Early Medieval

409 – 1066 CE

Probable 8th century sculptural fragment, re-used at Darfield Church (photo SYAS)

Introduction

Although commonly known as the Dark Ages, the early medieval period in wider Britain has generally come to light as a period of intricate artwork, national production and industry, international cultures in contact, and overall, the birth of urbanism. Unfortunately, however, current understanding of the early medieval period in South Yorkshire has remained largely in the dark. 

Similar to the East Midlands, evidence of the transition period from the Roman to early medieval in the 5th-7th centuries is largely missing from existing archaeological records.  As a result, the emergence of the developing settlement hierarchies can only be extrapolated from later evidence.  The middle and later Saxon periods do have more evidence of activity throughout South Yorkshire, with a few cemeteries, and the nucleation of settlements, often around Saxon-period churches.  As part of the wapentake system and the Danelaw, there is a Viking character to much of the region, however the extent and nature of contact between the Saxon and Viking inhabitants again remains unclear.  Several burh place names are present throughout the region, although archaeological evidence of this site type is again very sparse. In addition to the limited evidence securely dated to the early medieval period, there are multiple earthwork features that are tentatively dated to the Saxon period.  

In addition to the limited number of records from this period, the known evidence has a clear bias to certain parts of South Yorkshire.  Patrick Ottoway (see SYRF Roman section) has set out a very detailed background to the physical characteristics of the region, and there are certainly biases relating to various geological and topographic changes in the early medieval period in South Yorkshire. A large number of records relating to the early medieval period are centred around Doncaster, with the majority of settlement evidence on the Magnesian Limestone ridge, place name evidence for Scandinavian activity north of Rotherham, and almost no evidence of the period west of Sheffield. 

As the geological and topographic characteristics of the county are outlined in detail in the chapter relating to the Roman period, these do not need reiterating. This summary of the early medieval period will explore a brief history of the county, describe the known evidence in the county, the existing knowledge relating to climate and environment in this period, and finally identify some of the wider key themes that require further research.

Previous literature

Unlike other regions, summaries of the early medieval period in South Yorkshire have largely been amalgamated into larger volumes regarding the period or larger Yorkshire/northern region, including the recent publication of Matthew Townsend’s ‘Viking Age Yorkshire’ (2014), or ‘Northumbria’ (Higham 1993).  David Hey’s 1979 ‘Making of South Yorkshire’ most thoroughly summarises the very loose historic framework of the period, and highlights a few key questions that will be included in this overview.  Hey followed this work with ‘Medieval South Yorkshire’ (2003), as well as the ‘History of Yorkshire’ (2005), and the ‘History of the South Yorkshire Countryside’ (2015).  Other volumes relating to only South Yorkshire are Peter Ryder’s ‘Saxon Churches of South Yorkshire’ (1982), which provides a resource on the churches that contain Saxon materials.  Outside of these broad syntheses, information on the archaeology of South Yorkshire in the early medieval period is largely held within local and national journals, such as the Yorkshire Archaeological Journal or the Transactions of the Hunter Society.  Many of the sites described in this synthesis are taken direct from the South Yorkshire Sites and Monuments Records, and many of them are reported through time, occasionally without references.

Brief history – Still at the frontier

Historical records for the early medieval period in South Yorkshire are particularly sparse, although there are a few notable events that speak to the political climate of the region in the 7th-9th centuries.  The first part of the early medieval period, immediately after the Roman withdrawal is unsurprisingly devoid of records, however the survival of a British kingdom at Elmet suggest that invading Angles that eventually occupy the area arrived quite late.  The boundaries of Elmet are not specifically known, however the kingdom likely covers large parts of eastern South Yorkshire (Hey 2003, 21).  David Hey suggests that the late arrival of the Angles to Yorkshire means that there was very little in the way of typical early Saxon activity, and that scattered settlements and villages were not created until the 8th or 9th centuries or later (Hey 2005, 49).

Elmet was annexed by Northumbria in 617AD, followed by a battle between Edwin of Northumbria and Penda of Mercia in 633AD, which signalled a period of Mercian rule over this part of the country.  From the early 7th century onwards, all of Elmet, covering at least part of South Yorkshire (as well as West Yorkshire), came under the rule of Northumbria; Britons, Mercians, and Northumbrians lived in this frontier zone (Hey 1979, 21; Sanderson and Wrathmell 2005).  A local tradition holds that there is a Saxon palace at Hatfield, however excavations at the purported site did not reveal anything earlier than 1170AD (SMR entry 0433/01; Birch 1988).

The split between Mercia and Northumbria was a constant political battle, which often was centred on the south side of South Yorkshire.  In 829, Dore in south Sheffield formed the boundary between the two kingdoms, until King Eanred of Northumbria, possibly after several defensive battles against Viking invaders, submitted to King Ecgbert of Mercia, as recorded in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle:

In this year, there was an eclipse of the moon on Christmas eve.  And that year King Egbert conquered the kingdom of the Mercians, and everything south of the Humber….  And Egbert led an army to Dore against the Northumbrians, and they offered him submission and peace there, and on that they separated (Whitelock 1965, 40).  

This resulted in the first unofficial unifying of much of country, laying the groundworks for King AEthelstan in 927 to official unify the Kingdom of England.

Although there are these broad brush political events taking place in South Yorkshire, there is still very little understood about the more local politics from a historical standpoint.  Archaeological evidence across much of the region does not support the idea that South Yorkshire was only the stage for larger political games.  Instead, by the time of the Norman Conquest, there was a system of defence along the Don and Dearne Valleys, at Barnburgh, Conisbrough, Doncaster, Kexbrough, Masbrough, Mexborough, Sheffield, Sprotbrough, Stainborough and Worsbrough (Hey 1979, 23).  Many of these have burh names, and may relate to defences constructed against Anglo-Scandinavian incursions, however the dating of these sites still needs to be further refined. Additional large-scale landscape features such as the as-yet undated Roman Ridge and Bar Dike may also be related to this early medieval system of defence (ibid); again questions needs to be addressed through more formal dating systems.  With sparse historical evidence, archaeology is the best primary source for understanding South Yorkshire in this period.

Research questions relating to the history of the period

Can we identify archaeological evidence dated to the transition and later early medieval period particularly around areas of note in historical record, e.g. Hatfield, Bilham, and Rotherham?

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Can we refine our understanding of the Kingdom of Elmet of the early Saxon/British period?

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What was the relationship between British and RB populations and incoming Germanic populations, how may this have varied throughout time?

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How can studies of place names in the region clarify our understanding of changing cultures and the development of places in South Yorkshire?

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The Environment

Overall trends in the environment are known throughout the early medieval period, and it is generally accepted that the environment declined to cooler and wetter after the Roman period.  This decline can sometimes also be responsible for the abandonment of Roman field systems closer to fluvial environments, which is seen frequently along the Trent Valley, but is also evident on the Idle, with the abandonment of the camp at Scaftworth and the subsequent development of Bawtry on higher ground.  The many landscape and geology types across South Yorkshire means there are certainly varying reactions to the changes in climate, from moving out of flood plains, to possibly abandoning crop regimes of the Roman period and re-establishing them later in the early medieval period. However there is no single piece of work that summarises environmental data from South Yorkshire, and collates what is available from the early medieval period.  Environmental studies around Thorne and Hatfield mainly focus on pre-historic periods, and the narrow valleys at the boundary between the Peak District and the Trent Valley and the Don and Dearne Valleys means there are limited opportunities for sampling from palaeochannels.  

Nevertheless, a similar approach to the ‘Mapping the Palaeochannels of the Trent Catchment’ would be of great value in South Yorkshire along the Don and Idle valley catchments, to identify where further palaeoenvironmental evidence could be identified (Stein et al. 2017).  Upland peat deposits could also be reviewed for evidence of early medieval climate changes.  With more dating on sites with potential for evidence of the transition period between the Roman and early medieval, much more detailed environmental and zooarchaeological work could be applied to identify when the economy is changing, and whether it is related to the withdrawal of the Romans, or the incursion of Angles.

Questions relating to the environment

Is there any evidence of woodland regeneration in the early medieval period?

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Do any peatland resources contain deposits of an early medieval date in uplands at the western boundary of Hallamshire? Lowlands in the east at Hatfield and Thorne?

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Can palaeoenvironmental resources be reviewed for additional proxies, such as ostracods and beetles where this has not been done?

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Is there any evidence of decline in climate through changes in palaeochannel morphology?

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Can further environmental samples be identified through dating palaeochannel deposits?

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Can we further understand sub-surface deposits in urban sites such as Doncaster and Sheffield and create dated deposit models of these urban centres?

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Can deposit models of Thorne and Hatfield Moors be further refined to include their hinterlands and how they relate to the Idle and Don Valleys?

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The Roman-Medieval transition

South Yorkshire is almost entirely devoid of evidence of either continuity or restructure between the post-Roman period and the mid-7th century. The current evidence does not generally suggest that there is any continuity throughout this period, and it is possible that Romano-British field systems were largely abandoned, with later nucleation taking place in areas that physically lent themselves to settlement, with the exception of a few Roman elements that were continually used through the period. Evidence from West Yorkshire has shown at least one example where late Roman activities, such as burials and field systems, do bridge the gap between these two periods. Further evidence of this in South Yorkshire would be of very high significance.

There is a strong suggestion that the Roman roads are still in use, as the line of Ryknield Street is later used as parish boundaries. There is archaeological evidence for the fortification of Doncaster as a burh in the early medieval period; pottery and reused stone tiles associated with 6th century pottery form a hearth overlying Roman deposits (Buckland et. al. 1989), and 6th-7th century pottery was also found during excavations on Church Way.  However, aerial photographs taken primarily across the Magnesian Limestone (Roberts et al. 2010) illustrate Iron Age and Romano-British field systems, dated occasionally by pottery where it is available, that are not respected by medieval boundaries, which undoubtedly were established during the middle to late Saxon periods.

More recently, a site excavated by North Archaeological Associates to the immediate west of Goldthorpe and Bolton upon Dearne may provide a counter argument to the idea of complete landscape change in the transition period. This site included a Romano-British farmstead typical of the Magnesian Limestone ridge, with a single phase ditched enclosure. While much of this complex fell out of use at the end of the Roman period, the complex was reduced in size, and later post holes and pits indicate it was used in the post-Roman period.  What really sets this site apart are the corn drying kilns that also sit within this complex.  These three feature types are dated with 6 samples of charred plant remains (barley and wheat) from fills of the pits, the latest phase of the ditch system, and the fills of the corn dryers.  Barley from the driers dates from 331-598 cal AD, corn from the ditch dates from 436-644 cal AD, and a grain of barley from the pits dates to 440-637 AD. This is certainly an exceptional site in South Yorkshire, not just for the significance of the corn dryers and their date, but also because it may indicate that what is known as the ‘post-Roman’ period in this part of the country did not take place until the Angles reached this part of the country, and the early Saxon period may in fact more resemble the Romano-British period.  While these questions are useful to ask, this is a single site (although how many were ignored and previously thought to be Romano-British is unknown); sites of this type should be considered of high significance, and it is perhaps worth revisiting any palaeoenvironmental archives for further dating.

Other evidence for activity in the 5th-7th centuries includes a probable fish stock pond from Conisbrough, near to the church, dating to the 6th century.

This period, without question, has the least amount of dated evidence in South Yorkshire.  All opportunities should be taken to undertake dating where possible, particularly in later phases of IA/RB sites, as well as on sites related to pre-existing Roman features.

Research questions relating to the transition period (5th -7th centuries)

What is the landscape and cultural change that occurs at the end of the Roman period?

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Is there continuity in the landscape in the transitional period?

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Who were the people living in this area at the end of the Roman period – were they Romano-British, British? Did Angles come earlier than previously thought?

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What occurred in the landscape at this time that led to the restructuring of the field systems? Was it largely abandoned, or was it consciously restructured?

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Was the landscape actually not restructured at the end of the Roman period, but instead was it restructured during the Anglian occupation in the 7th century when South Yorkshire became part of Mercia?

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Can we identify social/political boundaries of the pre-Anglian period?

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Does nucleation in fact occur from the 7th-8th centuries rather than the post-Roman period, with proto-urbanism relating to the emergence of urban sites in the East Midlands?

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How can we define the temporal and spatial character of the material culture change (for example the decline in the production and use of pottery) from the 5th century onwards?

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To what extent were Roman roads used and maintained from the 5th century, and how were they reused as socio-political boundaries? What is the archaeological character of reused Roman roads in relation to the early medieval period?

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Is there any evidence for a hiatus in cultivation from the 5th-7th century?

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Settlements

With very little evidence from the post-Roman period, much of the settlement evidence relates to the middle and late Saxon periods.  Settlement evidence that may relate to earlier pre-Anglian periods includes settlement related to existing Roman features, such as Ryknield Street and Doncaster, as well as those related to 5th-7th century events, such as the battle between Edwin of Northumbria and Penda of Mercia in Hatfield District (although 1980s excavations noted in the HER did not reveal any early medieval remains at the rumoured location of the early medieval manor).  As stated above, the Roman road Ryknield Street continued as a road or a significant landscape memory, and is re-used to delineate the pre-Norman parish boundaries.  The reuse of Roman roads as parish boundaries is seen throughout the East Midlands; a well-known example is that at Ermine Street (A15), which also forms parish boundaries.  Of some significance is that, similar to those nucleated settlements along the A15 in Lincolnshire, the nucleated settlements along Ryknield Street are also set back from the route, and often have additional later roads connecting nucleated settlements, as well as the Roman feature.  Other Roman roads that are currently in use are significantly NOT used as parish boundaries, for example the road between Lincoln and Doncaster, to the east of the Trent.  This may be related to when in the early medieval period these nucleations are taking place, as some settlements along that route date to the 7th century or potentially continue from the Roman period (e.g. Stow, Marton, Littleborough). 

Evidence for early medieval settlement in Doncaster before the 9th century is limited to the hearth described above and a few sherds of 6th-7th century pottery.  There is more robust evidence for later Saxon occupation around High Fisher Gate in Doncaster, where 1972 and 2006 excavations revealed a ditch, assumed to be related to the refortification of Doncaster to create a burh, or fortified settlement (AS WYAS 2007).  Evidence of a double ditched enclosure around part of the Roman fort have also been identified near St George’s Church, Church Way, and Baxter Gate, with Saxon pottery in the lowest fills. Burhs were established across much of England in response to Viking incursions, although their emergence may also be linked to conflicts between early Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.  These burh ditches were later filled with what has been interpreted as Norman castle construction rubble (Buckland et al 1989; Richardson 2004).

Also along the Don lies Conisbrough, where, in advance of the substantial Norman castle, there is evidence for an early Saxon manorial/royal estate.  During excavations in 2002 at Wellgate, close to St Peter’s church (with Saxon period evidence), timber planks were identified, with waterlogged deposits, that were dendrochronologically dated to the 6th century; interpreted as a fish stock pond, possibly supplying an early manorial estate. 

Laughton en le Morthen was not only a significant settlement, but also possibly the centre of a significant administrative area.  Although the administrative boundary is unknown, it likely includes Aston, Brampton, Dinnington as well as Laughton (Hey 1979, 26).  David Hey suggests that the place name has roots in Scandinavian traditions; he suggests that Morthen comes from ‘Morthyng,’ referring to an ‘Althing’ or ‘Thing’ site, a common name for a meeting place at the boundary of multiple administrative areas, which Laughton certainly is – at the Northumbrian/Mercian boundary on the east side of South Yorkshire.  The settlement has evidence for late Saxon high status living at several locations, including around Rectory Farm, where 9th century pottery from Lincoln was found, as well as a wattle and daub from a kiln.  The pottery from Laughton suggests links with the emerging towns at Torksey and Lincoln, with two Torksey-type wares (late 9th-mid 11th centuries), two Lincoln Kiln type and Lincolnshire Shelly ware (late 9th– late 10th centuries).  A large assemblage of Lincolnshire Fine-Shelled ware was identified, which dates from the late 10th-late 12th centuries.  The presence of these pottery types indicate a close relationship between Laughton and emerging towns/’proto-towns’ in Lincolnshire.  Recent excavation by Bishop Grosseteste University has also identified ditches possibly pre-dating the Norman motte, however, no definitive evidence was found to confirm this (Bromage 2019). All Saints church also contains a doorway of Anglo-Saxon date.

The administrative unit of Hallamshire holds multiple settlements of early medieval date, including Bradfield, Ecclesall, Ecclesfield, and Sheffield.  There is likely also a significant settlement at Hallam, although, aside from a purported Anglo-Saxon hall of Waltheof, there is no archaeological evidence to support this.  What is significant about Hallamshire, however, is that it lies at the border between Northumbria and Mercia, Yorkshire and Derbyshire, and the Diocese of York and Lichfield; unlike other administrative boundaries in South Yorkshire in the early medieval period, this border is definitively known to be the River Sheaf and the Meersbrook, now on the south side of Sheffield.  Also in Hallamshire is Dore, where in 830 AD, Northumbria, tired from regular fighting with invading Danes, submits to King Ecgbert of Wessex, creating a unified kingdom for the first time.

The South Yorkshire HER records several other probable early medieval settlement locations, including Old Ardsley and Silkstone, based on place name evidence.  Other sites with known early medieval evidence includes Brampton, where there is evidence for immediately pre-Norman iron working, and a pre-conquest manor recorded at Thornhill Hall, Wath upon Dearne.  There are also likely settlements associated with churches that date to the early medieval period, which are described in the ‘Ecclesiastic Centres’ section below.

By the time of the Domesday survey, the largest settlements in South Yorkshire included Hexthorpe (Doncaster), Dadsley (Tickhill) Laughton en le Morthen, Conisbrough, Hallam (Sheffield), and Hooton Pagnell (Faull and Stinson 1986).

Portable Antiquities Scheme data has been a successful mechanism in identifying settlement and activity centres, particularly in areas such as Lincolnshire (Daubney 2016), and further studies through GIS may also help to define more settlements and their patterns in South Yorkshire.

Questions relating to settlement patterns

How did the different landscapes related to geology and topography affect the settlement patterns established in all phases of the early medieval period? Can we create a model to start identifying settlement patterns in this period?

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How do Roman road systems affect the nucleation and administrative boundaries during different phases of the early medieval period?

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To what extent did rivers affect the social and political boundaries around South Yorkshire? Is there any archaeological evidence for these major boundaries, particularly where we know they existed?

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When does nucleation occur, can we identify more sites with dating evidence? What factors may underlie the progression to nucleated settlements and hierarchies?

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How does Early Medieval nucleated settlement relate to pre-existing Roman features? Were Roman roads used and maintained, and were any others used as social or political boundaries?

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How does Early Medieval settlement relate to pre-existing roads?

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What was the diet and economy like across the different landscapes in South Yorkshire?

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What evidence is there for proto-urbanism in settlements such as Laughton, Conisbrough, or Doncaster?

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What were the administrative boundaries, and is it possible to identify these based on existing earthworks or re-examining documents or maps? What evidence is there for early medieval archaeology at other known boundaries, such as the southern side of Hallamshire?

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Can we enhance our understanding of the primary industries throughout South Yorkshire, in particular the emergence of the pottery industries, quern stone industries, and iron working industries?

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To what extent was coal used as a resource throughout the early medieval period?

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Is there evidence for new crops and other agricultural changes during the RB/EM transition? During the early to late Saxon transition?

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Is there evidence for an All Thing at Laughton?

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Can Portable Antiquities Scheme data help up to refine our knowledge of Early Medieval settlement patterns and identify otherwise ephemeral settlements?

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Burhs

Burhs are a specifically early medieval, even Saxon, type site, comprising a settlement fortified often by a ‘burhdyke,’ or bank and ditch.  Frequently, burhs in England are precursors to Norman motte and bailey castles.  It is traditionally accepted that these fortified settlements were established as a result of Viking raids in the 9th century (Sawyer 1975), however burhs appear at a time when there was wide range of conflicts that may have inspired their construction (e.g. territory struggles, religious changes).

A single ‘burh’ site is noted in the HER at Doncaster, however a string of burh place names along the Dearne Valley suggests that there is a tradition of fortified settlements along the Don and the Dearne, particularly around Barnsley.  Several of these locations still do have evidence of later motte and bailey castle construction. Archaeologically, Doncaster is the only identified burh, however Conisbrough was also likely a prominent burh, with early medieval archaeology identified in the town, and a significant later castle at the confluence of the Don and Dearne.  A classic Norman-style stone-built motte and bailey type castle, several sherds of Torksey-type ware and Lincolnshire shelly wares identified at the castle, supports the hypothesis that there was a burh site on the site of the later castle at Conisbrough(Thompson 1969; Johnson 1980).   Just upstream on the Don, Mexborough also contains a later motte and bailey castle. Other potential burh sites to be found along the Dearne/Don corridor include Sprotbrough, Barnburgh, Worsbrough, Masbrough and Greasbrough.  

Potential burh sites are not limited to locations with place name evidence.  As at Conisbrough, Mexborough and Doncaster, burhs can be precursors to significant castle sites.  Several significant and some later failed castle sites in South Yorkshire (including Sheffield Castle, Laughton-en-le-Morthen, Beighton, Bradfield, Hickleton, Kimberworth, Langthwaite, Skellow, Tickhill, Thorne, Cantley, and Hampole) are worth investigating for evidence of a pre-Norman burh.

Questions relating to Burhs

QSY0260: Can we identify Anglo-Saxon burh sites, and to what extent do they reutilise Roman defence systems?

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Is there any evidence for a pre-Norman burh site at Sheffield Castle? If so, what factors led to the construction of this castle along the Sheaf?

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Sprotbrough, Barnburgh, Worsbrough, Masbrough, Greasbrough, Conisbrough, Mexborough, Doncaster, Sheffield Castle, Laughton-en-le-Morthen, Beighton, Bradfield, Hickleton, Kimberworth, Langthwaite, Skellow, Tickhill, Thorne, Cantley, Hampole
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Roman, Early medieval, Excavation, Fortification, Burh

QSY0261: Which place names are certainly associated with burh sites?

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Early medieval, Burh, Place name study, Placename evidence

QSY0262: Are burh sites in South Yorkshire related to Viking activities?

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Early medieval, Burh, Viking

QSY0263: To what extent were burhs fortified?

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Early medieval, Excavation, Fortification, Burh

QSY0264: What roles did rivers play as corridors for not only movement through the county, but also for defensive purposes?

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Are Saxon burh sites directly related to these river corridors? Are there any differences between burh sites along the Don and the Dearne and the rest of the county?

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Early medieval, Burh, River

Vikings

On the whole, the Vikings hold a quiet but strong presence in the county, with an abundance of Viking place names, as well as a single burial with a strong Viking cultural identity.  Unlike much of the Midlands and the surrounding parts of Yorkshire, there is limited evidence for widescale Vikings incursions throughout South Yorkshire.  No locations in the region are mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle relating to the 9th century Viking raids, and there is no record of Viking raids on the existing significant settlements. They may have initially reached the region during the Viking incursions of the 870s to the East Midlands, however much of the lasting Viking signatures on archaeology and landscape likely dates to the following decades, after Vikings begin to fully integrate into the local populations.  

While there is no direct evidence of burhs being established due to a Viking presence, surrounding place name evidence does suggest that Viking populations are excluded from burhs, and were perhaps pushed into settlements just outside the Dearne and Don Valley, to places such as Maltby, Denaby, Thorpe Hesley, Grimethorpe, Goldthorpe, Edenthorpe, Armthorpe, Osgathorpe, Jordanthorpe, Hakenthorpe, and Owlthorpe.  Further landscape studies of place names in South Yorkshire would help to identify any clusters of Anglo-Scandinavian place names, and how the associated rural landscape may have evolved in contrast to areas without a different cultural influence.

There is little in the way of cultural evidence of the Vikings in South Yorkshire. However the 2001 excavation of a woman buried with a range of Viking-type artefacts at Adwick-le-Street suggests that Vikings may have held on to their cultural identity (Speed and Rogers 2004).  The woman’s grave contained mis-matched tortoise brooches, a copper alloy bowl, an iron knife, and a key.  Isotopic analysis indicates she may have originated from Norway or north east Scotland.  Although not part of a concentrated burial ground, she may have been part of a more dispersed middle-Saxon cemetery at Adwick, though this was the only burial of distinct Viking cultural identity.  

Questions relating to Vikings

What was the impact of Viking occupation in South Yorkshire?

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Early medieval, Viking

To what extent are place names affected by Scandinavian occupation in different parts of the county?

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What impact did Germanic and Scandinavian immigration have on rural settlement patterns?

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How can we refine our understanding of the chronology and process of Scandinavian immigration during the 9th and 10th centuries?

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What were the differences between Anglo-Scandinavian and non-Scandinavian burhs and other proto-urban settlements?

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Where are Danish place names concentrated, and how might this relate to river systems, burh sites, or even political movements?

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How do Viking and Anglo-Saxon burials relate to one another?

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Is there evidence for Viking raiding up and down the Don Valley through PAS data, or were Anglo- Scandinavian interactions mainly related to settlement?

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Can further isotopic analysis of cemetery sites indicate where Vikings may have settled, and where the Adwick le Street burial may have originated from? Can improvements in isotopic C14 dating be used to refine our understanding of this significant burial?

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Did the Anglo-Scandinavian settlement in South Yorkshire have any direct effects on the current dialects?

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Early medieval, Viking

Ecclesiastic centres

Evidence for ecclesiastic centres in South Yorkshire is mainly in the form of architectural remains within church fabrics, much of which has been documented in Peter Ryder’s ‘Saxon Churches in South Yorkshire.’  Primarily, evidence for ecclesiastic centres in the early medieval period in South Yorkshire is in the form of parish church fabric, or stone sculpture surviving within the fabric.  This includes herringbone pattern in the fabric at Maltby, a settlement with a Viking place name.  Although the evidence is largely fragmentary and incorporated into later buildings, the reuse of early medieval stonework in religious buildings is useful in identifying areas of late early medieval activity – much of this could be mapped to understand landscape and settlement centres in pre-Norman South Yorkshire.  Some of these churches are located near known early medieval settlements (e.g. Laughton en le Morthen), however others are located where there are no other remains identified (e.g. Tickhill). 

Despite there being limited evidence for monastic centres in this period, at least two large ecclesiastic centres are noted by place name and historical evidence alone.  The first is Ecclesfield in Sheffield, or the ‘Minster of the Moors’, where the place name suggests a significant monastic centre, and the original parish size is incongruously large compared to other parishes (Ryder 1982; Parker 1985).  The current standing church dates to the later medieval period, however it does incorporate a late Saxon cross shaft within the transept (Ryder 1982,91).  Archaeological investigations at Edlington Wood also produced a range of early medieval metalwork, which has been interpreted previously as being part of an industrial range of a monastic centre, or perhaps a part of a medieval manor outside of Conisbrough.  Aside from these purported sites, there is little evidence for early medieval monastic origins in the area.

Questions relating to Ecclesiastic centres

QSY0277: Is there any evidence of the origins of monastic sites in South Yorkshire in the pre-Norman period?

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Early medieval, Excavation, Church, Monastery

QSY0278: How does the distribution of ecclesiastic sites across the landscape match with settlement patterns, and how can it augment our knowledge of activity centres in this period?

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Settlement, Early medieval, Grange, Monastery, Landscape

QSY0279: Can we further elucidate the types of early medieval stonework across churches in the county and assess the cultural connections through these building styles?

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Early medieval, Church, Building fabric analysis

QSY0280: How do ecclesiastic centres relate to early medieval manorial sites?

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QSY0281: What is the chronology of the built environment of ecclesiastic buildings? Are there wooden buildings, later replaced, or are they built initially from stone? What can this say about the adoption of Christianity in South Yorkshire?

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QSY0282: What is the process of Christianisation in South Yorkshire, how does the religion spread? How are pagan rituals fitted into this process (e.g. cross shafts and sculptural elements?)

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QSY0283: Are there other religious site types in the region, e.g. hermitages (such as at Lindholme), or outlying chapels (e.g. St. Helen’s Chapel Barnburgh [Cockrell et al. 2015)?

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QSY0284: Is there evidence of reuse of earlier monuments in early Christian sites?

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Crosses

There are a total of 9 cross shafts recorded in the HER for South Yorkshire.  Of note is that none of these crosses are directly linked to any of the churches known to be early medieval in date.  Most of these crosses have likely moved since their initial erection, however the majority of them are associated with places that may have had early medieval settlements.  The Sheffield cross shaft has historically been of particular interest, and is now held at the British Museum, although further studies on all the cross shaft stone work from South Yorkshire is warranted.  In particular, the location of these crosses in the landscape and in relation to existing settlement and ecclesiastic patterns should be reviewed, although more detailed review of art styles and rock types could also be studied.

Questions relating to crosses

What can we deduce from Anglo-Saxon sculpture about ethnic and religious affiliations?

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How can we cross compare known sculpture across the county to understand changes in religious beliefs and similarities of cultural affiliations?

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How can we investigate where the cross shafts originated from, and also what is the relationship between existing ecclesiastic centres and locations where cross shafts are thought to come from?

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  • What can we deduce from Anglo-Saxon sculpture about ethic and religious affiliations?
  • How can we cross compare known sculpture across the county to understand changes in religious beliefs and similarities of cultural affiliations?
  • Can we refine where the cross shafts originated from, and also what is the relationship between existing ecclesiastic centres and locations where cross shafts are thought to come from?

Cemeteries

There is an almost complete dearth of cemeteries dating only to the early medieval period in the entirety of South Yorkshire.  Any identified are of great significance. The previous section has highlighted that there are certainly ecclesiastical centres emerging, with many known stone built churches in the early medieval period, so it is possible that many of the cemeteries around these centres date to at least the later part of the early medieval period; however only one single cemetery is known to date securely from Middle Saxon period in the South Yorkshire.

In 2007 in Adwick-le-Street, ARCUS excavated 40 graves, which included 37 burial remains, radiocarbon dated to the late 7th to late 8th centuries (McKinley 2016).  These were located on a slope overlooking the Old Ea Beck, a very small tributary of the River Don, with no obvious relationship to earlier sites in the immediate vicinity.  The remains are situated in a linear stretch, as if along a wall or boundary, with most bodies in a supine position, and in a SW-NE alignment.  One single female was buried in the opposite direction, with her head to the NE an in a crouch position.  There were few grave goods, most of which were personal dress items.  Isotopes indicate a mix of local and regional, with two people from further afield.  The morphology of the cemetery matches our ideas of Conversion period cemeteries elsewhere, with the emergence of non-churchyard cemeteries, however it is significant as the only one known in South Yorkshire.  The close proximity of the Viking woman’s burial only enhances the significance, integrating the questions regarding populations and culture with burial practices.

Several other single inhumations and burial clusters have been identified as potentially of early medieval date by antiquarian and early 20th century accounts, including that at Stancil Villa in Tickhill, burials associated with Dinnington Long Barrow, a cemetery with a possible Anglo-Saxon brooch at Braithwell, and burials found with Conisbrough Church.  Although these are likely places for early medieval inhumations, where possible, these should be re-examined using modern dating methods where possible.  Other inhumations recorded in the HER include a single burial in Mexborough dated by ex situ grave goods, and 7 burials in Doncaster and an inhumation in Thorne with no dating evidence at all.  All of these assemblages warrant further investigation for dating evidence.

Questions relating to cemeteries

Where are cemeteries in relation to early medieval settlements and the wider landscape?

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What can be deduced about changes in diet, mortality and other demographic variables based on osteological studies of any existing cemetery assemblages?

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How do Viking and Anglo-Saxon burials relate to one another? Are there indications of cross-culturalisation?

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Is there evidence for reuse of Roman burial grounds, or even Roman features as early medieval cemeteries?

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Is there evidence for early medieval burial in post-Norman contexts? How can that refine our knowledge of settlement and ecclesiastical foundations?

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Earthworks

Several earthworks are listed in the HER as dating to the early medieval period, however no major earthworks as recorded have been dated to this period by artefactual or absolute dating evidence.  Mainly, they have been dated by their relationships with existing monuments, or by associated earthworks or features.  As a result, dating these features is a high priority, and they should be treated cautiously until further work is completed.  This does not mean, however, that they should be excluded from research, as their morphology can be essential in understanding either why they were constructed in the early medieval period, or how they were used in this period.

The most significant earthwork potentially related to the early medieval period is the Roman Ridge, a linear earthwork that stretches over 27km, and survives in multiple sections between Wincobank in north Sheffield and Mexborough, Doncaster.  It comprises a bank and ditch, with the ditch to the south.  The course of this earthwork lies between 500m-1mile northwest of the Don, loosely following the directly of the river.  Despite the name, of course, the earthwork is almost certainly not Roman, hence its discussion here. Morphologically, it may be comparable with more well-known significant dykes in this period, e.g. Offa’s Dyke, however there has been no recent or historical excavations to confirm a similar date. A 3rd century mortarium has been identified within the top fills of the ditch, and the relationship between the ridge and Wincobank Iron Age Hillfort suggests it may be dated to this earlier period (Boldrini 2016). The mirroring of the Ridge and the Don is likely not a coincidence, however whether it was built by Iron Age or Early Medieval tribes remains to be clarified and further examination is required.

Two linear earthworks recorded by the HER have relationships with other known early medieval sites, and therefore are strong candidates for relating to this period.  At Conisbrough, where there is an early medieval church, possible fishponds dating to the early medieval period, and a probable early burh site, it is unsurprising that there are linear earthworks that may also date to this period.  Through the parks at Conisbrough, a single linear bank and ditch may represent an earlier boundary line.  The bank and ditch is overlain by ridge and furrow, so dating is still tenuous, whether it relates to the early medieval or later medieval period is uncertain.  The linear earthwork at Edlington Wood, a substantial 6m wide, 1m high earthwork, likely served as a boundary marker.  Archaeological evidence for early medieval metal working in the wood confirms the presence of an early medieval presence, so it is not unreasonable to consider that this earthwork relates to early medieval activity.

Other linear earthworks are much less substantial, although generally respecting features dating more securely to the early medieval period.  At Wentworth, a parish boundary is mirrored by a linear earthwork; although it is unclear which came first, the establishment of parish boundaries in the early medieval period and the relationship of the earthwork indicates the earthwork was likely significant in this period.  At the edge of the Peak District, where there is generally very little in the way of early medieval archaeology, Bar Dyke in Bradfield is prominently located on a scarp of Millstone Grit, possibly indicating the edges of two landscapes, or even a political boundary.  This dyke is also undated, so may relate to any earlier period when territories were demarcated based on landscape and resources.  Finally, the HER records a linear at Dunsville, near Thorne, as potentially of this period as it runs parallel to Thorne road, but further dating evidence is needed to determine which features mirrors which.

Questions relating to earthworks

Can undated earthworks (Roman Ridge/Bar Dyke) be further dated using techniques such as OSL to determine whether they are related to early medieval administrative boundaries or defences?

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If Bar Dyke and/or the Roman Ridge are dated to the prehistoric period, were they reused in the early medieval period?

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By mapping Bar Dyke and the Roman Ridge in relation to early medieval landscapes, can we further refine our understanding of the contemporary political or economic environment?

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Pottery

For a discussion of early medieval pottery see the page below:

Can further fabric analyses, particularly on those from Doncaster and Laughton, be further refined to illustrate trade patterns and local fabric types? Can further analyses help to refine the results of the Anglo-Saxon Pottery Project?

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Do pottery assemblages change throughout the early medieval period relating to political shifts?

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Can major networks of trade and exchange been seen through movement of pottery types in South Yorkshire?

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Archaeobotanical Issues

More evidence is needed from South Yorkshire to investigate changes in the crops cultivated and associated changes in crop husbandry practices during the early medieval period and how these changes vary in different regions (Van der Veen 2013, 172).  The role of bread wheat in the early Anglo-Saxon agricultural economy is a focus of current archaeobotanical research (McKerracher 2016), as is the possible continuing cultivation of emmer and spelt wheat in some regions (Pelling and Robinson 2000) and the introduction of rivet wheat in the later Anglo Saxon period (Moffett 1991).   Finds of more than the occasional specimen of these crops are, therefore, a priority for analysis and dating.

Rich assemblages of wild or weed plant seeds are a priority for analysis to investigate changes in crop husbandry practices that accompanied the adoption of new crops, such as the cultivation of heavy soils, deep ploughing and crop rotation (Van der Veen 2013, 171).  Early medieval archaeobotanical samples that include chaff and wild or weed plant seeds are, however, rare, possibly due to the small scale of agricultural production but also due to differential preservation.  By-products from the free threshing cereals, which become the main crop types in the early medieval period, are removed at an early crop processing stage and are, therefore, less likely to be preserved in domestic fires (Van der Veen 2013, 172).  Crop processing by-products were also often used as fodder and thatch rather than fuel in the medieval period (Carruthers and Huntley in Hall and Huntley 2007, 100).  Any early medieval archaeobotanical assemblages that include crop processing by-products are, therefore, a priority for analysis. 

The recovery of waterlogged plant remains is also a priority, to provide evidence for fruit, vegetables, herbs, medicinal plants, fibre crops and exotic/imported foods (Van der Veen 2013, 164).  Wells, latrine pits and deep pits/ditches are a priority for sampling, as are sites with deep stratigraphy where anoxic conditions may result in the preservation of uncharred plant material in the absence of full waterlogging (ibid., 164).

The extent of woodland regeneration during the post Roman period is a topic of debate (Tyres et al 1994; Murphy 1994).  Palynological evidence for the early medieval period in northern England is needed as many pollen sequences are missing evidence for later periods due to erosion or peat cutting (Huntley 2010, 33).  Evidence from wood charcoal assemblages can complement evidence from pollen sequences or provide evidence for woodland availability where pollen evidence is lacking.  Rich assemblages of wood charcoal are needed to investigate the use of fuel in industrial processes such as pottery manufacture and metal working and compare these with fuel used in domestic contexts (Huntley 2010, 63). Smelting and kiln sites are, therefore, a priority for sampling, alongside hearths, ovens, and other domestic contexts.  The identification and analysis of any large assemblages of early medieval wood charcoal from northern England is rare (ibid., 30) and any sites with rich assemblages of wood charcoal are a priority for analysis.  

Larger numbers of charred plant macrofossil samples from early medieval sites are necessary to provide good quality data which can be used to make reliable inferences regarding agricultural practices or diet (Van der Veen 2013, 165).  The collection of large numbers of samples is particularly important for the early medieval period due to the low density of by-products from crop processing at many sites (Van der Veen 2013, 172).  

A sufficient number of samples from each phase, feature type or area of the site need to be taken in order to provide evidence for patterning within the assemblage (Carruthers and Hunter Dowse 2019, 47 Van der Veen 2013, 165). It is important that negative evidence is recorded in order to understand differences in plant use in different areas of a settlement or between settlements (Van der Veen 2013, 177).  Material should be collected from different areas within a context to obtain a representative sample (Campbell et al 2011, 9).  Multiple samples should also be taken from occupation deposits to explore variation in different areas of the deposit (ibid., 9).   Samples need to be 40-60 litres in size (ibid., 12) to achieve recovery of at least 100 specimens of charred plant material, which is necessary for statistical analysis (Van der Veen 2013, 176). Larger sample sizes are particularly important on early medieval sites, as charred plant remains are often present in low densities (Carruthers and Hunter Dowse 2019, 120; Hall and Huntley 2007, 109).  Processing of large sample volumes for the recovery of charred plant macrofossils is also more likely to produce sufficient charcoal fragments to provide a representative sample of woody taxa utilised for fuel.Sorting of the heavy residues of flotation samples can also be useful for the recovery of small artefacts, such as hammer scale or beads or organic material such as molluscs or fish bone (Campbell et al 2011, 12).  Charred plant remains such as cereal grain, hazelnut shell and small diameter wood charcoal fragments, which are readily preserved in acidic soils (ibid., 5), also provide dating evidence which may not be available from other material such as bone, which is poorly preserved at sites on the acidic soils of the Coal Measures.

Original text by Samantha Stein (2020), with a contribution by Ellen Simmons (archaeobotany)

Bibliography and Further Reading

  • ASWYAS.  2007. ‘Doncaster, South Yorkshire Archaeological Desk-based Assessment; Volume 1: Town Survey.  April 2007.’ WYAS report 125/93.  Unpublished report.
  • ‘A Prelim Field Survey of the Wentworth Parish/Brampton Bierlow Boundary (Stump Cross to Kings Wood) 17.4.1949 (L.H. Butcher) unpublished in Butcher Collection Sheffield Museum.
  • Birch, J. and Ryder, P.  1988. ‘Hatfield Manor House.’  Yorkshire Archaeological Journal.  Vol 60.  Pp. 65-104.    
  • Boldrini, N., ‘A Re-examination of the Roman Ridge’ FT 04/11/2016.
  • Bromage, S. A. 2019.  ‘Castle Hill, Laughton-en-le-Morthen, Targeted Excavation July 2019.  Castle Studies Trust Unpublished Report.
  • Buckland, P.C., Magilton, J.R. and Hayfield, C.  1989.  The Archaeology of Doncaster 2; The Medieval and Later Town.  British Archaeological Reports, British Series 202.
  • Campbell, G. Moffett, L. and Straker, V. 2011. Environmental Archaeology. A Guide to the Theory and Practice of Methods, from Sampling and Recovery to Post-excavation. 2nd ed. Swindon: Historic England
  • Carruthers, W. and Hunter Dowse, K.L. 2019. A Review of Macroscopic Plant Remains from the Midland Counties. Historic England Research Department Report Series no. 47/2019. Swindon: Historic England Research Department.
  • Cockrell, T., Cumberpatch, C., and Rylatt, J.  2015.  ‘Fieldwork at St. Helen’s Chapel, Barnburgh, South Yorkshire.’ Transactions of the Hunter Society. Vol. 28.  Pp. 32.
  • Daubney, A. J.  2016.  Portable Antiquities, Palimpsests, and Persistent Places: A multi-period approach to Portable Antiquities Scheme data in Linconshire.  Leiden: Sidestone Press. 
  • Hadley, D.  2000.  The Northern Danelaw: Its Social Structure, c. 800-1100.  Studies in the Early History of Britain.  London: Continuum.
  • Hall, A.R. and Huntley, J.P. 2007. A review of the evidence for macrofossil plant remains from archaeological deposits in Northern England. Historic England Research Department Report Series no. 87/2007. Swindon: Historic England Research Department.  
  • Hallam, R. L.  2015.  Saxon Remains at Castle-Hill, Sheffield: A Review.  Transactions of the Hunter Archaeological Society.  Vol. 28.  Pp. 29.
  • Hey, D.  1979.  The Making of South Yorkshire.  Ashbourne:Moorland Publishing.
  • Hey, D.  2003.  Medieval South Yorkshire. Landmark Collections Company. Ashbourne: Landmark Publishing.
  • Hey, D.  2005.  A History of Yorkshire. Lancaster: Carnegie Publishing.
  • Hey, D.  2015.  A History of the South Yorkshire Countryside.  Barnsley: Pen & Sword.
  • Higham, N. J.  1993.  The Kingdom of Northumbria AD 350-1100.  Stroud: Alan Sutton.
  • Huntley, J. 2010. A Review of Wood and Charcoal Recovered from Archaeological Excavations in Northern England. Historic England Research Department Report Series no. 68/2010. Swindon: Historic England Research Department.
  • Johnson, J. S. 1980.  ‘Excavations at Conisbrough Castle, 1973-1977.’ Yorkshire Archaeological Journal. Vol 52.  Pp 59-88.
  • McComish, J., Mainman, A. 2010.  ‘Excavations at Low Fisher Gate, Doncaster, South Yorkshire.’  Yorkshire Archaeological Journal.  Vol 82.  Pp. 231-262.
  • McKerracher, M. 2016. Bread and surpluses: the Anglo-Saxon ‘bread wheat thesis’ reconsidered’ Environmental Archaeology 21 (1): 88-102.
  • McKinley, J.  2016.  ‘A Conversion-Period Cemetery at Woodlands, Adwick-le-Street, South Yorkshire.’ Yorkshire Archaeological Journal.  Vol 88/1.  Pp. 77-120.
  • Moffett, L. 1991. The archaeobotanical evidence for free‐threshing tetraploid wheat in Britain. Palaeoethnobotany and Archaeology, International Workgroup for Palaeoethnobotany, 8th Symposium at Nitra‐Nové Vozokany 1989. Acta Interdisciplinaria Archaeologica 7. Nitra: Slovak Academy of Sciences, 233–43
  • Murphy, P. 1994. The Anglo-Saxon landscape and rural economy: some results from sites in East Anglia and Essex. InJ Rackham (ed.) Environment and economy in Anglo-Saxon England. York: Council for British Archaeology, 23-39
  • Northern Archaeological Associates.  2005.  ‘Station Road, Arksey, South Yorkshire, Post-Excavation Assessment Report.’ NAA 05/40.  Unpublished report.
  • Parker, M.  1985. ‘Ecclesall, A Clue to the Topography of Early Hallamshire.’  Transactions of the Hunter Society.  Vol. 13, pp. 10-23.
  • Pelling, R. and Robinson, M. 2000. Saxon emmer wheat from the upper and middle Thames valley, England. Environmental Archaeology 5: 117–19
  • Richardson, J.  2004.  ‘10-14A Hallgate Doncaster, South Yorkshire.  Interim Report.’  Archaeological Services WYAS, Unpublished Report.
  • Roberts, I., Berg, D., and Deegan, A.  2010.  Understanding the Cropmark Landscapes of the Magnesian Limestone.  Archaeological Services WYAS and English Heritage.
  • Ross, C.  2014.  ‘Excavation of a changing landscape at Goldthorpe, South Yorkshire.’ Northern Archaeological Associates report number 13/131.  Unpublished Report.
  • Ross, C., Gardiner, L., Brogan, G., and Russ, H.  2016.  ‘Post-Roman crop production and processing: archaeological evidence from Godthorpe, South Yorkshire.’ Environmental Archaeology.  Vol. 22:3.  pp. 223-246.
  • Ryder, P.  1982. ‘Saxon Churches in South Yorkshire.’ South Yorkshire County Council.  County Archaeology Monography No. 2. 
  • Sanderson, I., and S. Wrathmell.  2005.  ‘Archaeology from the End of the Roman Period to the Norman Conquest.’ In the West Yorkshire Research Agenda.  West Yorkshire Advisory Service.
  • Sawyer, P.  1985.  Age of Vikings.  New York: St. Martin’s Press.
  • Speed, G., and Rogers, P. W.  2004.  ‘A Burial of a Viking Woman at Adwick-le-Street, South Yorkshire.’  Medieval Archaeology. Volume 48-1.  Pp. 51-90.
  • Stein, S., Malone, S., Knight, D., Howard. A., and Carey, C.  2017.  ‘New approaches to mapping and managing palaeochannel resources in the light of future environmental change: a case study from the Trent Valley, UK.’ The Historic Environment: Policy and Practice.  Vol. 8(2).  pp. 113-124.
  • Thompson, M.  1969. ‘Further work at Conisbrough Castle, Yorkshire.’  Medieval Archaeology Vol 13. Pp 215-216.
  • Townend, M.  2014.  Viking Age Yorkshire.  Pickering: Blackthorn Press.
  • Tyers, I. Hillam, J. and Groves, C. 1994. Trees and woodland in Anglo-Saxon England: the dendrochronological evidence. InJ Rackham (ed.) Environment and economy in Anglo-Saxon England. York: Council for British Archaeology, 12-22
  • Van der Veen, M. Hill, A. and Livarda, A. 2013. The archaeobotany of medieval Britain (c AD 450-1500): identifying research priorities for the 21st century.  Medieval Archaeology 57 (1): 151-182
  • Whitelock, D.  1965.  The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: A Revised Translation.  London: Eyre and Spottiswoode.

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