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16.11.06 , Jervis, et al., eds., Objects, Environment, and Everyday Life in Medieval Europe

16.11.06 , Jervis, et al., eds., Objects, Environment, and Everyday Life in Medieval Europe

This book is well produced and looks attractive. It has a comprehensive introduction and 13 thematic chapters illustrated with 53 figures, 13 maps and 21 tables. The chapters are organised in groups of three or four, in four parts or themes: Part 1. Provisioning as Process; Part 2. Social Dynamics; Part 3. Domestic Life; Part 4. Studying the Town. The authors come from a variety of European countries (but none from, for example, Germany or France), and use material mainly drawn from the authors' homelands, although one chapter deals with evidence from Anatolia. Three chapters are co-authored, each with three to six contributors. English authors and English material predominate and all the editors are affiliated with British universities. All but two papers were presented at one of the sessions at the 2012 Medieval Europe Research Congress in Helsinki.

The book's raison d'être is characterised as "artefacts and ecofacts are still too often utilized as mere anecdotal evidence of how urban communities used to live in the past" (2). The aim of the book is, then, "to present a series of studies which demonstrate the value of integrating artefact and environmental studies into mainstream discourse within the study of medieval urban culture, which extends beyond the physical entity of the town." It is also stated that a key theme throughout the volume is "to consider towns not as isolated settlements, but as integral parts of the system which was medieval society, which influence their surroundings, but are also influenced by them" (12). Some of the chapters do indeed discuss relationships between town and hinterland/countryside. But the book's title is at odds with its contents in that the reader is led to expect, but does not get, some chapters which focus on life in rural settlements, where by far most people lived.

However, the individual articles are, on the whole, interesting and worth publishing. There are interesting conclusions, e.g. Lewis on selected types of PAS finds (finds in the English record "Portable Antiquities Scheme"). He discusses mounts for furnishings, padlocks and candleholders, which--following a leading UK expert in medieval small finds, the late Geoff Egan, but using new material--demonstrate the close links of the material culture of towns and countryside, while also suggesting that there may have been different requirements for lighting in different environments. The methodology and perspectives of the article on human dental calculus and urban environment (using material from Leicester) present a promising new technique. Runic inscriptions on some wooden vessels in the town of Turku give insight in aspects of life and attitudes in a Finnish town; while the different patterns of animal husbandry in Anatolian towns (by Pişkin) lead to interesting conclusions, although it is hardly surprising to medieval archaeologists that pigs were also bred in towns and part of their environment (cf. 5).

But in general the natural scientific methods presented have been known, used and debated for a long time; they have indeed provided many fascinating results through many years, as has a the study of artefacts in considering medieval culture. The aims of the book seem rather post festum. A good many years have passed since eco- and artefacts were simply used as "anecdotal evidence," cf. the editors' statement above. [1]

The articles in this volume appear as a collection of select case studies. Many other methods and types of case studies might have been selected; the book by no means comprises a comprehensive collection of the natural science or artefactual methods and perspectives available. Also missing are examples of results of systematic cooperation using a series of different methods in pursuit of answers to crucial questions; this could have been found in abundance within, for example, the archaeology of the Norse in Greenland. [2] The rapidly developing and diverse discipline of physical anthropology could also have been given more space than the one article on dental calculus investigations; what could be more important for the understanding of everyday life in medieval Europe? For academics the book presents hardly any byways to new methods nor breathtaking new results. Rather it is one of many anthologies based on a single conference and restricted by the lectures delivered on one particular occasion. However, many of the papers collected for this book would have done well in a relevant journal.

If the book had been intended to function as a textbook for teaching archaeology, a far more wide-ranging collection of much shorter articles structured around methods would have been necessary. The present collection of articles lacks coherence, and covers only a small part of the vast and varied field now ploughed by specialists. So many other interesting methods could have been presented in the investigation of daily life in towns and countryside of medieval Europe, as could so many other problems, which could be illuminated by artefacts and ecofacts. This book, however, gives a taste of methods used now in such research.



1. See, for example, M. Carver and J. Klápštĕ, eds., The Archaeology of Medieval Europe. Vol. 2. Twelfth to Sixteenth Centuries (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2011); and R. Gilchrist and A. Reynolds, eds., Reflections: 50 Years of Medieval Archaeology, 1957-2007 (Leeds: Society of Medieval Archaeology and Maney Publishing, 2009).

2. J. Arneborg, "Norse Greenland: Research into Abandonment," in Medieval Archaeology in Scandinavia and Beyond. History, Trends and Tomorrow ed. M. S. Kristiansen, E. Roesdahl, and J. Graham-Campbell (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2011), 257-71.