University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
The Problems Faced By Archaeologists in Reconstructing Anglo Saxon Society between the 5th And 7th Centuries from Anglo Saxon Cemetery Evidence
Conquest of England by the Anglo Saxon began in middle of the 5th century. During this time Celts inhabited England and had been ruled by the Romans for more than 360 years. Due to the short lived rule by the roman, the roman civilization started to fade away hence left the most of the towns abandoned. This included most of the villas in the countryside and the Celts went back to live in hill forts and other protected wooden stockades. There was deliberate attempt by Arnold to explain the changes that dated from roman Britain to early Anglo-Saxon England based on an elite migration which is considered as a type of a late reception of processual archaeology as illustrated by Scull.
There are a large number of ornaments found in a number of graves and what is so clear about them is that the origin of these ornament is definite in a given district or sate. Also these ornaments are clearly a descendant of the people of which these burial sites are from. Hence it can be conclusively be said that these people did obtain their ornaments right away from their own locality and not outside the district they live in. a problem will arise in deciding on the validity of the archaeological interpretation of the Anglo-Saxon conquest of Britain. Here, the owner of these ornaments is unclear as whether they are the Saxons, Angles or Romano-Britons who are the owners of these ornaments. Lethbrigde’s interpretation would help pin point the real owners of the artifacts and the material remain1. These were done with other archaeologists who in many ways faced a number of challenges.
Some of these challenges included the following:
Reconstruction of clothing; there were variations noted on the dress fasteners in the women’s clothes. The clothes had one, two or three brooches that were worn in various positions on the chest and others on the shoulder. Dress-fastening for the men was limited to sleeve fasteners and buckles. Reconstructing clothing from this evidence meant that the range of dress fastening was dictated by a number of factors. These factors include social identity and the mode of display. It was further argued that the dress fasteners placed in graves may have been chosen on other reasons rather than the functional relationship to the garment being worn or the direct relationship of the grave clothing and the daily wear. The textiles of which we have knowledge about had been made into clothing. Though there is a possibility to reconstruct some of the clothing through the remains in graves by using the position of dress fasteners like buckles ( cook 1974; Bell 1981 ; Owen Crocker 1986)
Damage of skeletons during excavation. The excavation of skeletons was exceedingly hard as a result of the conditions of the subsoil and dry weather. The skeletons were also not well preserved because of the circum-neutral pH of the local subsoil and the ploughing which later brought about disturbance. The subsoil surface was also experiencing compaction by the box scrappers. The hard and dry subsoil conditions meant that it was difficult to excavate and remove the skeletal remains without sustaining some damage. The removal of skeletons followed a certain process. The box scrapper could first reveal the site in an inadvertently manner and later the whole site cleaned with hoes. This was to be followed by base planning at 1:50 and then excavation by hand. The excavation was done by use of trowels, small chisels and brushes. The fully excavated skeletons in grave pits were then photographed in black and white and drawn at 1:10. The whole process seemed cumbersome and at the end no accurate results could be sought. At times the burials sites were discovered accidentally hence damage of these artifacts and bones are more likely to happen with the use of metal detecting activities. The requirement of these archaeological studies is that the whole burial grounds should be intact to maximize data recovery process. Methods for protecting and close examination of statigraphy should have been in place. This would minimize the problem of retrieval and analysis of organic materials such as textiles. With the increasing human activities such as formal settlement and cultivation such burial sites are more prone to destruction and hence limited information base.
Identification of (vertical status related) and horizontal (gender, age) social groupings. Understanding the physical conditions of the people in the Anglo Saxon was a big problem. Provision of reports on the age, physical height and the biological gender of the dead person and the time of death have only been achieved through the scientific analysis and improved technology. It was also impossible to have information on any signs of genetic traits and deformity or trauma present in the skeleton record. Transformation of these kinds of data into cultural interpretation remains a problem that need to be addressed.
Evidence interpretation; Coming into an agreement upon realization of a notable phenomenon was another problem. Taking the case of the suspended floor model where various persons argued out on the purposes on various sections buildings, we see how each person tried to argue out. This argument hindered the ease of putting an all one agreed story on the Anglo Saxon. It leads to inclusion of argument from more than one person hence limiting the accuracy desired. There was an argument on the kind of floors that the vernacular buildings had and also an attempt to relate them to the 12th and 13th century buildings. The earliest surviving buildings which date to the late 12th and early 13th centuries do not have planked ground floors (Walker 2009) and so it will be remarkable if majority of the buildings in the 6th century England possessed them. Difficulty arose in an attempt to explain the validity of the pit as to whether it served as an air-space or not. Decisive evidence mainly on the subject matter about superstructure of Grubenhauser will tend to depend on factors of plausibility. Suspended floors could end up being elusive evidence. Grouped Grubenhauser archaeological features will tend to compromise more than one form of superstructure (West 1986; 116-21). This will in the end require re-evaluation that consists of a detailed study of the Grubenhaus fills to ascertain the artifacts in relation to the date and function of the structures. Re-evaluation is time consuming and costly, hence the study team will be forced to redo their study once more based on a given number of micro morphological studies to come up with exaction records. One notable example of misinterpretation of evidence id that of tertiary deposition of Grubenhaus fills that had little relationship with the use of the building. It brought out this contradictory evidence to the lime light and hence dispelling the notion of assuming little matter of great importance (Tipper, 2004:107)
Location of the ancient cemeteries challenged the reconstruction of the Anglo Saxon society. Distinct boundaries where miscreants were disposed based on the customs which were never recorded and documented made it hard to identify areas to focus. The problem of Charters references to access places which exhibit patterns of local practice and dialect was also of big concern. There is a prevalent view that the local estates and the hundreds within which they were grouped are products of the late Anglo Saxon period1. This could be challenges by a series of execution sites with origins scientifically dated to the 7th century. Hence the territorial limits denied the archaeologists a chance of finding the near to exact places of carrying out their work. It proved a hard task to locate cemeteries as it required appreciation of the above ground appearance. This area as usual was characterized by mounds and mortuary houses the only problem arose on how these areas of dignity were maintained over time. Putting into record such phenomenon was a hard task for the study team for there existed little management evidence such as paths, internal divisions or vegetation or even buildings associated with burial sites. Other notable challenge was to contrast the difference between shrines as a form of cemetery structures and other mortuary houses (Hirst1985:24).
Instances of cremation rendered the archeological study to be narrow;
Some instances of the burials have indicated that there was close contact with the Roman culture. This can be exemplified by the right of inhumation which was practiced by the native Romanized population. Cremation was a common practice especially outside the empire5. As recorded y the different times of the AD200-400 in northern and central Europe. There was inconsistency in the differences presented by the Germanic graves. This further led to the much unnoticeable variance of the whole archeological results. Although in some areas burials of different orientations have been brought out in instance where there existed a large cemetery for example at Krefeld-Gellep, in Westphalia. In such instances careful examination of the artifacts and bones was needed in order to ascertain and draw analogies from the historical and ethnographic sources. (McKinley 1994:72-81; Williams 2004b). Cremation involved a sequence of materials practices and places, Williams 2001.this practice did reconfigure the deed’s identity in many ways including burning the cadaver and treatment of ashes. As seen the most valuable evidence in the cinerary urns included the burnt bones, contrary to the statement the bones sometimes were absent suggesting a possibility that the practice took place without necessarily the body being present (Mckinely2003:11-12). There are notable fragmented remains in most of the urns and the end result is that they offer invaluable information to the study team. Although the positive thing about the remains includes giving information on such variable such as number of individuals present, age and sex. From the estimated weight and degree of fragmentation and also the colour of the bone pyre technology and post cremation aspects can be reconstructed easily (McKinley 1994:82-6). There has been revelation of a wide range of practices such as sacrificed animals placed on pyres. Wild animals such as fox and deer were the ones mostly used to offer sacrifice.
As much as Anglo-Saxon religion is difficult to perceive, religion is an important aspect in our daily lives. This implies that religion can’t be ignored as it forms part of our fundamental shaping of our behaviors. There is need to have some level of local institutions that are charged with the sole responsibility of maintaining and running cultic sites such as cemeteries. The enhancement of the understanding of Anglo-Saxon religion will depend on the level of the various responses both social and political changes that aim to safeguard the past, present and the future history that is within the society. Closer exploration of the religious ecological context will tend to shed light on the understanding of the Pre-Christian paganisms.
Carver, (2005). Sutton Hoo. A seventh- Century princely burial ground and its context. London British Museum.Cemeteries such as Westerwanna in the Elbe-Weser region, Preetz in Holstein, Pritzier in Mecklenberg, Suderbrarup and Borgstedt in Schleswig, all consist virtually entirely of cremation; see C. Zimmer-Linnfeld, Westerwanna 1 (Hamburg, i960); J. Brandt, Das Urnengrdberfeld von
Preetz in Holstein, Offa Bucher n.f. i6(Neumunster, i96o);E. Schuldt, Pritzier (Berlin, 1955); and A. Genrich, Formenkreise und Stammcsgruppen in Scbleswig-Holstein, Offa Bucher n.f. 10 (Neumunster, 1954). In central Europe this was also the general practice; see K. Godlowski, The Chronology of the Late Roman and Early Migration Periods in Central Europe (Cracow, 1970
Hook, D, (1998). The landscape of Anglo-Saxon England Leicester: Leicester university press
Lethbrigde, TC, and PALMER W.M. (1929), Excavation in the Cambridge Dykes. VI Bran Ditch. Second report proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society 30:78-93.
R. Pirling, ‘Das romisch-frankische Graberfeld von Krefeld-Gellep’, Germaniscbc Dtnkmakr der Volkervanderungszeit 2 (1966) and 8 (1974).