Session 1: Spatiality and the Past: Reuse within the Landscape

Chair: Indra Werthmann

Dr. Joanna Brück (University of Bristol)

‘The power of relics: curating human bone in the British Bronze Age’

This paper will investigate evidence for the curation of ‘relics’ (pieces of human bone that were deliberately retained over long periods of time) in the British Bronze Age.  Isolated fragments of human bone have frequently been identified in settlement contexts, for example pits and ditches; they have also been found in graves alongside the complete bodies of other individuals.  It is widely recognised that Bronze Age artefacts such as jet beads and ceramic vessels were kept and circulated as heirlooms over many generations.  This project will consider evidence to suggest that human remains may have been treated in similar ways, including fragments of bone shown by radiocarbon dating to be earlier than their final depositional contexts, as well as worked bone that has been transformed into items of material culture.  The possible social implications of these practices will be explored, casting light on how memory, materiality and the body were drawn into the definition of social and political identities.

Adam Goodfellow (Durham University)

‘Preserving Places: Places of meaning in early Anglo-Saxon Sussex’

From the emergence of kingship, to the Conversion, to the appearance of urban settlements, early medieval Britain saw significant social changes, rooted in the sixth and seventh centuries, before developing into the eighth and ninth. However, these changes did not take place in an unspoilt wilderness. Instead, they occurred in a landscape used and modified by earlier societies, from the Neolithic to the Roman, and marked by their monumental and domestic remains.

A range of data can be examined to understand how early medieval societies interacted with the landscape, including the attribution of place names, the distribution of stray finds, and the placement of religious, elite, and domestic activities. Significant relationships between activity and landscapes can be seen not only in terms of direct proximity, but also distance and visibility.

This paper proposes that the evidence shows that these places held agency for the populations that lived and moved around them, and sheds light on their views of their past.

Session 2: Something Old, Something New: Recycling and Curation Practices in Changing Cultural Landscapes

Chair: Adam Goodfellow

Ellen Swift (University of Kent)

‘Reused artefacts in the late-to-post-Roman transition period in Britain?’

In the late Roman period, reuse and recycling has mainly been considered in relation to spolia and to precious metal artefacts such as silver plate and coins.

Yet there is much evidence for reuse behaviour across a wide range of artefact types in more ordinary materials. Some of this reuse behaviour is connected to ordinary Roman habits of recycling found throughout the Roman period. It can be suggested, however, that reuse increases significantly in the late fourth century onwards in Britain, and this increase can be most readily explained firstly in relation to the wider problems with production and distribution systems that led to a collapse in the availability of some artefacts at the end of the 4th century, and secondly with regard to wider cultural change.

Andrew J. Welton (University of Florida)

‘Portable landscapes? The selective use of recycled iron in early Anglo-Saxon England’

Several recent studies have argued that the early Anglo-Saxon metal economy depended heavily on recycled Roman iron (Fleming 2012; Harrington & Welch 2014). These studies focused on the relationship between iron production sites, Roman ruins, and the distribution density of iron artefacts to infer the importance of recycling practices. Little attention has, however, been paid to the material composition of early Anglo-Saxon artefacts themselves: is there evidence that iron artefacts were actually made from recycled iron, and when there is how was this material used?

This paper examines data from metallographic studies of 200 sixth and seventh century iron artefacts from burials and settlements for evidence of the use of recycled materials. It finds less evidence for use of recycled iron than some recent studies have anticipated. Indeed, recycled iron can only be identified consistently in one artefact type, spearheads. This paper argues that this selective use of recycled iron cannot be fully explained as economic opportunism or necessity, but should also be situated within the changing ways in which people related to and exploited the material, historical, and mythopoeic resources within the changing landscape of post-Roman Britain.

Alice Blackwell & Dr. Martin Goldberg (Scottish History & Archaeology National Museums Scotland)

‘Making kingdoms and remaking silver: recycling and curation in early medieval Scotland’

The recent recognition of considerable amounts of hacksilver in two post-Roman, pre-Viking hoards – a first for early medieval Scotland – provides a new opportunity to approach recycling and curation. Silver underpinned the emergence of early medieval kingdoms in Scotland, rapidly becoming the main precious metal used to create, communicate and contest power, status and wealth. Recycled Late Roman silver appears to have provided the sole source until the Viking period, and two hoards (from Norrie’s Law, Fife and Gaulcross, Aberdeenshire) containing Late Roman and Early Medieval hacksilver provide windows in this process, preserving rare and unique objects that attest to more extensive recycling (and consequent loss to the archaeological record) than previously appreciated. There are hints of preserved Roman weight divisions amongst some hacksilver parcels, but the deposition of both hoards at prehistoric monuments raises the potential for votive as well as socio-economic interpretations of these curated collections. 19th-century recycling and curation practices have also had a significant impact: most of both hoards were melted as bullion soon after discovery, and the recognition of 19th-century silver copies amongst the early medieval material adds further dimensions of authenticity and curation.

Session 3: Reusing Antiquities: Roman Objects in Early Medieval Societies

Chair 3: Andrew J. Welton

James Gerrard (Centre for Interdisciplinary Artefact Studies; History, Classics and Archaeology, Newcastle University)

‘Flies in the unguent pot: Roman objects in the Fifth Century’

The occurrence of ‘Romano-British’ material culture in early medieval contexts is just one of the many vexing phenomena that characterise the transition from the late Roman period to the early Middle Ages. In this paper I examine the interplay of theory and methodology in an attempt to reconsider the roles of these objects in the fifth century and our own prejudices about them.

Jessica Dunham (University of Oxford)

‘New Approaches to the Examination of Roman Objects in early Anglo-Saxon Graves: summary and results to date’

The presence and apparent reuse of Roman objects in graves is a common theme the study of early Anglo-Saxon archaeology. However in the larger repertoire of academic work centering on this topic, several opportunities have been missed regarding change in practice over time and through space. Building off of Roger White’s 1988 catalogue of Roman and Celtic objects in Anglo-Saxon graves, and incorporating chronological, geographic, and demographic data from cemetery excavations across England, this project will add to the discussion of reuse and recycling in the early Anglo-Saxon period and take it yet further. Prominent themes to be explored include gender, age, time, and geographic space.

Indra Werthmann (Durham University)

‘Antiquity and Affiliation: Roman objects and identity in Anglo-Saxon and Merovingian graves’

The occurrence of Roman objects in early medieval graves in parts of Anglo-Saxon England and Merovingia is a recognised phenomenon (Eckardt, Williams 2003; Geake 1997; Mehling 1998; White 1998). Such activities have been explained in terms of identity creation, occurring at a time of transition following the decline of Roman power in areas that were once part of the Empire. However, the study of such practices in Anglo-Saxon England has been undertaken from an insular perspective: pervious scholars have neither looked to the late Roman past nor to the contemporary post-Roman continent for contextualisation.

This paper examines the significance of reused Roman objects as personal items in Kentish and Merovingian cemeteries. Objects were often openly displayed in the attire of the deceased and use-wear analysis suggests that they were handled over long periods of time. Similar patterns can be observed in the choice and treatment of these items in Merovingian graves. Considering the close proximity of Kent to this part of the continent, these similarities may reflect cultural affiliations across the Channel. This paper will explore these connections and determine if they were valued for their antiquity or had accumulated new meaning across the late Roman to early medieval transition.