PREVIOUS   NEXT   CONTENTS   HOME Patterns of early medieval portable antiquities

The EMC and PAS datasets have broadly comparable distributions across northern England, with heavy concentrations on the Yorkshire Wolds and along the rivers of the southern Vale of York (Fig. 69). This pattern becomes increasingly sparse north and west. In York and on the Wolds coinage is very much predominant, most of which were recorded by the EMC before the PAS was established in 1997. Also many of the York finds come from excavated sites around the city, and this is not reflected on the PAS where the artefacts from these same excavations are not listed. On the Wolds most of these finds are 9th-century stycas, as are over half of the York coins. As a result, the two datasets can be seen as comparable, although care is needed in interpretation of the artefact fingerprint for the region, and for the nature of the use and availability of non-coin material culture vs coinage on the Wolds and around York, where it appears that non-coin material culture may be under-represented.

When the distribution of early medieval finds is compared against finds of all periods (Fig. 10) there are some significant differences. Fewer finds have been made along the Northumberland coastline and virtually no early medieval finds have been made from West Yorkshire to the Lancashire coast, although Roberts' (2008) assertions regarding woodland may be of note here. The absence of early medieval finds in coastal Lancashire compared with the overall PAS distribution is confirmed as a real scarcity of settlement activity. Finally, very few early medieval finds have been made in Cumbria compared to the overall figures, but these are broadly distributed and not confined to any one region.

The distribution of early medieval finds shows a remarkable correlation with the cultural core areas postulated by Roberts (Fig. 68), except for the coastal strip of Northumberland noted above. It may be of note that the map of Early Anglo-Saxon burials suggests that they are generally sited away from the coastal zone as well (Fig. 66). The spread of portable antiquities also encompasses the distribution of ecclesiastical sites quite well (Fig. 67). Roberts sees these as 'pioneer' settlements deliberately located on marginal land around the edges of the cores. However, while Anglo-Scandinavian settlement is more extensive in a strip covering the southern edge of the Tees Valley, and west towards the Irish Sea, this is not reflected in the finds distribution. When the constraints map is applied it is apparent that much of this area lies outside the limits of ploughzone farming. Around the Humber wetland zones have an effect, with the few finds recovered appearing mostly around the edges of the wetlands, where settlement would be expected. In the west of the region the constraints on data collection in this area are illustrated most clearly in Lancashire. Despite many early place-names, and evidence for Anglo-Scandinavian settlement in this region, there are very few portable antiquities.

Figure 70
Figure 70: Chart showing proportion of PAS finds in northern England categorised by broad period

Figure 71
Figure 71: The artefact 'fingerprint' for northern England

Figure 72
Figure 72: The coinage 'fingerprint' for northern England

When the PAS data is broken down by broad period sub-divisions (Fig. 70) it is apparent that in northern England there are proportionally high numbers of Middle Saxon and Middle/Late Saxon records, and a low proportion of Late Saxon records, compared to the national picture (Fig. 59). However, one should be cautious in interpreting this as reflecting reduced levels of activity in this region in the Late Saxon period. Several factors associated with the dating of finds may help explain the regional difference. Firstly, there is a large number of pins recorded for this region, and these have been given a broad Middle Saxon date. Secondly, there are very low levels of horse-related items (stirrup-strap mounts, stirrup terminals etc.) of Late Saxon date, but this may relate to cultural factors rather than level of activity. Finally, the Middle/Late Saxon group in northern England is dominated by strap ends, mostly of likely 9th–10th-century date, and may include a number of Late Saxon buckles, including the bulging-eyed Northumbrian type (see Downloads - Buckles classification).

The artefact fingerprint for northern England (Fig. 71) shows that, by proportion, there is a narrow range of material culture compared to the national scale, especially for horse-related items. The high volume of stycas skews the coinage breakdown greatly, but there are also very few pennies, all of which would have been imported pre-c. 900. There is a preponderance of strap-ends and pins generally, and a higher proportion of pins than in other parts of England.

The coinage fingerprint (Fig. 72) reflects the high volume of styca coinage up to c. 870 (Naylor 2007). Thereafter there are very low numbers of coins reported from the late 9th century to 1066, even compared to southern England.

In conclusion, the distribution of early medieval finds from northern England is greatly affected by topography and constrained by the limits of ploughzone agriculture. Nonetheless it does appear that the distribution of early medieval finds follows the likely core areas of settlement so it indicates that we can trace something of the ancient settlement patterns of northern England through portable antiquities. There does certainly seem to be declining access to metalwork and coinage the further west and north travelled, even within the remit of the constraints discussed in Section It seems possible that northern England was at the limits of the North Sea cultural zone. This was highlighted in Figure 47, which showed marked differences with patterns south of the Humber. In northern England a narrower range of material culture is present, with marked variations in material dated to the Late Saxon period especially. There is a very different coinage signature, showing very different evolutionary trends in the use of coinage. There are also chronological variations compared to the south, possibly again reflecting the lack of comparable Late Saxon material (particularly horse-related material culture). Within this, indigenous trends must be seen, for example in strap-ends (e.g. Thomas 2006) and buckles, and a lack of use of objects such as hooked tags and horse ornaments. Overall this reinforces that for much of this period Northumbria operated as a distinctive cultural zone, reflecting the independent political and economic polities of Middle and Late Saxon England, present even in material culture.


© Internet Archaeology/Author(s) URL:
Last updated: Tues Apr 21 2009