3.3.4 East Anglia

As noted in Section all of East Anglia is low-lying, apart from low hills in Norfolk and Suffolk. In the Anglo-Saxon period there were substantial wetlands in the Norfolk fens, with islands of settlement. In Eastern Norfolk there were peatlands along the Rivers Bure and Waveney (and their tributaries) draining into the North Sea at Burgh Castle (Scull 1992, fig. 1). In south-west Norfolk the acid infertile soils of the Breckland only supported sparse settlement, strung along the river valleys or sited on the margins of the area (Williamson 1993, 11).

The configuration of valleys across Norfolk creates a central watershed, which runs in a great arc through the centre of the county (Williamson 1993, 18). This remote area of woodland and pasture formed a barrier of reduced contact between east and west. This is where the greatest areas of woodland could still be found at Domesday and the distribution of artefacts confirms its sparsely settled character. The fact that the great earthwork of the Launditch runs close to it suggests that it may also have been a political boundary. The 'Claylands', arcing from north-central Norfolk through south-western Suffolk and extending into Essex and Hertfordshire were once heavily forested, but the clay soil retains water, facilitating cultivation, and the zone is thought to have been largely cleared of trees by the Anglo-Saxon period. If one can trust place-name evidence, areas of woodland survived around the edges of the Broads, or in the area to the north of Lynn. There was also large-scale woodland in Essex (Stenton 1971). In the Sandlings area of south-east Suffolk there was open heathland during the Anglo-Saxon period.

However, despite its apparent isolation today, nowhere in East Anglia is far from the coast. During the Anglo-Saxon period, when the North Sea basin formed a focus for economic and cultural exchange, East Anglia had a central role.

Early medieval settlement: archaeological and historical background
Patterns of early medieval portable antiquities


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