4.3.2 Artefact dating analysis

The most striking result from the analysis of the artefact dating is that nearly two-thirds of the sites investigated (42 of 69) show activity in both the Middle and Late Saxon periods: Barton Bendish, Beverley, Burnham, Caistor, Canterbury (Marlowe car park), Cliffe and Cliffe Woods, Colkirk, Congham, Cottam B, East Rudham, East Walton, Elsham, Firle, Freckenham, Hindringham, Hollingbourne, Ixworth, Kilham, Lackford, Little Wilbraham, London St Peter's Hill, Melton Ross, Meols, Middle Harling, Narborough, Near Royston, Nettleton, Osbournby, Oxborough, Quidenham, Rocklands, Sandtun, Seething, Shalfleet, Swinhope, Tibenham, Torksey, West Rudham, West Walton, Wharram Percy, Whissonsett, Wormegay.

This should certainly not be taken to imply that all of these sites had a simple, continuous history of function, or even occupation. The excavations at Lurk Lane, Beverley, for instance, suggested a gap in occupation of several decades in the 9th century, followed by intensive building activity in the 10th (Armstrong et al. 1991). The Beverley chart (Fig. 121) obviously does not show this level of detail. Nonetheless, the basic fact illustrated on this chart is that there was activity at Lurk Lane in both the Middle and Late Saxon periods, and this must reflect real social or topographical factors that ensured the importance of the site.

Within the group of 42 sites that show activity in both the Middle and Late Saxon periods, three sub-groups can be identified: those that have an emphasis towards Middle Saxon artefacts, a group of sites where there is a relatively even distribution of artefacts in the Middle Saxon and Late Saxon categories (with an Middle/Late Saxon component of varying size in between them) and a group with an emphasis towards Late Saxon artefacts. The first two groups are similar in volume. Sixteen sites show a noticeable Middle Saxon emphasis: Caistor, Canterbury (Marlowe car park), Cottam B, East Rudham, Elsham, Freckenham, Hollingbourne, Kilham, London St Peter's Hill, Melton Ross, Narborough, Near Royston, Nettleton, Shalfleet and Wormegay. For another seventeen no real emphasis in dating can be detected: Barton Bendish, Beverley, Burnham, Congham, East Walton, Firle, Hindringham, Osbournby, Oxborough, Rocklands, Sandtun, Seething, Tibenham, Torksey, West Rudham, West Walton, Wharram Percy and Whissonsett. These interpretations of Middle Saxon or 'Middle Saxon–Late Saxon' are relatively clear, as the group of artefacts dated Middle Saxon/Late Saxon (i.e. either 9th century or lacking diagnostic features to date more precisely) is always either a similar size or smaller than the more closely dated categories. The only exception to this is the assemblage from Ixworth in Suffolk, where fourteen artefacts were dated Middle Saxon/Late Saxon, compared to seven Middle Saxon and eight Late Saxon artefacts.

A small subset of eight sites with activity in both the Middle and Late Saxon periods have assemblages whose dating suggests a later emphasis to the activity: Cliffe and Cliffe Woods, Colkirk, Lackford, Little Wilbraham, Meols, Middle Harling, Quidenham and Swinhope. Five of these eight (Cliffe and Cliffe Woods, Lackford, Meols, Quidenham and Swinhope) are somewhat ambiguous in their dating, in that the Middle/Late Saxon category is relatively large (i.e. if these objects were in fact mostly Middle Saxon the Late Saxon emphasis to the dating would disappear), and in the case of Lackford in Sussex the assemblage is also relatively small (less than 20 confirmed artefacts). However, the results for Colkirk and Middle Harling in Norfolk and Little Wilbraham in Cambridgeshire, seem more firmly to suggest a later dating.

The analyses presented here can, of course, give only a general sense of the nature of activity at the site. The example of the site at Lurk Lane, Beverley, discussed above, cautions against any kind of simplistic interpretation of continuous occupation, while the case of Sandtun (Fig. 297) illustrates that an uninformed acceptance of the dating emphasis can be insecure. This chart might easily have suggested a basically Middle Saxon dating for the site, which was not the conclusion of more detailed investigation (Gardiner et al. 2001). Any analysis based on a growing dataset, as is true for many of the sites here based on metal-detected analysis, must be considered in some sense an interim result, and many of the observations made here would necessarily be modified by in-depth individual site studies.

However, the results themselves offer some internal confirmation that the basic dating patterns that have emerged are sound in that the sub-groups present in the group of sites that show activity in both periods are consistent with the overall pattern seen in the entire group of sites. For instance, the low number of sites with both Middle Saxon and Late Saxon activity whose assemblages seemed of mainly later date reflects the more general result that no site studied within the project displayed an entirely Late Saxon assemblage. The York Coppergate site appears continuous from the VASLE dating analysis, but this result can be discounted as it is based on the coin finds alone. These are skewed by the relatively large volume of 9th-century Northumbrian coinage (see Section 4.3.5). Excavation on the site clearly suggests settlement did not start until the 10th century, so York Coppergate is probably best understood as a late site, despite its 'Middle Saxon/Late Saxon' coin assemblage. The Flaxengate site at Lincoln has also been identified as having a beginning in the 10th century, but entering the published assemblage for that site proved impossible within the time-frame of the VASLE project.

Similarly, a relatively large proportion of sites that had artefacts from both eras had a Middle Saxon assemblage significantly larger than their Late Saxon assemblage. This reflects the significant minority of sites in the general group that showed only Middle Saxon activity: Bamburgh Castle, Barham, Bawsey, 'Bedford productive site', Burgh Castle , Burrow Hill, Burton Fleming, Coddenham, Cottam A, Cowlam, Flixborough, Hartlepool, 'Near Malton productive site 1', 'Near Malton productive site 2', Reculver, Richborough, Royal Opera House, Ryther, 'South Lincolnshire productive site', South Newbald, Southampton (Hamwic), Thwing, Tilbury, Whitby Abbey, Whithorn, and York Fishergate.

There is an undeniable correlation here with sites whose assemblages were mainly (or entirely) coinage; 16 of the 26 sites whose dating is clearly Middle Saxon have a assemblage that is greater than 60% coins: Bamburgh Castle, Burton Fleming, Bawsey, 'Bedford productive site', Burgh Castle, Burrow Hill, Flixborough, 'Near Malton productive site 1', 'Near Malton productive site 2', Reculver, Richborough, Ryther, 'South Lincolnshire productive site', Tilbury, Whitby Abbey, and Whithorn. The dating of these assemblages by volume of artefacts would be particularly affected by the ebb and flow of coin circulation that has been suggested by Mark Blackburn, and so might be expected to be skewed towards the Middle Saxon period (Blackburn 2003, 34-5).

Of the remaining ten sites from which only Middle Saxon artefacts have been recovered, seven have been the subject of archaeological excavations, so much more is known about their development than can be presented here. Excavations have taken place at Cottam A, Cowlam, Hartlepool, Royal Opera House, Southampton (Hamwic), Thwing, and York Fishergate. Barham and Coddenham are the subject of ongoing research by John Newman, while the metal-detected assemblage from South Newbald has been reconstructed and discussed by Leahy (2000). It is probably significant that many of these excavations suggest that the ending of deposition of artefacts is related to the end of settlement at the site, rather than simply an indication of changing cultural or economic patterns relating to the use of metalwork. If this could be extended to the larger number of sites whose assemblages extend into the Late Saxon period, but with a clear emphasis on Middle Saxon artefacts, these results would seem to corroborate established understanding of a generally higher number of dispersed settlements in the Middle compared with the Late Saxon period.


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