Shaping rural settlements: the early medieval inheritance of the English village

Wright, D.W. (2015) Shaping rural settlements: the early medieval inheritance of the English village. Landsacpes, 16 (2). pp. 105-125. ISSN 1466-2035

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Researchers seeking to establish the origins of medieval villages have typically been divided into two camps. Most scholars argue that villages were founded as part of protracted process which began in the tenth century, but others see them as the product of the seventh or eighth centuries, established as part of a Middle Saxon ‘great re-planning’. Advocates of both chronologies have found ostensible support from the results of excavations undertaken within currently occupied rural settlements, although the organisers of England’s most extensive test-pitting scheme have suggested that there is little evidence for roots before the tenth century. This paper demonstrates, however, that test pits are not an inappropriate means of detecting ephemeral Middle Saxon remains and that some scholars have overemphasised the ability of such methods to accurately reconstruct early medieval settlement sequences. Occupation sites dating to before the ninth century are only likely to be located through more extensive excavation, and indeed, a quantitative assessment of such interventions illustrates the striking regularity with which evidence for Middle Saxon habitation is found. The distinctive character of historic villages so instantly recognisable to landscape archaeologists and historians were not established between the seventh and ninth centuries, however. Rather, this paper shows that medieval villages often emerged only after a two-stage process of settlement evolution, as Middle Saxon centres were later shifted short distances and restructured into their more lasting historic forms from the tenth century. The seventh to ninth centuries can therefore be seen as a period during which both the physical scaffolding and the identity of many rural settlements was established, as Middle Saxon communities provided a lasting legacy upon the landscape of England.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2015 Taylor and Francis. This is an author accepted manuscript of a paper subsequently published in Landscapes. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher's self-archiving policy.
Depositing User: Dr Duncan Wright
Date Deposited: 22 Mar 2019 12:33
Last Modified: 28 Nov 2019 15:49

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