The bioarchaeology of Anglo-Saxon Yorkshire: present and future perspectives

The bioarchaeology of Anglo-Saxon Yorkshire: present and future perspectives

By Dobney, K., Hall, A. and Kenward, H.

Early Deira: Archaeological studies of the East Riding in the fourth to ninth centuries AD. (Oxbow Books, 2000)

Introduction: The Anglo-Saxon period in Yorkshire – in terms of our knowledge of those questions which bioarchaeological studies are conventionally used to address – remains very much an unknown quantity, We can hardly claim even to know whether these questions are indeed appropriate in the Anglo-Saxon period. To some extent this reflects the nature of the Anglo-Saxon deposits so far encountered, in which preservation of the less durable organic remains has been very limited. The nature of Anglo-Saxon occupation, with a bias towards rural settlements of a kind whicb have generally left only faint traces in the ground, means that there are no deeply stratified richly organic deposits of the kind revealed in some Roman and Viking Age phases in major urban centres, of which only York is weIl known in the region.

The Anglo-Saxon period thus presents exceptional challenges to the environmental archaeologist, and ones which closely parallel those for the Iron Age. It is a period for which the kind of assemblages traditionally provided by bioarchaeological studies are most urgently needed, to define environment and land use, resource exploitation, living conditions, trade and exchange, as well as aspects of craft-working and industrial activities. In addition, the period in Yorkshire presents special problems concerning the status of individual rural or ecclesiastical settlements, particularly the nature of York as a possible wic.

For the purposes of this paper (and in view of the complexities of the archaeology of the 5th to 11th centuries), we have elected to discuss only such biological material as falls after the end of the Roman period (as generally accepted) and before the first significant waves of Scandinavian invasion in the mid 9th century.

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