6. Discussion

This review has not offered an exhaustive list of Atlantic sites with 5th, 6th or 7th century Atlantic imported pottery, but has demonstrated the potential value of comparisons between Britain and sites across the Atlantic region. Further analysis of patterns of Mediterranean imports between Bordeaux, Vigo and other Atlantic sites, and how this compares to Britain, is clearly needed. Nevertheless, this increasing evidence clearly indicates that Britain was not an isolated destination for exchange within the Atlantic, but part of a widespread and persistent Atlantic network. Our understanding of ceramic imports to Britain in the 5th and 6th centuries must now involve a consideration of patterns of supply along Atlantic channels in the same period.

This new understanding allows the established interpretations arising from the British imports to be questioned, particularly the idea of direct connection between the Mediterranean and post-Roman Britain. As discussed, this model is based on the relative scarcity of comparable material on the Atlantic Seaboard, and on the apparent distinctive nature of the British material. The increasing amounts of Mediterranean imports identified on the Atlantic Seaboard certainly refute the first argument. The second factor, the specific composition of the British import assemblage, requires further consideration. Campbell summarised five specific features of the 'Atlantic' group of Mediterranean imports that distinguish it from the pattern in the west Mediterranean and which necessitate an alternative interpretation of supply. These comprise: a lack of Gazan or Palestinian amphorae, a disproportionately high amount of LRA2, a low proportion of ARS to LRC, an absence of LRD and, finally, the restricted date-range of the imports (Campbell 2007, 127). Each of these factors can be questioned, to some degree, by the recent research and publications that have been discussed, although a number of these observations would appear to remain valid. The new evidence from the Atlantic Seaboard reveals sites that certainly show similarities to the pattern observed in post-Roman Britain but also indicates a greater degree of complexity within the Atlantic region as a whole. The complexities of the relationship between post-Roman Britain, these wider Atlantic systems and between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean can only be understood by further research and analysis on patterns of ceramic distribution between these regions.

Nevertheless, as there is significant evidence of 5th to 7th century imports on the Atlantic Seaboard, and there are sites that share characteristics with the British assemblage, it seems possible that some of the Mediterranean imports on sites in Britain or Ireland may have been redistributed from sites in France or Spain. This might easily be the case for some of the British or Irish sites with only a few sherds and which were already thought to have been supplied by systems of redistribution from south-west Britain. The ultimate origin of the imports cannot be denied, but the argument for simple, direct contact between Britain and the Byzantine world in the 5th century, based solely on the pottery, seems less convincing.

It remains to be clarified, additionally, whether trade with Britain was the driving force of this system. Reynolds questioned whether Atlantic sites such as Braga, Vigo, Conimbriga and Tróia were able to 'make a market in their own right' or simply took advantage of passing shipments to Britain (Reynolds 2010, 108). The continuation of imports to Vigo and Bordeaux beyond the mid-6th century nevertheless suggests that, unless the conventional end-date for the British imports is too early, connections between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic continued after exchange between Britain and the Mediterranean had ceased. Even if trade with Britain was the impetus for the Atlantic system in the 5th century, this may not have remained the case. These questions need to be fully addressed, but regardless, the emerging data from Atlantic sites clearly indicate that 5th and 6th century Britain was part of a more complex system of exchange than previously recognised.