Charlotte Russell (University of Durham)
Durham Anthropology Journal., 13 (1)(2005)
The Romano-British to Anglo-Saxon transition in Britain is one of the most striking transitions seen in the archaeological record. Changes in burial practice between these periods, along with historical, anthropological, environmental and linguistic evidence have all been thought to indicate that a mass migration of Angles and Saxons into Britain occurred in the 5th century A.D. The writings of Gildas and Bede provide a starting point for research in this area, and their migration based viewpoints have long been the basis for research in other areas. However, in recent years, archaeological research has shifted to focus on social rather than biological identity, and `small bands’ theories of cultural change through acculturation have predominated. In the last ten years, there has been a resurgence of interest in the biological identities of the population of `Anglo-Saxon England’, and research from such diverse areas as dental anthropology and genetics has provided rather conflicting results. The author’s PhD research concentrates on using traditional craniometric techniques and modern multivariate analyses to provide a new perspective on population change, between the Romano-British and Anglo-Saxon periods in the North East of England, and this research is outlined here following an assessment of the literature surrounding the topic.
The long history of Britain as seen through archaeology and history involves a series of distinct cultural eras, divided and demarcated by transitional periods. One of the most ferociously debated topics in current archaeological and historical research is that of the nature of the Romano-British to Anglo-Saxon transition in Britain. The archaeological differences between the Anglo-Saxon period, and the preceding Romano-British period are striking. As Sam Lucy writes, “The Roman period was characterised by settlement evidence, monumental architecture, distinctive building styles, imported pottery and metalwork. The archaeological remains reflect the world of the living: forts, roads, villas, settlements, enclosures. Cemeteries are found in some numbers but these generally concentrate around settlement sites”.