Early Anglo-Saxon Research Agenda

E-Sax 01: How best can we synthesise what we already know about the Early Anglo-Saxon period?

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The fundamental research priority for this period is to review and revise existing knowledge. This is a prerequisite for detailed assessment of any of the topics listed below. It requires assimilation and critique of existing published sources, summary and synthesis of the evidence recorded in grey literature, and analysis of the distribution of artefacts recorded by the PAS or recovered by fieldwork. Full publication is not a practical aim for all or even most excavated sites, but dissemination of information should be. Securing funding for public benefit via display and promotion is a continuing requirement. Recent published research has addressed many relevant issues (eg Blair 2018, Hines Bayliss 2013, Hills and Lucy 2013, McKerracher 2018, Rippon et al 2015, Wright 2015). These works drew on unpublished as well as published material but focussed on the better recorded and more substantial sites. Their conclusions should be tested against the detailed picture which would emerge from “bottom up” synthesis of the data.

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EARLY MEDIEVAL

E-Sax 02: What impact did the Late Antique Little Ice Age have on the region?

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An important issue which has not until recently been considered in the UK is the ‘Late Antique Little Ice Age’ in the 5th to 7th centuries AD, for which there is increasing environmental evidence. What was the impact of this climatic event on human health, economy, and the relationship between wild and domestic species of plants and animals?

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EARLY MEDIEVAL

E-Sax 03: What happened in the fifth century?

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The fifth century is less empty than it once seemed, as a result of the recognition of later Roman and earlier Anglo-Saxon activity in that century. However, it is still difficult to establish overlap. It is possible that some of the many Roman rural sites mapped by the NMP could have continued into the Anglo-Saxon period, but demonstrating this requires better chronological control. Extensively excavated sites such as Mucking (Evans and Lucy 2016) show how this can be argued, but also that the function of any one site can change over time, within and between major periods.

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EARLY MEDIEVAL

E-Sax 04: How are we to date and characterise fifth-century sites and material?

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A fundamental problem is the recognition of 5th-century activity when it does not include ‘typical’ structures such as SFBs or halls or easily dateable artefactual evidence. Many sites have little or no ceramic evidence or pottery only broadly dateable as early/mid Anglo-Saxon. Research on pottery and artefacts has begun to define a “latest Roman” horizon which is also detected in analysis of Anglo-Saxon farming (McKerracher 2018).

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EARLY MEDIEVAL, AGRICULTURE AND SUBSISTENCE, AGRICULTURE AND SUBSISTENCE, HALL HOUSE, GRUBENHAUS

E-Sax 05: How best can we synthesise what we already know about Early Anglo-Saxon settlements?

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A review of the grey literature and published reports on excavation, fieldwork and other kinds of survey is a prerequisite for any further research. The Roman rural settlement project provides a model for this study.

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SETTLEMENT, EARLY MEDIEVAL

E-Sax 06: How can we achieve greater chronological resolution of the Early Anglo-Saxon period?

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Greater chronological resolution is essential: this requires targeted radiocarbon dating, combined with stratigraphic and typological analysis, as has been partially achieved for cemeteries. This includes resolving current problems in distinguishing between Iron Age, Early Saxon and middle Saxon pottery.

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EARLY MEDIEVAL

E-Sax 07: To what extent is it possible to demonstrate absence of Early Anglo-Saxon occupation rather than absence of evidence?

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Archaeological investigation is now so extensive that in some areas at some periods it appears that there was very little or no occupation.

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SETTLEMENT, EARLY MEDIEVAL, OCCUPATION SITE

E-Sax 08: Which methodological approaches produce the best results for the Early Anglo-Saxon period?

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The Anglo-Saxon period is poorly represented in NMP data due to the difficulty of recognising features of this date, apart from SFBs. Settlement sites rarely show up during standard evaluations. Large-scale schemes (e.g. A14) offer opportunities to discover and investigate Anglo-Saxon settlements in a way that is not usually possible on normal ‘sites’. More research is needed on building types and functions. Soil micromorphology and detailed analysis of material culture (e.g. middens) may elucidate internal dynamics of settlements.

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SETTLEMENT, EARLY MEDIEVAL, SOIL PHOSPHORUS ANALYSIS, REMOTE SENSING, AERIAL PHOTOGRAPH INTERPRETATION

E-Sax 09: How best can we study Early Anglo-Saxon settlement cores in or near existing settlements?

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Finding Early or Middle Anglo-Saxon settlement cores in or near existing settlement cores is not easy. Test pits provide a partial answer, as do occasional excavations in advance of small-scale development However, well preserved historic cores are, rightly, protected (to some extent) and small observations of deeply stratified sites are likely to reveal little or nothing of early occupation. Nonetheless, every opportunity to observe development within a historic core should be taken.

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SETTLEMENT, EARLY MEDIEVAL, EVALUATION, TEST PIT

E-Sax 10: How can we characterise Early Anglo-Saxon settlement morphology and relationships?

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Once a clearer picture of the evidence is established by the proposed review it would be possible to move to the topics which have previously been approached, necessarily, from a top-down perspective, using available, limited, information to support rather than test theoretical models. This would include assessments of settlement morphology; characterisation of settlement forms and functions including definition of non-urban, proto-urban and urban settlement; and intra- and inter-settlement analysis within a chronological framework.

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SETTLEMENT, EARLY MEDIEVAL

E-Sax 11: How many Early Anglo-Saxons were there?

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Once a clearer picture of the evidence is established by the proposed review it would be possible to move to the topics which have previously been approached, necessarily, from a top-down perspective, using available, limited, information to support rather than test theoretical models. This would include quantification of population density and mobility.

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EARLY MEDIEVAL

E-Sax 12: What did the Early Anglo-Saxon landscape look like?

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Once a clearer picture of the evidence is established by the proposed review it would be possible to move to the topics which have previously been approached, necessarily, from a top-down perspective, using available, limited, information to support rather than test theoretical models. This would include assessments of the wider landscape context, including the coastline, rivers, communications and routeways.

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EARLY MEDIEVAL

E-Sax 13: When were the Early Anglo-Saxon linear earthworks constructed and why?

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The role and dating of linear earthworks and dykes requires further study, but this is not a high priority for developer-funded work as such monuments are usually protected.

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EARLY MEDIEVAL, DYKE (DEFENCE), EARTHWORK, LINEAR EARTHWORK, BANK (EARTHWORK)

E-Sax 14: How were Early Anglo-Saxon settlements and cemeteries related?

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The relationship between settlements and cemeteries – were Early Anglo-Saxon cemeteries shared or dedicated to single communities? How does the relationship change over time?

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SETTLEMENT, EARLY MEDIEVAL, CEMETERY

E-Sax 15: To what extent does Early Anglo-Saxon settlement relate to field systems that originated in the Late Iron Age or Roman period?

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The relationship between Roman and later settlements. Rippon et al have argued for a significant degree of continuity between Roman and later field systems.

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ROMAN, SETTLEMENT, EARLY MEDIEVAL, IRON AGE, FIELD SYSTEM

E-Sax 16: To what extent does detailed analysis confirm regional or landscape-related variations in Early Anglo-Saxon settlement location, density or type?

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Regional differences in Early Anglo-Saxon settlement have been identified by Blair. To what extent is this caused by visibility/preference for some geological contexts? The geophysical survey of the Vale of Pickering by Powlesland has shown how densely occupied some regions were in this period. Analysis of all existing forms of survey: aerial, lidar and geophysics, should provide indications of where and how to look for settlements.

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SETTLEMENT, EARLY MEDIEVAL

E-Sax 17: Why is there a more dispersed settlement pattern in the Early Anglo-Saxon period?

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Recent research has addressed many of these questions (eg Blair 2018, McKerracher 2018, Rippon et al 2015, Wright 2015), drawing on the more substantial and available sites. Their conclusions require testing against the more extensive database proposed above, which would include the many partial and small samples.

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SETTLEMENT, EARLY MEDIEVAL

E-Sax 18: What can we learn by revisiting old data and material from Early Anglo-Saxon cemetery excavations?

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New cemeteries, or additions to those known from earlier discoveries, continue to be found and excavated in the eastern region. These consist mainly of inhumations dating between the late fifth and mid seventh centuries AD. Publication of individual sites, re-examination of ‘old’ sites using new techniques and synthesis based on published and unpublished sites is all desirable but demands significant resources in terms of specialist skills.

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EARLY MEDIEVAL, EXCAVATION, CEMETERY, INHUMATION, INHUMATION CEMETERY

E-Sax 19: Which methodological approaches produce the best results for the Early Anglo-Saxon period, especially in relation to cemeteries?

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Burials are often not visible from survey, evaluation often produces poor results. Consideration should be given as to how to address this issue, to reduce the incidence of unexpected discoveries which are often very costly to deal with. Big data modelling might be used to help predict likely locations of Early Anglo-Saxon cemeteries. Improvements to excavation techniques would come from liaison during excavation with relevant specialists, e.g. osteologists, conservationists. Digital photogrammetry should be used to enhance recording and preservation.

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EARLY MEDIEVAL, CEMETERY

E-Sax 20: Can we use scientific techniques to more effectively understand the Early Anglo-Saxon period?

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Dialogue between archaeologists and scientists continues to develop, although sometimes still hampered by different disciplinary backgrounds and training. Sharing of biomolecular information is still problematic. Scientific/analytical data needs to be made more widely available – this enables links to be made between the results of different analytical techniques. Many researchers report finding it difficult to obtain permission to use site archives for analysis. Much work has been, and continues to be, carried out on chronology whether through radiocarbon or artefactual dating, or a combination of both (Hills and Lucy 2013, Hines Bayliss 2013). These provide a framework to be tested and developed in analysis of other cemeteries.

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EARLY MEDIEVAL

E-Sax 21: What can isotopic analyses and aDNA tell us about the Early Anglo-Saxon period?

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The study of Isotopes from skeletal material produces much information about diet and more limited (though much hyped) data on the geographical origin of buried individuals. Other techniques such as analysis of plaque on teeth also inform about diet. So far only limited aDNA data is available from Anglo-Saxon cemeteries in this region (Schiffels and Sayer 2017), but this will increase. Osteology combined with isotopes and aDNA can provide biographies of individuals and overviews of populations in terms of life cycle, diet and health. Identification of plague bacillus in some burials suggests this was a period of greater crisis than had previously been appreciated.

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EARLY MEDIEVAL

E-Sax 22: What can scientific analyses tell us about Early Anglo-Saxon cremation?

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Scientific analysis of cremations, both for C14 dating and isotopic evidence, has been pioneered elsewhere (Lanting 1998, Snoeck et al 2016) and this could be applied to Anglo-Saxon cremations , although there is a problem in establishing precise C14 dates for the fifth century, because of the flat calibration curve for that period. We should not overlook the potential of items such as brooches for pollen analysis of particles trapped between brooches and clothing.

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RADIOCARBON DATING, EARLY MEDIEVAL, CREMATION, CREMATION BURIAL, CREMATION

E-Sax 23: What can we infer about the structure of Early Anglo-Saxon cemeteries and the societies which created them?

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Size and location of cemeteries including isolated burials. What do cemeteries look like in the landscape? What structures existed and to what extent were they enclosed? How are these spaces used by the living? Variability of population over time and between cemeteries in terms of gender and age. Relationship between different burial rites, mainly cremation and inhumation, also furnished and unfurnished burial. Consider ritual deposition in SFBs, post-holes – foundation deposits and closing deposits.

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EARLY MEDIEVAL, CEMETERY, INHUMATION, CREMATION BURIAL, CREMATION, INHUMATION CEMETERY, CREMATION CEMETERY

E-Sax 24: How do we explain regional variation in Early Anglo-Saxon burial practice?

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Ethnicity is a topic which has been over-stressed in this period. There was cultural difference and population movement but interpreting all burials primarily in terms of a perceived dichotomy between Anglo-Saxon and British is an oversimplification to be avoided. Isotopes can only identify first generation mobility and seldom indicate precise origins. Where mobility has been detected through isotopes it has not always conformed to expectations. Genetic information may in future provide a better basis for considering this issue.

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EARLY MEDIEVAL, BURIAL, INHUMATION, CREMATION BURIAL, CREMATION, INHUMATION CEMETERY, CREMATION CEMETERY

E-Sax 25: Can we infer Early Anglo-Saxon religious beliefs from burial practices?

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Religious belief and practice should be interpreted in ways that avoid back projecting later views about Christianity and paganism, for example, the presence of grave-goods per se does not indicate pagan belief nor does absence demonstrate Christianity.

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RELIGION OR RITUAL, EARLY MEDIEVAL, BURIAL

E-Sax 26: How can we improve our understanding of Early Anglo-Saxon agricultural practices?

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Recent research ( eg Banham and Faith 2014, McKerracher 2018) has provided a better picture of early Anglo-Saxon agriculture. An ongoing project at Oxford directed by Helena Hamerow is taking this further. Field systems have been reviewed by Rippon et al. Further advances will come from detailed examination of good faunal and palaeobotanical samples and also from study of the landscape as a whole including the ‘gaps’ between settlements and cemeteries. We need soil sampling across the region, not just on occupied sites.

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EARLY MEDIEVAL, FIELD SYSTEM

E-Sax 27: How were Early Anglo-Saxon woodlands managed?

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To what extent are changes in woodland management anthropogenic and how do we separate such deliberate changes from climatic factors? Palaeoenvironmental evidence and soil sampling.

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EARLY MEDIEVAL, WOOD

E-Sax 28: How were Early Anglo-Saxon communication routes established and maintained?

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The main communication routes through the region include main routeways, secondary routes, valley corridors, rivers and marine transport. Particular issues include: river management, identification of ports and harbours, the role/reuse of existing infrastructure (Roman roads and canals) in shaping the new landscape. How could we confidently identify Anglo-Saxon routeways? Testing and ground-truthing of features identified by remote sensing is required – we need more support for NMP. Navigability? Coring for palaeochannels. Fish traps. Salt making. How were coastal resources exploited? Ports and harbours – may reuse Roman sites. Think about changes for example in the coastline, wetland basin, estuary in east Norfolk, sea levels. Also consider fens chronology, fen shoreline and changes.

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EARLY MEDIEVAL

E-Sax 29: How can we better understand Early Anglo-Saxon artefact production?

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Much of the essential basis for pre-modern life involved organic materials: wood, textiles, skins, bones, and plants, which have left limited traces in the archaeological record. Our knowledge of production, consumption and distribution is therefore incomplete and biased towards durable materials such as pottery, metal and glass. These items at least can sometimes be tracked from manufacture to discard. Evidence for productive processes, for example kilns or smithing debris, should be actively looked for. Assemblages of finds from excavation or metal-detecting can be used to demonstrate movement of goods.

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EARLY MEDIEVAL

E-Sax 30: Can we see technological innovation in the Early Anglo-Saxon artefactual record?

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The details of material culture need to be studied, including careful examination of technological innovation, the adoption of new materials and practices, the production of specialised manufactures and the pattern of artistic influence. The PAS is providing new data on all types of artefacts. However, this needs to be studied in tandem with HER data in order to build a more complete picture.

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EARLY MEDIEVAL

E-Sax 31: How do we better understand the extent of contacts with other areas of Britain and the Continent in the Early Anglo-Saxon period?

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Coastal economy and communication has been investigated especially for the low Countries by Tys and Loveluck (2006 ). Their conclusions could structure investigation of the eastern region coastal lands, building on NMP resources.

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EARLY MEDIEVAL, COMMUNICATIONS