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Early Medieval SettlementsThe Archaeology of Rural Communities in North-West Europe 400-900$
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Helena Hamerow

Print publication date: 2002

Print ISBN-13: 9780199246977

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199246977.001.0001

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Epilogue: Trajectories and Turning-Points

Epilogue: Trajectories and Turning-Points

(p.191) 7 Epilogue: Trajectories and Turning-Points
Early Medieval Settlements

Helena Hamerow

Oxford University Press

A survey such as this one can only present a fraction of the archaeological evidence available for early medieval settlements, yet even a relatively brief review of this evidence makes plain the remarkable diversity of these settlements in terms of form and economy; the communities they represent were far from being simple, isolated, and economically primitive as so often portrayed in traditional historical scholarship. In particular, the recognition on the one hand of highstatus complexes dating to the Migration period and, on the other, farming communities of ‘ordinary’ status which were extensively engaged in trade and non-agrarian production, points to a higher degree of economic complexity, integration, and resilience than was previously imagined. Furthermore, the archaeology, when viewed in toto, points to what has aptly been dubbed ‘the long eighth century’, namely the period from c.680 to 830,1 as a turning-point, not only in terms of settlement structure and architecture, but also in the organization of landed production and regional exchange. By 800, as we have seen, rural settlements in the North Sea zone were configured in ways that were markedly different from their Migration period predecessors. The longhouse had, in most regions, undergone a radical transformation or been given up altogether; settlements were increasingly planned and bounded; farming and craft activities, as well as the circulation of goods, showed signs of a wide-ranging reorganization; and elite families had stamped an increasingly separate group identity onto the landscape as they established distinctive settlements and buried their dead in new burial grounds away from the communal cemeteries of their ancestors. While the very nature of archaeological evidence does not permit us to point with certainty to the specific causes which lay behind these changes, the emergence of kingdoms in northwest Europe provides the backdrop against which they can best be understood. The development of early states—specifically in Denmark and England—and the northward expansion of Frankish colonial activities required both increased production and the mobilization of agrarian resources into an increasingly centralized political system. Indeed, an increased emphasis on surplus extraction must lie behind many of the changes observable in the plant and animal remains of this period and in the remnants of craft production, as well as in the greater size and storage capacities of at least some farmsteads in central Jutland, Lower Saxony, Westphalia, and Drenthe.

Keywords:   Ipswich Ware, animal bones, burials, cemeteries, elites, farming, glass vessels, monasteries, pottery, querns

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