5.2 Later developments

These ideas, although discussed in relation to prehistory, have equally important implications for subsequent periods. Here, as noted previously, the barrier seems to have been generated by the assumption that invasions by Romans, Saxons Normans etc. – events which, for the most part, we know only from documentary evidence – must also mark more fundamental social change.

For the Roman period, culture–historical narratives based on military events are increasingly questioned and, as a result, new issues are starting to be raised, for example concerning urban hinterland relations which might be tackled by using environmental archaeology to define urban footprints (Perring 2002; Roskams 2003). Yet, too often, the impact of functionalist explanations is confined to the notion of the Roman introduction of 'the market' to accommodate indigenous demand. This notion, in turn, is often linked to the assumption that the processes of production in the landscape remained largely unaltered from Iron Age systems. Neither the notion of market economics nor of simple continuity of landscape use does much justice to the chronological and geographical variations in the process of development seen in the archaeological record. To explain seemingly anomalous spatial distribution of ceramics, for example, by the existence of 'hard' tribal boundaries dating back to the Iron Age (Evans 1988) – i.e. in terms of native inability to grasp new opportunities – seems very superficial.

Rather than assume Roman Yorkshire is some sort of precursor to the modern, capitalist system, we see the need to generate interpretative frameworks that allow the full range of historically located economic structures to be considered. These must include not only the type of pre-existing tributary systems described previously, but also innovative approaches to exploitation embedded in the notion of a Roman, tax-based state. Here, a critical question will involve investigating how far imperial authority was able to employ slave labour to intervene directly in production in newly conquered regions. We can use archaeological evidence in almost every sphere to chart whether or not slave relations were imposed in agriculture, mineral extraction, domestic contexts, or elsewhere. For example, landscapes might see the consolidation of land holdings and particular housing arrangements to control unfree producers. Equally, townscapes would demonstrate not only the control of topography but also the use of large-scale, directed labour in creating its monuments. Artefact studies could be deployed to investigate the consistency of forms and sizes of prestigious tablewares in order to chart the extent to which those in charge were able to control the production process, impose division of labour, and implement technological change. Finally, in ecofactual spheres, faunal data concerning the age at which animals were killed and how they were butchered should indicate how much urban consumers could intervene in rural production, and so influence meat supply (see Roskams 2006 for a more detailed definition and discussion of the slave mode of production and its archaeological recognition).

For post-Roman trajectories, alongside Loveluck's plea, noted above, for better quality, more integrated data-sets, we must construct improved models of transition, centred on the change from group ('tribal') identities to more complex social hierarchies. While chronological definition is clearly essential to this process of theorisation, it is arguable that the three phases which have dominated interpretation of the early medieval period – 5th–7th century British vs. Anglian ethnicity, 7th–9th Christianity and 9th–11th Vikings – should be set aside if the substantive changes in landscape, settlement, mortuary practice and material culture are to be understood in their own right. Equally, when investigating medieval landscapes, we might also question the fundamental importance of the administrative unit of the township as a starting point for our analyses in the way that Moorhouse recommends (see above). This entity was something which elite authority endeavoured to inflict on the landscape and its producers. A more archaeological approach could use our data distributions to test whether this was successfully imposed on the populace or resisted by them.

In our view, one particularly critical issue here concerns the use of archaeological evidence to establish how, when and where there was a move beyond existing tributary systems towards feudal relations i.e. the creation of mechanisms which allowed elites to take surplus, not as tribute from whole communities, but on a household-by-household basis by rent in kind (including share-cropping) or in cash. Such changes should be evident in the spatial organisation of the landscape and of the settlements within this (Saunders 1990), in the production and circulation of artefacts, and in the character of faunal assemblages (Roskams and Saunders 2001).

Finally, Yorkshire evidence from the early modern period demonstrates the complex nature of industrialisation: the intricate relationships between technological change and landscape development; the difficult, sometimes fraught, relationship between technical development and labour organisation; the interaction of the physical and mental worlds; and the social impacts of these changes on other spheres of human activity, both thematic (for example, in consumption) and geographical (for example, in the colonies). A much sharper definition of the nature of capitalist relations, and greater clarity about how these contrast with their feudal counterpart, would allow us to come to terms with such complexity.

In essence, the imposition of these relations involved producers being entirely dispossessed of control of the economic process, and forced to work for a wage in contexts defined in their entirety, and in every detail, by their employers. Clearly, such a system could not have been implemented without opposition – resistance, whether large-scale and open, or small-scale and hidden, would have been inevitable. Where imposed successfully, it would have had huge reverberations in every sphere of human activity. A new interpretative structure is needed, replacing the simplistic, narrow and 'top-down' ideas involving evolutionary development, exemplified in the work of earlier decades, with one that embodies conflict and resistance, and sporadic change, at its heart. This is essential if the region's industrial archaeology is to become truly relevant to 21st-century society.


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Last updated: Mon Nov 26 2007