John Hines

title.none: Griffiths, Reynolds, and Semple, eds., Boundaries (John Hines)

identifier.other: baj9928.0410.012 04.10.12

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: John Hines, Cardiff University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Griffiths, David, Andrew Reynolds, and Sarah Semple, eds. Boundaries in Early Medieval Britain. Series: Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archaeology and History, vol. 12. Oxford: Oxford University School of Archaeology, 2003. Pp. vi, 217. ISBN: $60.00 0-947816-76-3.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.10.12

Griffiths, David, Andrew Reynolds, and Sarah Semple, eds. Boundaries in Early Medieval Britain. Series: Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archaeology and History, vol. 12. Oxford: Oxford University School of Archaeology, 2003. Pp. vi, 217. ISBN: $60.00 0-947816-76-3.

Reviewed by:

John Hines
Cardiff University

Archaeologists are as suggestible as any other group of academics, and responded to the remarkable global political changes of the late 1980s and 1990s in the same way as researchers in most other branches of the humanities. Marxist and materialist/positivist approaches were rapidly moved to the margins; an enthusiasm was discovered for the study of ethnic identity, which had hitherto been regarded as at best symptomatic of a dangerously naive conservatism; and a spate of conferences, symposia, and study and discussion programmes were mounted on transitions, communities and boundaries. From one such session held at the Theoretical Archaeology Group (TAG) conference in 1998 the current collection of papers has eventually emerged. Initially, one could be excused for suspecting that it has waited too long to appear, as the interest in the topic has already fallen far from the peak of six years ago. In fact, though, the title of this volume is rather misleading. The real value of this issue of the series Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archaeology and History is that it contains one of the more innovative and valuable collections of discussions of settlement evidence from Anglo-Saxon England to be found.

Most of the papers are the shorter communications typical of published conference contributions. Amongst these, however, Nathalie Cohen provides an overview of recently discovered settlement sites and fishing installations along the Thames either side of London, mostly from the early to middle Anglo-Saxon Periods. Leigh Symonds looks at the larger area of Lincolnshire in the Viking/Anglo-Scandinavian Period, filling out the picture by discussing what was going on within the boundaries of the well-known regions of this county, Holland, Kesteven and Lindsey. Aliki Pantos similarly focuses on the interior society of a bounded territory, exploring the siting of regional assembly places close to their boundaries in a paper that serves as a sample of her important Oxford University doctoral thesis on this subject of 2002. The enclosure of ecclesiastical sites in south-western Britain is discussed by Sam Turner, while Jonathan Pitt shows how much we can discover about Anglo-Saxon minster churches and their parochial territories in a study of Wiltshire; at the same time this paper demonstrates how complex and inconsistent the overall pattern of these centres and their geographical dimensions can be. In a particular area of Wiltshire, Sarah Semple undertakes a highly detailed assessment of ostentatiously wealthy burials of the later 7th century and suggests a special role for this material practice in a zone over which Mercian and West Saxon kings were struggling for control.

Two longer studies end the book, and these are substantial papers to which future researchers will be make regular reference in the future. From a team of the Hertfordshire Archaeological Trust, a working field unit, comes a full report on excavations of an early Anglo-Saxon settlement site at Godmanchester, Cambridgeshire (formerly Huntingdonshire). Archaeologically, this is a rich area, not least in respect of the Roman and earlier Anglo-Saxon periods; prehistoric and Roman settlement phases preceded the Anglo-Saxon on this site, and these are fully discussed in this report. The Anglo-Saxon features include a number of ditched enclosures and roadways, together with buildings of the usual types (sunken, and post-built). There is no evidence as yet upon which a dating within a broad period from the fifth century to the seventh can be made more precise. Perhaps the greatest significance of this information at the present juncture is that it so clearly substantiates Andrew Reynolds's claim, in the immediately preceding paper, that, contrary to what is so often and rather lazily asserted, we do now have available a great of detailed archaeological evidence for earlier Anglo-Saxon rural settlement sites. Certainly there are still problems with this: principally that few sites are excavated to the extent of anything more than a small sample, while the backlog in processing and publishing the discoveries is disappointingly great. However, the most practical way to solve those problems will be to establish a sharper research agenda of stimulating questions to be investigated on the basis of such sites, and Reynolds's own paper gives a fine demonstration of precisely that.

Reynolds's contribution is a bold attempt to produce a model of the development of Anglo-Saxon rural settlement sites, from the earliest sites where enclosures are rare if not absent, through the gradual appearance of the enclosure of specific areas and buildings within settlement sites, through a "ca. 60-metre module" (a set of amorphous enclosures, whose maximum dimension in any one direction tends to approach, but not to exceed, 60 metres), to settlements with rectilinear land-divisions, a phenomenon largely overlapping with the appearance of large and robust enclosures around "manorial" residences of the late Anglo-Saxon period and the appearance of the first elongated peasant tenements: the tofts of the High-medieval village. This model is, then, committed to the concept of directed, diachronic development, strongly correlated in Reynolds's discussion with deepening and hardening social hierarchies. That is the point on which, for the present reviewer, the greatest caution is still to be counseled: the pragmatic reasons for Reynolds's approach are evident and reasonable enough, but readers must delve behind his summary and categorization of the data to look at the specific reports on what has been found at each site. Otherwise the overview risks giving an overschematized impression of a steady evolution of the medieval nucleated village and manor. Even at what appear to be the clearest examples of continuous development from pre-Conquest origins to familiar types of post-Conquest settlement, at Cottenham (Cambridgeshire), Raunds and Sulgrave (Northamptonshire), Wharram Percy (East Riding of Yorkshire), the degree of dislocation of specific settlement units between the 10th/11th centuries and the 12th/13th is actually strikingly high. But even if Reynolds has been tempted to over-systematize his data a little, this is a valuable and stimulating essay. It is an admirable guide not only to the information available, but also to what may be done with it.

This, then, is a useful volume, worth consulting for any students and scholars working on the social and political history of the Anglo-Saxon period, and certainly for the archaeology of Anglo-Saxon rural settlements. Those responsible for publishing the series Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archaeology and History might, however, reflect upon the fact that the intermittent production of themed volumes such as this (1) encourages potential subscribers to pick and choose what they take, and (2) in the current case seriously risks misleading potential readers as to what is of greatest value in the volume. There is a definite place for this series as a regular periodical: its hard-working editors need the backing of the publishers to allow it to consolidate its status and role as that, rather than battling on from issue to issue opportunistically grasping hold of conference proceedings.