Post-doc Researcher in Focus

Dr Ashton Simamai and his work on the METAPHOR Project

High res Zimbabwe image

Overlooking an area of Great Zimbabwe

What connects people to places? Is it the monumental heritage or the physical features that they see and touch? Landscape studies, in both archaeology and geography, still grapple with this question of this complex relationship. Ashton Sinamai’s research delves into questions of landscape experiences and how those experiences influence what is valued as important within the cultural landscape. Instead of concentrating on the monumental, it focuses on the stories that are told about the landscape. The research recognises that the landscape is found in every story people tell (–imagined or real) and are usually spun around what was or is important to the community that is narrating them. Like material culture, these stories are equally tools of memory and therefore record people’s experiences in the landscape


The North Yorkshire moors

The research uses narratives (folklore, including folk music) from Great Zimbabwe and the North York Moors to map past landscapes and understand how people connect with their landscape.  It questions the approach that divides cultural heritage into ‘tangible’ and ‘intangible’ and cherry-picks specific places within a landscape, for its failure to recognise the indivisibility of heritage. This approach, which separates the intangible from material heritage, fails to appreciate that memory of the past is not only stimulated by a physical presence, but also by much more intimate forms of heritage experiences that are normally the subject of research in archaeology. The most intimate displays of connections between people and their cultural heritage are usually not visual. It is the embedded stories and folksongs of experiences within the landscape that evoke emotions in cultural landscapes.  The research contends that if the intimate connections of people and place are not just physical, then sustainability of cultural heritage is not achieved through conservation of the material heritage only, but also through the preservation of other expressions of that heritage and other forms of ‘seeing.’ 


Dr Ashton Sinamai is a Marie Curie Research Fellow and Prof. John Schofield (Head of Department) is the principal investigator on the METAPHOR Project