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HARC 0340 Early Medieval European Archaeology

The period between the 4th and 7th centuries AD saw the transformation of the old Roman Empire into a new world occupied by different ‘peoples’ – Angles, Saxons, Franks and Visigoths, to name a few examples – arriving in western Europe from the Black Sea region and northern Germanic world as the result of large-scale migrations. The customs of these ‘barbarians’ were frequently described in some detail in late Roman historical sources. Up until the middle decades of the twentieth century, early medieval archaeology was largely concerned with seeking to identify these ethnic groups – often seen as the forerunners of medieval nation-states – in the archaeological record, although in more recent years theoretical approaches to this period have been revolutionised. This course critically examines the available evidence, analysing the relationship between material culture and ethnicity, and questioning to what extent this period really did represent the beginnings of medieval Europe.

Key sites may include the burial ground of Sutton Hoo in East Anglia, the migration-period cemeteries in Kent, the Anglo-Saxon settlements at Mucking or West Stow, Helgö in Sweden, or the settlement of Vorbasse in Denmark.  In Oxford the Ashmolean Museum has some relevant collections, and the Staffordshire Hoard gallery in Birmingham is about an hour away by train.  The British Museum in London also has relevant material.

Sample reading:

Annaert, R. 2012. The very beginning of Europe? Cultural and social dimensions of early-medieval migration and colonisation (5th-8th century): archaeology in contemporary Europe. Flanders Heritage Agency.

Geary, P. 2002. The Myth of Nations: the medieval origins of Europe. Princeton University Press.

Halsall, G. 2007. Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West, 376-568. Cambridge University Press.

Hamerow, H. 2004. Early Medieval Settlements: the archaeology of rural communities in north-west Europe 400-900. Oxford University Press.

Hamerow, H., Hinton, D. and Crawford, S. 2011. The Oxford Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Archaeology. Oxford University Press.

Moreland, J., 2000. ‘Ethnicity, power and the English’, in B. Frazer and A. Tyrell (eds), Social Identity in Early Medieval Britain and Ireland, 23-51. Leicester University Press.

Nicolay, J. A. W. 2014. The Splendour of Power. Barkhuis.

Wickham, C. 2005. Framing the early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean, 400-800. Oxford University Press

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