2.2 Project Objectives

Given the scarcity of excavated examples of Early Anglo-Saxon settlements, particularly in the Northern Anglian region where cemeteries are well represented, with recently excavated examples at Sewerby, Norton on Tees, and West Heslerton, the objective s were by necessity defined within a broad framework designed to answer major regional and national questions rather than those of a purely local nature (Hirst 1985; Sherlock and Welch 1 992; Powlesland et al. 1986; Haughton and Powlesland forthcoming). Prior to the work at West Heslerton only a handful of Early Anglo-Saxon settlements had been examined on a large scale, and only at a single site, Mucking, Essex (Jones 1973; 1979; 1980; Hamerow 1993), cou ld it be argued that the majority of the site plan was recovered. The evidence from West Stow, Suffolk, was not conclusive: it is not clear whether the whole of the settlement area was examined or if part was lost in quarrying operations in the first half of this century (West 1985). The West Heslerton site, which was being actively eroded through ploughing, offered the potential to satisfy the need for preservation through record and address some of the major research qu estions which could not be addressed simply because of the lack of well-excavated data-sets either nationally or regionally.

A number of classes of data were virtually absent from the excavated record of the Early Anglo-Saxon settlement of England. In particular environmental evidence, which numbered only a few samples from West Stow and even less from Mucking was lacking; t he prevailing attitude to the subject of environmental sampling on early Anglo-Saxon settlements was that it offered little potential.

The vital question of continuity, whilst being constantly in people's minds since the advent of urban archaeology in the early 1960s, had not been successfully addressed and still remains amongst the most contested issues. The excavation of cemeteries had raised many questions about the relative position of 'native' and Saxon and yet with regard to settlements, almost nothing was known at all; the dearth of excavated cemeteries with associated settlements have made attempts at social reconstruction a p urely theoretical exercise with no external data to test hypotheses based purely upon grave goods assemblages.

The desertion of sites in what has been termed the 'Middle Saxon Settlement Shuffle' whilst recognised, is poorly understood and clearly deserved attention.

2.2.1 Primary objectives

  1. The recovery of the full settlement plan and to identify the morphological components which might assist both the evaluation of past smaller scale work nationally, and determine to what extent a pr edictive model of Early Anglo-Saxon settlement could be established with respect to future threatened sites of this category.
  2. The recovery of sufficient environmental and economic data to permit a reconstruction of the economy and environment of the settlement.
  3. To characterise the archaeological deposits in order to assist in the identification of other sites more worthy of long-term preservation.
  4. To identify and test the potential for social reconstruction of the settlement, in particular in relation to the excavated material from the cemetery.
  5. To identify and sample archaeological assemblages that might assist in the identification and dating of other similar sites with smaller data-sets.
  6. To attempt to identify any archaeological indicators that would assist in the interpretation of the transition both from Roman to Saxon and that from Early to Middle Saxon, both periods of large-scale settlement shift and r e-organisation, and to what extent and why this could be seen as a part of a larger re-organisation of the landscape.

2.2.2 Secondary objectives

These included a multitude of smaller questions grouped under the primary objectives, some of which are listed below:

  1. What were the Grubenhäuser for and how did they function?
  2. To what extent could the post-hole structures be linked to either Continental or Romano-British antecedents?
  3. To what extent did the post-hole structures form part of an emerging national architectural tradition rather than a less substantial local tradition?
  4. Is there any evidence that allows us to distinguish between 'Native' and 'Saxon'?
  5. Is there any evidence for long-distance trade and, if so, was this with the 'Anglian' homelands or within a broader North European context?
  6. Did the settlement include an identifiable 'ritual' component?


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Last updated: Tue Dec 15 1998