Kieran O'Conor

title.none: Crabtree, ed., Medieval Archaeology: An Encyclopedia (Kieran O'Conor)

identifier.other: baj9928.0112.011 01.12.11

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Kieran O'Conor, NUI, Galway,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2001

identifier.citation: Crabtree, Pam, ed. Medieval Archaeology: An Encyclopedia. New York: Garland, 2000. Pp. iv, 426. 135.00. ISBN: 0-815-31286-5.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 01.12.11

Crabtree, Pam, ed. Medieval Archaeology: An Encyclopedia. New York: Garland, 2000. Pp. iv, 426. 135.00. ISBN: 0-815-31286-5.

Reviewed by:

Kieran O'Conor
NUI, Galway

This massive and well-produced book, edited by Pam Crabtree, associate professor of anthropology at New York University, consists of 362 entries (some up to several pages in length) detailing summaries of important excavated sites and subjects of general medieval date . In her preface Crabtree defines the medieval period as beginning with the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD and ending around 1500. It might interest readers to know that certain Irish archaeologists would see the medieval period in Ireland as ending in archaeological terms as late as the first half of the 17th century. Indeed, Professor Terry Barry actually states in his entry on later medieval Ireland, in the volume, that he sees the Cromwellian Conquest of the mid 17th century as the major watershed in archaeological and landscape terms between the medieval and early modern periods in our country. Discussions late into the night with Scottish and European colleagues at various conferences (always the most enjoyable and informative part of these meetings, provided you remember the next morning what was said the night before) hint that this may be the case in some other regions of Europe. It shows that the debate on when the medieval period ended in archaeological terms is still to be fully resolved.

The various contributions to the volume are written by 119 well-known and respected American and European archaeologists and specialists. These entries, which are listed alphabetically, deal with a host of topics ranging from such things as animal husbandry during the medieval period to the current state of nautical archaeology in the Mediterranean. There are sections on such subjects as medieval agriculture, hunting, castles, fortified sites such as crannogs and ringforts, cemeteries, ecclesiastical archaeology, rural settlement, technology, crafts, the Vikings, the place of theory in medieval archaeology today and pottery. Also included are simple explanations by experts on general archaeological dating techniques such as radiocarbon dating and dendrochronology. There is a huge amount of interesting, diverse, well-written and informative material in the volume. For example, I am presently trying to write an article on the hitherto unexplored subject of later medieval deer parks and forests in Anglo-Norman Ireland. It was, therefore, informative to read Oliver Rackham's sections on these two related subjects in England. It is clear that this volume will be a major reference work for years to come and no respectable archaeologist, historian and historical geographer studying medieval settlement and the material culture of the period should be without one.

Despite my overall liking and, indeed, admiration for this book, I do have some small criticisms to make. I feel, however, before stating these, that I should preface my comments with an honest proviso. The sheer scale of the labour and effort involved in producing this book means that it is difficult for any given reviewer to do it justice. For example, I know little about medieval archaeology in Central Europe or, indeed, countries such as France, Germany or Holland, although I read these sections in the volume with great interest. We often pay lip-service to the notion of pan- European scholarship, but in reality, we frequently know little about current research in other parts of the Continent or what is happening in medieval terms at American universities. It is hard enough to keep abreast of relevant archaeological work in one's own country or on one's research speciality. Indeed, I truly feel that the essential strength of Crabtree's volume is that it brings together archaeological material from much of Europe in a way not done before. Nevertheless, I feel only competent to make detailed comments and criticisms on material that I have become familiar with during the course of my own career. These are: medieval Ireland in general; later medieval rural settlement in the British Isles; the subject of castles in Europe.

Three entries that occur in the book describe common Irish archaeological monument-types--the crannog (an artificial island), the rath (an earthen embanked and ditched enclosure) and the cashel (a dry-stone walled enclosure). The information provided is correct and well written but limited. Certainly, as outlined in their respective entries, these three settlement forms were a common feature of Early Christian Ireland (A.D.500-1100). There is no doubt that most raths, cashels and crannogs were built between the 6th and 11th centuries and very often functioned as farmsteads and, in some cases, as semi- defended lordly and royal dwellings. There is no mention, however, in each of these entries about the later medieval usage of these monuments. Recent work by the Discovery Programme (Ireland's institute for full-time archaeological research) has again drawn attention to the fact that crannogs continued to be used in Ireland down to the 17th century, most especially in the parts of the island that saw little or no Anglo-Norman settlement in the late 12th and 13th centuries. Curiously there is also no mention of the later medieval usage of crannogs or related natural island fortresses in Scotland in the section of the book dealing with that country. There is also some debate in Ireland at present about the continued occupation of certain cashels and raths in particular parts of the country, such as County Clare, beyond the 11th century down to the 17th century, but there is no reference to this in the two entries on these monuments in the volume. Again, Terry Barry's entry on later medieval Ireland hardly mentions high medieval Gaelic lords and concentrates almost exclusively on the archaeology of the Anglo-Normans. At times one feels that some of the information in the book is just very slightly out of date and that there is little acknowledgement of work published since 1998. Is this an indication that the entries in the book by individual scholars were actually written prior to this date and that the book is more a reflection of European and American archaeological thought on the medieval period during the late 1990's rather than 2000 or 2001? This is not a criticism, more an observation, as I fully realise how long it would take to edit and publish such a large volume as this.

The entry on deserted medieval villages is also highly informative and tightly written. My own work has shown that deserted medieval villages and rural boroughs can occur on sites at which there are no earthworks today, only flat fields, bar the remains of a church or often an earthwork or masonry castle. Such villages were not occupied long enough for earthworks to form. The excavation of Wharram Percy, Yorkshire, along with related survey work and documentary research, clearly made this site the best-known and most important deserted medieval village site in England. I was recently in Germany at a Ruralia conference on medieval rural housing and was struck by the fact that nearly all the British delegates and experts on this subject had excavated, as undergraduates and postgraduates, with the late Mike Jarrett of University College Cardiff at the deserted medieval village site of West Whelpington, Northumberland. Clearly this too was a formative site in the development of the study of medieval rural settlement in Britain but it is not mentioned in the Crabtree's volume and relatively rarely in the literature on the whole subject.

Tom McNeill's entry on castles in the volume is extremely informative on the origin, function and development of the castle across Europe. Nevertheless, I would argue that the adoption of castles in kin-based societies like those that existed in Gaelic-dominated parts of later medieval Ireland and Welsh-ruled parts of Wales during the high medieval period takes longer and is more a complex affair than McNeill allows for in this section. I would also feel that the whole subject of earthwork or timber castles, considering the large numbers of mottes and ringworks built in Europe between the 11th and 13th centuries, should have been allocated a special entry of their own in the volume. In particular, ringworks are barely referred to in the book. Certainly Philip Barker's and Bob Higham's long term excavation of the motte-and-bailey castle at Hen Domen, Powys, in Wales deserved more than the brief mention it got in the volume. This excavation provided a mass of information on the defences and buildings associated with mottes.

These are just minor criticisms and comments. The great test of any book in my opinion is whether or not it could be recommended to students for reading. This volume will certainly be on my students reading list for years to come and I know that I will be constantly referring to it in my own research. Pam Crabtree deserves our thanks, congratulations and admiration for editing and putting together this great work.