Approaching the Archaeology of the Norman Conquest

On Monday I attended the 2nd of 3 workshops taking place under the AHRC funded research network Archaeologies of the Norman Conquest at the University of Exeter. I spoke with my colleague Dr Lizzy Craig-Atkins about our research into the dietary impact of the Norman Conquest.

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The purpose of the day was to explore the application of a range of archaeological methods to a range of research questions around the Norman Conquest. The day started with a fascinating talk by Matthew Collins on scientific analysis of medieval manuscripts, showing how they are a valuable source for understanding animal management, production techniques and the movement of resources around Europe and beyond. Andrew Beeby then spoke about analysis of pigments, showing again how we can think about the movement of materials (from as far away as Afghanistan!) and technological knowledge. After our talk on our work in Oxford, Oliver Creighton, Alan Outram and Robert Liddiard presented the outline of a future research project on the medieval war horse. After coffee we heard about the study of small finds (specifically binding strips) from Rob Webley, metallurgical remains from Vanessa Castagnino and urban archaeology from Gareth Dean.

After lunch we broke out into groups and discussed potential research projects. A number of key themes emerged:

  • Further definition of the Norman Conquest/Period – can we apply high resolution dating as has been done for the Neolithic and early Anglo-Saxon periods? When does the Norman period end? And how useful is it to think of the Conquest as a moment of change?
  • Environmental change – what was the impact of Conquest on the landscape and environment? Can we think about food security and health by linking material culture, landscape and human remains?
  • Material culture – including the study of backlog archives which may reveal valuable new information. Can we think about the movement of materials and technologies, as well as objects themselves?

From my own perspective, I am increasingly convinced that the Norman Conquest is best viewed as a short, sharp, shock after which much of everyday life continued in much the same way as it had before. This is, perhaps, why archaeologists have struggled to find a distinct archaeological signature. Its impact clearly varied across society as well as regionally and we need to develop a range of projects which address it in a more nuanced way, to think about a plurality of experiences of Conquest and the range of possible implications.

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One comment

  1. […] The premier English language venue for publishing archaeological research on the medieval period is Medieval Archaeology, the journal of the Society for Medieval Archaeology. However, if we are to demonstrate the importance and relevance of medieval archaeology more generally, it is surely necessary to publish elsewhere – in more general archaeology journals and in inter-disciplinary medieval journals. Indeed, this point was well made by Mark Horton at EMASS a couple of years ago and by Robin Fleming at the recent Archaeologies of the Norman Conquest workshop. […]

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