Archaeology, Economy, and Society: England from the Fifth to the Fifteenth Century

Archaeology, Economy, and Society: England from the Fifth to the Fifteenth Century

Archaeology, Economy, and Society: England from the Fifth to the Fifteenth Century

Archaeology, Economy, and Society: England from the Fifth to the Fifteenth Century

Synopsis

Many books have been written on particular aspects of medieval archaeology, or on particular parts of the period, but synthesis across the whole spectrum has not been attempted before. The aim of this book is to examine the contribution that archaeology can make to an understanding of the social, economic, religious and other developments that took place in England from the migrations of the fifth and sixth centuries to the beginning of the Renaissance, showing how society and economy evolved in that time-span.Drawing on the latest available material, the book takes a chronological approach to the archaeological material of the post-Roman period in order to emphasize the changes that can be observed in the physical evidence and some of the reasons for them that can be suggested. The environment in which people functioned and how they expressed themselves - for example in their houses and burial practices, their pottery and their clothes - show how they were constrained by social customs and economic pressures.

Excerpt

The purpose of this book is to examine the contribution that archaeology can make to an understanding of the social, economic, religious and other developments that took place in England from the Migration period to the beginning of the Renaissance. It does not provide detailed descriptions of archaeological material which are available elsewhere, but takes a chronological approach in order to emphasize the changes that can be observed in the physical evidence and some of the reasons for them that can be suggested.

The difficulty of setting some of the archaeological material into a very precise time-scale or ascribing it to particular people means that it is usually general trends rather than exact moments in time and the deeds of particular individuals that become apparent through physical change. This is not therefore a book to please current government thinking, which promotes the view that history should be about great people and great events—provided of course that the great people were British and the great events British victories. History, however, should seek to explain the processes which shaped past societies and caused individuals to behave as they did. Archaeology can reveal the physical environment in which people functioned and how they expressed themselves through it—in their cooking-pots, houses, quern-stones or burial practices. There are occasional names of individuals in this book, because their ambitions affected other people, and they were themselves constrained by social customs and economic pressures. But castles and palaces are not more important than peasants’ tofts and crofts: all are symbolic of the behaviour patterns and aspirations of different social classes.

The scope of the book is severely limited geographically to present-day England (with two exceptions: Hen Domen, for instance, is too important not to mention). Other areas settled by English people or ruled by English kings, whether briefly or not, have been excluded. This insularity is not desirable, merely practical, as the book had to have some limits of time and space. For similar reasons, many possible discussion topics have had to be curtailed. Indeed, I should like to think that inside this rather thin book there is a fat one wildly signalling to be let out.

Another purpose of the book is to try to show how new archaeological data, usually recovered in ‘rescue’ excavations, stimulate discussion and provide material for fresh interpretations. On occasions an already established hypothesis has been demonstrated by reference to a newly published site, to show that new evidence can also serve to bear out contentions originally based . . .

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