Medieval (Urban) Research Agenda

Med (Urban) 01: How can our understanding of medieval urban settlement patterns be improved?

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Our understanding of medieval settlement patterns would be improved by undertaking intensive studies of settlement patterns through time. These should incorporate spatial analysis of such settlement within a chronological framework, the quantification of population density and mobility, the definition of non-urban, proto-urban and urban settlement, and an assessment of populations and population structure through time. Attempts should also be made to explore sub-regional differences, reflecting different types of ‘urban’ place, and any differences between inland and seaboard communities.
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MEDIEVAL, URBAN SPACE, Urban Settlement, Urban communities

Med (Urban) 02: How can we improve our understanding of urban populations?

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More work is needed on the comparison of population structures within towns and between towns, with a particular emphasis on why some towns thrive and others do not. This should include comparison of urban populations in towns in the east of England with those in other UK regions and across the North Sea. It may be possible to correlate population density with economic indicators for urban sustainability, and analysis of immigration and emigration as factors in urban development may also be instructive.
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MEDIEVAL, URBAN SPACE, Urban Settlement, Urban communities

Med (Urban) 03: What insights can scientific analyses provide into provisioning?

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The issue of provisioning has become much more important given the advent of scientific investigative techniques which significantly enhance the potential of information recovery and understanding. This is particularly the case for well-dated assemblages of fishbone as noted above (with an impact upon macroeconomics, demographic and dietary studies, and awareness of the diversity of species exploitation). It should be noted, however, that provisioning can only be fully understood when considered alongside the rural evidence.
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MEDIEVAL, URBAN SPACE, Urban Settlement, Urban communities

Med (Urban) 04: How can we increase our understanding of the utilisation of animals within towns?

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Information concerning the utilisation of animals and animal products within medieval towns also benefits from study of animal bone assemblages, evidence now being recovered for urban husbandry as well as consumption (e.g. Grimm 2006). To these can be added the development of food industries such as brewing, the importation of exotic fruits and the use of diet as a social indicator (see a range of useful papers in Karg 2007). Comparison of patterns of dietary consumption between large and small towns, urban and rural sites, and institutions within towns would also be informative. For example, just one theme is the presence of wild animals in urban assemblages – are they more evidence of elite consumption, from hunting, or lower status, from poaching?
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MEDIEVAL, URBAN SPACE, Urban Settlement, Urban communities

Med (Urban) 05: What roles did women play in medieval towns?

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Gender studies continue to evolve and the role of women in medieval towns, where they may well be more visible than within rural contexts, should be examined wherever possible. Gilchrist has set out both theoretical and practical approaches to gender studies. Similarly, the role of children can be explored archaeologically, investigating the social, economic and environmental conditions which impacted upon children as well as, through careful study of skeletal material, the stresses to which they could be subjected. Gender and/or age differences in evidence for migration could be explored with the application of scientific methods, such as oxygen isotope analysis for example, being applied.
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MEDIEVAL, URBAN SPACE, Urban Settlement, Urban communities

Med (Urban) 06: What roles did children play in medieval towns?

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Children still seem to be overlooked in many site reports, and greater consideration needs to be given to childhood activities such as play. Employment of new scientific methods such as analysis of peptides in tooth enamel that enable the sexing of human remains including children needs to be encouraged as should consideration, where possible of childbirth rates, whether and how these change through time, and whether these reflect societal changes.
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MEDIEVAL, URBAN SPACE, Urban Settlement, Urban communities

Med (Urban) 07: What can human remains tell us about health and sickness in urban centres?

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Further consideration needs to be given to the specific roles of men, women, adolescents and children in the medieval economy. This could be informed by the study of human remains including evidence for pathologies and skeletal stresses, in conjunction with historical sources. At a molecular level further analyses (e.g. parasitology, dental calculus) may further understanding of industry, diet, health etc. Skeletal remains may also be an indicator of economic tensions, for example where evidence indicates interpersonal violence.
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MEDIEVAL, URBAN SPACE, Urban Settlement, Urban communities

Med (Urban) 08: What roles did minority groups play in urban centres?

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Understanding of how to identify minority groups in the archaeological record needs improvement. Identification of cultural markers for specific groups such as the Jewish community would be helpful. Evidence for clustering of minority groups in urban contexts could be sought, along with any drivers for such activity.
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MEDIEVAL, URBAN SPACE, Urban Settlement, Urban communities

Med (Urban) 09: What impact did disease have in medieval urban centres?

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The impact of disease needs greater consideration – plague, leprosy, tuberculosis and others. Relating these to rural contexts would be helpful – for example, via exploration of the potential for bacteria to be transmitted by animals brought into urban areas. Assessment of the relative usefulness of different scientific methods to detect leprosy and other diseases, such as pathological evidence vs. DNA analysis, would be useful.
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MEDIEVAL, URBAN SPACE, Urban Settlement, Urban communities

Med (Urban) 10: How do we bring older urban cemetery excavations to publication?

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Publication of the many cemeteries which have already been excavated, particularly ‘small town’ cemeteries, needs encouragement.. There is potential to explore demography using the grey literature but the poor publication record for this period of properly assessed and synthesised work belies the wealth of potential evidence. Progress of scientific analyses would be facilitated if awareness of existing site archives which might be useful in such work was improved.
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MEDIEVAL, URBAN SPACE, Urban Settlement, Urban communities

Med (Urban) 11: Are we making the most of good-quality human skeletal assemblages when they are discovered?

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There needs to be a focus on good quality, well-dated human remains with low residuality. Human remains from small town churchyards are not being routinely recorded during small building works (e.g. church extensions, drain runs etc). This issue needs to be addressed as evidence from such sites is largely unrecorded.
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MEDIEVAL, URBAN SPACE, Urban Settlement, Urban communities

Med (Urban) 12: How can we improve our understanding of social organisation in medieval urban centres?

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Our understanding of social organisations in medieval urban centres would be improved by studying the relationship of royal vills to later urban centres, analysis of the impact of the church on urban settlement, examination of early estates and their relationships to towns, and the definition of territorial and other boundaries in relation to proto-urban and urban settlement. These priorities might be addressed via the following approaches: the establishment of basic chronologies; the ranking of settlement; the examination of settlement morphology; the definition of status; a more developed understanding of spatial analysis in towns; detailed examination of buildings, their location, function and form; the distribution of wealth within and between towns; and the adaptation of urban life to specialisation.
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MEDIEVAL, URBAN SPACE, Urban Settlement, Urban communities

Med (Urban) 13: How can we explore displays of power and status, together with the broadcasting of ‘urban’ values?

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To these can be added the question of urban identity and its manifestation within the historic environment. Displays of power and status, together with the broadcasting of ‘urban’ values, can all be explored. Comparisons between modes of expression within towns, between towns of different size and rank, and between town and country would be useful. Is it possible to identify sub-regional (i.e. county level) differences in social norms and organisation? The social impact of environmental and political change, notably that of the Reformation at the end of the Middle Ages, requires study. Consideration needs to be given to towns as ‘contested spaces’ – tensions, social interactions, contrasts with other (e.g. rural) populations in terms of poverty/wealth, disease/health, and diet could all be studied.
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MEDIEVAL, URBAN SPACE, Urban Settlement, Urban communities

Med (Urban) 14: How do we address the imbalance in period coverage of urban sites?

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The following sub-periods for examination of urban growth (and/or decline) remain valid: pre-Danish settlement; Anglo-Scandinavian towns; pre-Conquest growth; the impact of the Normans; the 12th-century ‘renaissance’; later medieval expansion, contraction and renewal; post-medieval change; early-modern development; and industrialisation. A further addition may be interest in the Anarchy period and its impact across the east of England, alongside the observation that continuities as well as change are important.
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MEDIEVAL, URBAN SPACE, Urban Settlement, Urban communities

Med (Urban) 15: How best can we study medieval urban cores in or near existing settlements?

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Evidence for early periods of growth of urban settlements is often located beneath protected monuments and buildings. Any opportunities that arise to investigate such deposits should be maximised. More effort needs to be directed towards identifying evidence relating to the vestiges of the origins of urban centres. More complete/longer archaeological sequences will assist understanding of social change through time. It is still difficult to recognise with certainty key historical periods and events in the archaeological record.
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MEDIEVAL, URBAN SPACE, Urban Settlement, Urban communities

Med (Urban) 16: Can we assess the various impacts of secular and religious organisations in medieval urban centres?

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The impact of secular organisation within towns at a time when religious organisations were very powerful needs to be considered, particularly within the context of the growth of the mercantile economy as a driver for urban development. Similarly, the development of parishes is an important aspect of social organisation in this period and, in multi-parished towns, study should focus on both chronological development and relationships between parishes. Better understanding of evidence of ownership and boundaries and the impact that these had on urban development would be helpful.
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MEDIEVAL, URBAN SPACE, Urban Settlement, Urban communities

Med (Urban) 17: What contribution did suburbs make to the growth of urban centres?

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Suburbs of medieval towns are often overlooked but can on occasion be more ‘active’ than the urban core. They are also interesting because they very often lie outside urban control yet differ in character from rural areas. Examples might include settlement outside the gates of towns, development along route-ways, and beyond bridges.
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MEDIEVAL, URBAN SPACE, Urban Settlement, Urban communities

Med (Urban) 18: How can we gain an archaeological understanding of the medieval economy?

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Urban change is driven by economics and can be viewed through the complexity of urban society, attendant growth of urban infrastructure and institutions, the variety and diversity of resource acquisition, the range of trades and industries, and commercial outlets. Archaeological research can explore such urban attributes through the following: evidence for commercial and industrial activity; definition, specialisation, marketing and distribution of products; linkages between social and political development and economic activity; communications between towns and with the hinterland; resource acquisition and utilisation; specialised facilities and buildings; institutional structures and facilities; and technological innovation.
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MEDIEVAL, URBAN SPACE, Urban Settlement, Urban communities

Med (Urban) 19: How can we further improve our understanding of medieval urban buildings?

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Further and detailed study of buildings and structures is required across the east of England to repeat the success of synthetic work and approaches in Sandwich (Pearson 2009) and Bristol (Leech 2014). Recently for Colchester, for example, it has been flagged that a lack of suitable timbers for dendrochronological dating in a sample from the town suggests that, as in other Essex urban areas, timber came from intensively-managed woodlands reacting to urban pressure. This may highlight a research challenge, where more success in dating may be achieved from only higher status buildings (Stenning 2013:271). Mapping of architectural styles across the region and consideration of how this related to the availability of construction materials would be useful.
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MEDIEVAL, URBAN SPACE, Urban Settlement, Urban communities

Med (Urban) 20: What can archaeology tell us about urban growth and decline?

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Wider economic development needs to be explored within the context of urban growth and/or decline. Indeed, the concept of urban ‘decline’ should be investigated both chronologically and conceptually. Archaeological consideration of the matter is not new but nevertheless requires further work. The question has been posed whether urban decline represented desolation, decay and destruction or an opportunity and it has been observed that perceived decline may easily have been adaptation to changing circumstances and that variability of urban experience perhaps reflects the commercial and political networks of individual towns. Can urban decline be linked to activity or traces of events in the hinterlands of towns? This is often not considered, focus being on the urban centres alone. Comparative data from the east of England, a region with a vibrant and diverse medieval urban network, would be a useful addition to the debate.
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MEDIEVAL, URBAN SPACE, Urban Settlement, Urban communities

Med (Urban) 21: What was the impact of urban economic organisation upon urban hinterlands?

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While the complexity of urban economic organisation needs study, so too does its impact upon urban hinterlands. This impact can be explored by: examination of evidence for industrial zoning; study of the relationship of industrial and commercial sites to distribution routes; correlation of evidence for status with product specialisation and output; the relationship of market centres to one another, within urban hierarchies, and to the rural hinterland.
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MEDIEVAL, URBAN SPACE, Urban Settlement, Urban communities

Med (Urban) 22: What can we do to increase our understanding of medieval craft and industry?

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Consideration of craft and industry produces a range of questions. How much industry took place? Can the evolution of specialisation be seen archaeologically? How complete is understanding the physical evidence for all different types of craft/industries? As examples, what archaeological evidence is indicative of the medieval textile industry and what convincing indicators are there for maltings? Are such industries difficult to identify on urban sites? Is metalworking a very localised industry? Are there differences between different types of metalworking? Is the metalworking industry primarily rural, supplying urban centres? Apart from pottery production in the pre-Conquest and Saxo-Norman periods,(e.g. Ipswich ware, Thetford ware), is there actually any pottery production in urban places at all?
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MEDIEVAL, URBAN SPACE, Urban Settlement, Urban communities

Med (Urban) 23: How can we refine the chronology of medieval urban buildings?

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All wooden constructions located within towns should be dated wherever possible to better understand the timber economy. The Baltic trade in timber is crucial and may reflect a period of absence of suitable timber forest in rural areas.
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MEDIEVAL, URBAN SPACE, Urban Settlement, Urban communities

Med (Urban) 24: What is the archaeological evidence for fairs?

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Archaeological evidence for fairs is scarce, but could make a significant contribution to our understanding of the derivation of traded goods.
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MEDIEVAL, URBAN SPACE, Urban Settlement, Urban communities

Med (Urban) 25: What can the archaeological record tell us about the ‘urban lifestyle’?

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Urban lifestyle was the subject of a recent colloquium held in Lübeck, northern Germany. It explored the manner in which urban living was expressed through material culture and, while it was often possible to identity a distinct urban culture, it was also sometimes difficult to reconcile apparent paucity of material goods with documentary assessments of urban activity. Herein lies a methodological problem for archaeologists and historians alike. Defining lifestyle from partially surviving evidence can be subjective. Nevertheless, broadening the concept of urban culture from surviving portable objects to include urban topography, spaces and buildings, the relationships of urban places and institutions one to another, and the adoption of analytical techniques such as those adopted by King (2009) for the elite houses of Norwich enables urban lifestyle to emerge with greater clarity. Urban existence dictated certain modes of living and archaeological research needs to characterise this existence and to explore meaning within the urban landscape. In summary, identification of urban culture through archaeological research can be achieved by identifying particular characteristics of urban culture; developing methodologies which explore complexity of and meaning within urban culture; examining how urban values and ideas were expressed to the wider community; considering influences and investment strategies which we’re facilitated by urban living and institutions; exploring how technological innovation and the adoption of new materials and practices, the production of specialised manufactures were fostered in urban areas.
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MEDIEVAL, URBAN SPACE, Urban Settlement, Urban communities

Med (Urban) 26: What role did the church play in medieval urban society?

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The role of the church within medieval urban society, its relationship to spatial organisation, and its economic contribution to urban life need particular attention. The following areas for research therefore still stand: the relationship of the church to urban foundation; ecclesiastical development within growing towns; the organisation of parochial life; the impact of ecclesiastical institutions upon the urban environment and urban living; the economic influence of the church; the technological and artistic importance of the church to the local economy and culture; the social role of the church.
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MEDIEVAL, URBAN SPACE, Urban Settlement, Urban communities

Med (Urban) 27: What can archaeology tell us about pilgrimage?

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Pilgrimage and its economic impacts as well as material traces would be an interesting theme, as well as a consideration of pilgrimage sites along main routes. Impacts of guilds, both religious and craft, can also be a consideration. Diversity of religious practice may emerge through synthetic study. Recreating processions, ceremonies and urban moments such as crowds for fairs elicits new questions about built space and investments in it, and awareness of streets as symbolic and sensory arenas offer interesting and informative frameworks.
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MEDIEVAL, URBAN SPACE, Urban Settlement, Urban communities

Med (Urban) 28: How can we improve our understanding of religious institutions within urban centres?

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Further work is required to help us understand why some urban centres attracted more religious institutions than others at different times. There is also evidence for the clustering of religious houses in key places within urban centres and greater emphasis should be placed on the identification of the attraction of these places.
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MEDIEVAL, URBAN SPACE, Urban Settlement, Urban communities

Med (Urban) 29: What can medieval urban archaeology tell us about climate and the environment?

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Archaeological investigation within towns can address the following issues: environmental impact upon ecosystems; landscape change and adaptation; water and waterway exploitation; urban resources of food, fuel, building supplies and craft materials; urban agriculture and hinterland exploitation; and resource management and pollution.
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MEDIEVAL, URBAN SPACE, Urban Settlement, Urban communities

Med (Urban) 30: What can archaeology tell us about the impact of natural disasters on medieval urban sites?

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Archaeological investigation within towns has the potential to demonstrate the influence of the Black Death, climatic episodes and natural disasters on urban food sources and supply. Evidence may also be revealed for urban resilience, in terms of dealing with major events such as plagues, fires, political unrest, etc.
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MEDIEVAL, URBAN SPACE, Urban Settlement, Urban communities

Med (Urban) 31: How can scientific analyses improve our understanding medieval urban archaeology?

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Sampling needs to be undertaken widely and well, designed for anticipated conditions and capable for refinement should discovered conditions vary from the expected. The potential of animal/fish/bird remains in urban contexts should not be overlooked – the expense of excavating good assemblages can be justified by their complementary value to artefactual studies and their value in helping to understand more about the medieval urban economy. The exploitation of wild species needs further study. Animal remains should be used to study breed development, in particular meat/dairy specialisation. Environmental samples can also be used to inform understanding of climate and environmental changes, for example botanical remains may indicate environmental stresses. Recent scientific advances – such as in fish studies which are helping to explore systemic economic change in the medieval period – should be considered when preparing sampling strategies.
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MEDIEVAL, URBAN SPACE, Urban Settlement, Urban communities