations as defensive outposts to symbolic interpretations as ceremonial places. In this session, we seek to move beyond such a dichotomy to understand how hilltop settlements, fortifications, shrines, or pilgrimage areas, were integrated into the larger political system, recognizing that the exercising of political authority often relies more on ideology than force to establish security. The prominence of these high points in the landscape, along with the resulting viewsheds they offered, shaped people's understanding of the landscape. Hilltops, therefore, can be interpreted as a crucial locale to a central authority with the intent to control the landscape, as well as a source of power to people attempting to flee a state’s influence. If such environments can be at different times peripheral or central to the political and religious agenda of a state authority, archaeologists can track changes in socio-political processes by examining settlement histories at these elevated spaces. Do hilltops indeed represent a refuge from state authority, and if so what cultural processes drive people to seek out such areas? Alternatively, are hilltops crucial to state control of the landscape and integrated into surrounding settlement structure?