Early Medieval Agenda

EM1: How can we better understand the key cultural cores of early medieval Northumbria?

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Work by scholars such as Brian Roberts and Ian Wood is increasingly pointing to the notion of developed ‘cultural cores’ at the heart of early medieval kingdoms forming kernels at the heart of more extensive polities. These are characterised by evidence for early landscape clearance and the presence of extensive royal estates that can often be identified by the proxy of clusters of royal donations of land to ecclesiastical sites. North Northumbria (Bamburgh-Lindisfarne-Yeavering-Milfield Basin) is one of the best examples of such cores. In an area of little urban development and good cropmarks and a series of historically well-attested high-status sites, it provides an excellent opportunity to better understand how such cores might develop as key components to early kingdoms. There is a need to encourage new large-scale research. On-going research at Bamburgh and Yeavering has emphasises the potential of revisiting old archives and collections, whilst enhanced availability of large-scale Lidar, aerial and geophysical datasets provides the opportunity to explore entire landscapes not just individual sites. 

Found in the following Frameworks:
North East Research Framework
Categories:
Lidar survey, Aerial photography, Early medieval, Palace, Geophysical survey

EM2: How can we better understand the evolution and development of the early medieval landscape?

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The early medieval landscape has been relatively little studied in the North-East, although it formed the underlying structure of the later medieval landscape of the region. It is likely that the early medieval period saw the development of the distinctive landscape regions or pays that still characterise much of the contemporary landscape of the North-East. However, the extent to which the remains of the preceding prehistoric and Roman landscapes formed the basis for the early and late medieval environment is open to question, and it is important to analyse the extent of long-term continuity of boundaries, dykes and other elements of field systems (important work exploring this in the context of SE Northumberland is currently being carried out by David Astbury, Newcastle University, as a PHD project). The possibility of a pre-Conquest date for some ridge and furrow should also be explored. There is not even a basic understanding about the development of settlement from the early medieval into the later medieval period. While NPPF-driven work does provide occasional keyhole glimpses into this process, there is still a need for substantial long-term projects which are capable of recognising wider changes, including the evolution of field systems and a clear understanding of their environmental context. Despite the presence of extensive upland pollen samples, the lowland and coastal areas of Northumberland are relatively under-represented. This partly reflects the perceived lack of suitable deposits, although recent work elsewhere has demonstrated their potential (Fyfe and Rippon 2004). Work is needed to identify possible suitable lowland sites for sampling, possibly through place-names. Any new pollen cores must be adequately dated.

There is a need for large-scale landscape approaches to settlement archaeology (cf. Wharram Percy and Shapwick), perhaps at a parish scale or perhaps taking a large-scale approach. The development of a substantial settlement research project requires co-operation with local landowners and accommodation with local farmers which might be reached through the DEFRA Environmental Stewardships Schemes. Large-scale, long-term research projects such as this are ideal for the involvement of the local community. Use of techniques such as field-walking and shovel pitting facilitate participation by community archaeology and local history groups. Increasingly, local groups also have access to geophysical survey equipment, whilst technological developments means that it is possible to carry out far larger-scale geophysical survey than previously possible. The increasingly free access to hi-resolution LIDAR data provides an opportunity to survey the topography of entire landscapes, particularly upland ones. The potential for this kind of analysis in the North Pennines and the Cheviots may provide a chance for early upland settlements, possibly related to shifting transhumance to be identified and ground truthed. Although there is limited survival of charter evidence to compare with areas such as western Mercia or Wessex, work by Colm O’Brien, Max Adams and the Bernician Research Group has shown the potential for detailed landscape research that squeezes the documentary record  – relatively recent editions of key texts such as the Historia Sancto Cuthberto and some works by Symeon of Durham are helpful here.  The wider environmental context in which putative early medieval upland activity took place is poorly understood and there is a need for more pollen coring. Whilst the early medieval radiocarbon calibration plateau may present challenges, the use of AMS dating and Bayesian statistics in their calibration may limit this problem. The use of OSL to date terraces, lynchets and deposits under walls and clearance cairns also provides an important opportunity to enhance our chronological understanding. The identification of suitable lowland peat deposits will allow appropriate management regimes to be imposed where necessary to preserve this sparse resource. This is also likely to intersect with the conservation demands of wildlife and ecology curators.

 

Found in the following Frameworks:
North East Research Framework
Categories:
Environmental sampling, Radiocarbon dating, Lidar survey, Settlement, Early medieval, Field system, Fieldwalking survey, Test pit, Dyke (defence), Optically stimulated luminescence, Pollen, Boundary, Ridge and furrow, Upland

EM3: How can we improve our understanding of burial and funerary traditions?

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Well-preserved skeletal assemblages are a key resource for research. For example, burial evidence is particularly suited to exploring the wider debate on cultural identity and ethnicity, which is now a major topic in early medieval archaeology. However, more basic work on skeletal assemblages from the North-East is still needed to provide more details on stature, age and pathologies, particularly from the north of the region. Isotopic analysis carried out on the skeletal remains from the cemetery at Bowl Hole shows the potential to research, for example, the origin of individuals. Work by the People and Place: The making of the Kingdom of Northumbria 300-800 CE project(Leverhulme Trust-funded) based at Durham University is consolidating and extending the isotopic analysis of the burial materials as part of a wider project cataloguing the burial material from “Greater Northumbria’ . The work of Adrián Maldonado is also enhancing our understanding of how early medieval burials in the North East fit into wider regional patterns of mortuary behaviour. This work clearly links into wider debates on migration and population movement in the early medieval period. In addition to any new cemeteries which might be discovered, there is scope for revisiting skeletal material in museum collections. It is also important to explore the social implications of variations in the burial rite. Early medieval burial traditions in the North-East were open to many influences, including Anglo-Saxons rites and those used in neighbouring Scotland and Ireland, as well as continued input from native British mortuary behaviour. In the light of the ongoing discovery of new burial sites there is a need to synthesise existing data. Broad assumptions exist about the relationship between burial rites and religious belief, such as the presumption that Christians are buried with no grave-goods, while pagans undergo accompanied burial, but these need to be tested in far more detail. Also, the changing patterns within accompanied burial traditions need to be better understood in the North; for example, is there a Northumbrian ‘final phase’, and can distinct British burial rites be recognised through the use of grave-goods, body position or grave alignment?

The question of social stratification is also of great importance, both at local, family level and in the wider regional context. Is it possible to recognise social differentiation through variation in burial rites? Relatively little is known about native British burial rites, particularly in upland areas. Judging from parallels with other uplands areas, such as the Pennines, barrow burial, particularly secondary barrow burial, may have been a common rite (Loveluck 1995). Excavators should be aware of this, particularly in areas where soil conditions may allow the survival of bone. The Portable Antiquities Scheme has recorded a number of early medieval artefacts, some of which may indicate the presence of a cemetery, but these assumptions need Research agenda and strategy Early Medieval 162 to be tested. Do they really represent burial sites or are they merely casual losses? Finally, unaccompanied burial was probably not uncommon in the region during the early medieval period, but similar burial rites may have taken place throughout the Iron Age and Roman period. It will only be possible to distinguish them chronologically if scientific dating techniques are used. Strategic Early medieval skeletal assemblages need to be fully analysed. Where necessary, skeletal material should be dated using high-precision radiocarbon dating and Bayesian statistical approaches to ensure a clear understanding of cemetery chronologies, particularly when datable gravegoods are lacking (Scull and Bayliss 1999). Any information on early medieval finds should be reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme and passed on to the relevant HERs/SMRs. They should be recorded as ‘possible cemetery sites’ rather than simply isolated finds. A field visit may be preliminary to small-scale fieldwork including geophysical survey or excavation.

 

Found in the following Frameworks:
North East Research Framework
Categories:
Barrow, Radiocarbon dating, Early medieval, Burial, Excavation, Cemetery, Geophysical survey, Grave, Funerary, Grave goods

EM4: How can we better understand the impact of Vikings across the north-east of England in the 9th-11th centuries AD?

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Despite the presence of Anglo-Scandinavian sculpture in the Tees Valley and elsewhere, relatively little is known of the impact of Viking settlement and rule in the region. There is clearly a need to understand the effect that the transfer of power to new lords, and the dismantling of church lands had on society. An improved knowledge is required of the way in which Anglo-Scandinavian identity was expressed. The Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture based at Durham University is a key resource, particularly now it is on-line. However, it is over 30 years old and needs systematic updating to reflect new discoveries and more recent views on dating the material. Wider regional re-assessments of the sculpture are needed, in particularly reflecting developments in the association of particular monument forms and styles with ethnic groups, such as the on-going reconsideration of the origin of ‘hogbacks’. There is the possibility of targeting research at particular sites where there is evidence for substantial Viking burial. In the light of recent publication, the place-names of Durham should be re-assessed for what they can tell us about early medieval/Viking settlement in the region (Watts 1989, 2002). There is a clear need for continued work on the place-names of Northumberland, currently being progressed by Diana Whaley.  It is clear from both the place-name and archaeological evidence that there was a distinct difference between Scandinavian influence to the north and south of the Tees. This dichotomy should be explored.

 

Found in the following Frameworks:
North East Research Framework
Categories:
Early medieval, Burial, Church, Sculpture, Hogback stone, Place name study, Viking

EM5: What is the potential for the Portable Antiquities Scheme to enhance our understanding of the early medieval period?

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The Portable Antiquities Scheme has now been active in the region for around 20 years. Only relatively small quantities of early medieval metalwork have been reported from the North-East, but the Scheme has much to offer in terms of improving our understanding of the early medieval archaeology of the region. For example, the recent discovery of early Anglo-Saxon metalwork in south Durham seems to indicate at least two previously unknown early Anglo-Saxon cemeteries, a site type which is still rare north of the Tees. All reports of early medieval metalwork should be followed up by a site visit and, where appropriate, targeted excavation, field-walking or geophysical research. Given the difficulty in identifying early medieval sites of all types it is essential that the potential of the Portable Antiquities Scheme be exploited to the maximum. Support and training needs to be provided to the local Finds Liaisons Officers and funding maintained to ensure solid regional coverage through the scheme.

Found in the following Frameworks:
North East Research Framework

EM6: How can we improve our chronological understanding of this period?

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The scarcity of metalwork, ceramics and other small finds of early medieval date from the North-East means that the chronology of this period is still inadequate. All steps should be taken to increase chronological precision. This can be best addressed through the increased use of scientific techniques, and high-precision radiocarbon dating should become standard on early medieval sites. OSL also has potential for dating terracing and earthworks. As some early medieval sites have only been identified relatively late in the excavation process, C14 dating should be carried out as early as possible, ideally in the evaluation stage of fieldwork. Large-scale strip and record has also proved effective in identifying early medieval settlement where geophysical survey has failed. Priority should be given to excavating early medieval ditches and pits as they are important as acting as ‘traps’ for the limited suite of early medieval material culture. Where possible there should also be more routine use of other techniques such as thermoluminescence dating on possible early medieval ceramics and optically stimulated luminescence and archaeomagnetic dating on promising archaeological contexts.

 

Found in the following Frameworks:
North East Research Framework
Categories:
Early medieval, Excavation, Cemetery, Geophysical survey, Fieldwalking survey, Artefact studies

EM7: Is it possible to understand the location and nature of early medieval settlement?

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Despite the importance of the early medieval period in the region, little is known about settlement archaeology outside a restricted region in the north Northumberland. Most existing sites were discovered using aerial photography, but many parts of the region do not produce legible cropmarks due to the underlying drift geology. Other approaches need to be used, such as large-scale geophysical surveys in advance of development. Strip and record strategies are proving to be effective in picking up early medieval settlement evidence where geophysical survey has failed. Good examples of this have been seen at Shotton and Felton in Northumberland. Excavations at forts such as Birdoswald, Binchester and South Shields and civilian sites, such as Ingleby Barwick, are making it increasingly clear that sub-Roman occupation on Roman sites is a very real possibility, although these remains are likely to be extremely ephemeral. Any excavation work on Roman military sites needs to be alert to the possibility of the survival of late stratigraphy. A solid programme of dating is also key- the early medieval activity at Binchester found in the Durham University excavations was only identified by C14 dating of ecofacts rather than through diagnostically dateable artefacts.  There is also scope for reassessing the archival and artefactual record of previously excavated sites. A good example of this is the current re-examination of early medieval finds from the Roman fort at South Shields.

The changing morphology of settlements is still little understood, and many current models are constructed on very little firm archaeological evidence. Research must embrace the detailed exploration of settlement morphology if it is to identify potentially early village cores. In the medieval period, the North-East shows a distinct contrast between upland and lowland settlement patterns. It is important to develop a better understanding of when this developed. Currently there is only one excavated upland settlement from the entire North-East (Simy Folds). Further excavation in the North Pennines and Cheviots may help distinguish pre- and post-Conquest structures. Clarification of the origins of the shieling system of pastoral transhumance must be a priority. Improved Lidar coverage for upland areas will help here. Finally, the inter-relationships between early medieval settlements need to be examined. The settlement framework that forms the basis of the medieval and postmedieval landscape should be investigated, not just to understand the basic distribution of pre-Conquest settlement, but also to appreciate its tenurial and administrative complexity. Documentary evidence is limited in this region, so most work on this topic will be, by necessity, archaeological.

 

Found in the following Frameworks:
North East Research Framework
Categories:
Radiocarbon dating, Lidar survey, Aerial photography, Settlement, Early medieval, Excavation, Village, Geophysical survey, Shieling, Upland, Settlement pattern, Transhumance

EM8: How was the coast exploited in the early medieval period?

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The exploitation of the coast in the early medieval period, both as an economic resource and a major line of communication, is poorly understood. The coast presented a distinctive landscape, which is likely to have had strong symbolic and ideological underpinnings. Further research is required into the pattern of early medieval exploitation of maritime resources. Does the evidence confirm James Barrett’s suggestion of an intensification of deep-sea fishing around 1000 AD (Barrett et al 2004)? Work at Lindisfarne is showing evidence for an earlier, if perhaps limited, exploitation of fish, shellfish and probably seals. Although by the later medieval period the North-East had a deep-sea fishing industry, it is not clear when it began. A closer analysis of maritime faunal assemblages would allow archaeologists to chart the increasing exploitation of deep-water fish stocks. A more accurate mapping of the coastline in the early medieval period is essential if site locations are to be predicted and protected, particularly this is the case for beach market sites. Major monasteries, such as Tynemouth, Hartlepool, Monkwearmouth and Jarrow, lay on the coast or on major rivers. The major palace site at Bamburgh was also in a coastal location, and islands such as Coquet Island, Lindisfarne and the Farne Islands all had religious communities. Strategic It is vital that environmental sampling and adequate analysis is included in all specifications for development-driven archaeology. The Historic England Regional Science Advisor will be able to provide appropriate specialist advice. By understanding the movement of sand dunes, some insight may be gained into the post-depositional factors that may have affected any surviving deposits within the dune zone (for example, Green Shiel, Lindisfarne; Bowl Hole, Bamburgh; Ebba’s Chapel, Beadnell). It will also provide important conservation information, allowing stabilisation of mobile dunes.

 

Found in the following Frameworks:
North East Research Framework
Categories:
Environmental sampling, Settlement, Early medieval, Palace, Market, Zooarchaeology, Monastery, Minster, Fishing, Settlement pattern

EM9: How did Christianity arrive and develop in early medieval north-east England?

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Christianity is a major research topic in the study of the early medieval North-East. Further research is needed at a range of scales, for example into church fabrics, the layout of ecclesiastical sites, and their impact in the wider landscape. The late (11th century AD) church is poorly understood in the region and the chronology of church building requires more detail. The Saxo-Norman towers of churches, such as Billingham, Bywell and Ovingham are an important element of the suite of standing Anglo-Saxon architecture, but the context of their construction is not understood in detail. While the re-use of Roman masonry in some Christian structures, such as Escomb and Hexham has been recognised, a better understanding should be developed for other sources of building material. Research to provenance building stone is badly needed as well as, if possible, the identification of likely quarries. Sources for other construction materials are unknown, among them roofing lead and lime for mortar – work at Monkwearmouth and Jarrow has shown the potential of this kind of approach. The region is well provided with evidence for the spatial organisation of churches, including standing buildings and archaeological evidence. Our understanding of both the chronology and development of these sites has improved significantly since the work of Taylor and Taylor (1965-78), and Peter Ryder’s work for the DAC has been key in revisiting this material. A start could now be made on a synthesis of the changing patterns in the organisation of space within the region’s Anglo-Saxon churches. Were such shifts related purely to changes and developments in liturgy, or were there other factors at play, such as status?

Extensive historical evidence exists for contact between Northumbria and the church on the Continent; further analysis might reveal whether this is reflected in the design and planning of the region’s churches. Much can also be learnt from an exploration of the spatial organisation of ecclesiastical sites, including their morphology (for example, the presence of multiple churches) and wider site context (for example, re-use of Roman forts; coastal locations). It may be possible to recognise the influence of neighbouring British, Irish and Scottish traditions, as well as to scrutinise variation between Northumbrian monastic sites. Sites with particular potential for further work include Sockburn, Gainford (Co Durham) and Bywell (Northumberland). Churches did not stand isolated in the landscape, they would have been associated with secular settlement, but the political, economic and spatial element of this relationship is not yet understood. Minsters and other important early church sites may acted as a catalyst for the formation of towns. This hypothesis should be tested in the North-East. More archaeological, landscape and documentary work is required. For example, is there a difference between religious and secular estates?

Where recording work is undertaken on churches of possible or known Anglo-Saxon date stone types should be recorded and mortars sampled. It is important to be aware of the possibility of other early medieval activity in villages where the church is known to have an Anglo-Saxon origin, through either documentary or archaeological evidence. Any infilling within such villages should always be subject to archaeological evaluation. Early medieval ecclesiastical sites may have enclosures which were substantially larger than those that survive today, and any development work in their environs should be subject to archaeological conditions.

Detailed structural and materials analysis, combined with a remote sensing at Monkwearmouth and Jarrow has shown the potential for even previously well-studied churches to produce new data. It would be profitable for other key churches to be investigated with full internal and external photogrammetric survey, detailed structural analysis, Ground Penetrating Radar and full geological and mortar analysis. This research has the potential to touch on a series of vital research questions, including the chronology of church construction in the region, technological issues relating to constructional techniques and, through the study of stone sources, the wider economic influence of the early medieval church. There is also clear scope to revisit older recording, church plans and faculties to identify the long-term development of key structures. Detailed survey of the crypt at Hexham has demonstrated the importance of the re-use of Roman material in building projects.

 

Found in the following Frameworks:
North East Research Framework
Categories:
Building survey, Settlement, Early medieval, Church, Geophysical survey, Religious ritual and funerary, Religious house, Photogrammetric survey, Churchyard, Monastery, Minster, Roman fort, Settlement pattern, Settlement morphology

EM10: How did the economy of early medieval north-east England function?

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We need to improve our understanding of the locations at which trade and exchange occurred, especially those at which ecclesiastical sites may have had a key role. The absence of wics or emporia and ‘productive sites’ typical of the early medieval period in many other regions is noticeable (cf. Hodges 1982). The largest collections of coins and imported pottery in the region are all associated with ecclesiastical sites, rather than secular ones. Although there was certainly some coastal trading, both along the coast and across the North Sea, there is little surviving evidence for possible trading sites in the North-East. It is possible that beach locations were exploited. Excavations in other regions, such as the south-west of England (for example, Bantham and Mothecombe in Devon) have shown the potential for the survival of such sites, often preserved by sand dunes. The highest tidal point on rivers and concentrations of sculpture may also be pointers to trading sites (Stocker 2000). Possible predictive approaches might include the sourcing of ballast dumps, exploration at river mouths, the highest tidal point on rivers, pre-existing Roman road systems, etc.

Although relatively little early medieval pottery has been identified in the region, some simple coarsewares may have been produced. These, however, may be difficult to distinguish from earlier, Roman or even prehistoric, coarsewares, so there is an outstanding need for a programme of scientific dating on such assemblages that may throw up unsuspected examples of early medieval pottery. Dating by thermoluminescence should be applied to both ceramics recovered from on-going development driven research, and to material currently held in museum collections. The discovery of any pottery production sites will require extensive excavation, including scientific dating of the deposits and thin-sectioning/chemical analysis of any waste products, in order to shed light on their chronology and technology.

Most early medieval coins from the region are from hoards, with relatively few scattered individual finds. Whether this reflects a genuine distribution or is a factor of the lack of excavation on mid-late Anglo-Saxon settlement sites is unknown. In the light of the extensive coin finds at Bamburgh there is a need to characterise this assemblage, and better understand its archaeological context. It is important to identify the minting sites of Group A styca which are believed to have been minted in Bernicia (Pirie 2004, 72).

Very little is known about the mining, processing or working of lead or iron in the region during the early medieval period, despite the presence of ample local raw materials, although early medieval C14 from slag from Bollihope highlights the need for good scientific dating. Likely sites of early medieval activity should be sought and subjected to detailed excavation and scientific analysis.

Any pre-Conquest pottery workshops will be of exceptional importance for the study of the early medieval economy. Where possible, their sites should be designated or afforded some other form of statutory protection. Early medieval pottery is rare, and it is important to ensure that when recovered during PPG16-driven fieldwork funds are available for its full analysis, including thermoluminescence dating. All stray early medieval coin finds should reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme Finds Liaison Officer (FLO), recorded on the region’s HERs/SMRs and the Corpus of Early Medieval Coin Finds at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge should be informed.

 

Found in the following Frameworks:
North East Research Framework
Categories:
Early medieval, Lead, Market, Pottery manufacturing site, Iron working site, Coin, Pot, Iron, Thermoluminescence, Lead mine, Monastery, Minster, Mint, Lead working site