By Gabor Thomas
British Archaeology, No.113 (July/August 2011)
Introduction: It is now well established that the structure of the English medieval countryside emerged between AD600 and AD1000. During this time a patchwork of petty Anglo-Saxon kingdoms became a nation. Rural settlement patterns across much of England were redefined, contributing to the countryside’s strongly regional character. We still inhabit a good majority of the farms, hamlets and villages founded then.
This continuity means that later Anglo-Saxon settlement archaeology frequently (and quite literally) lies beneath our feet at the centre of modern rural communities. Public archaeology now regularly targets these places for small-scale excavation, as happened with Time Team’s Big Dig and the recently aired BBC series, Michael Wood’s Story of England: both of these deployed test-pitting in back gardens to unravel the development of villages back before the Norman Conquest in 1066. Commercial and public-funded archaeology too have helped flesh out the physical details of these hidden phases of village history, as vividly demonstrated at Raunds, Northamptonshire, and other expanding dormitory towns.