April 5, 2021

3.7 Archaeology of Early Medieval Europe: It’s All About the Graves - No Metal.

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Hon. Assoc. Prof. Sue Harrington, Institute of Archaeology, University College London.


Dr. Stuart Brookes, Institute of Archaeology, University College London.


Prof. Sarah Semple, Durham University


Assoc. Prof. Andrew Millard, Durham University




Harrington, S., Brookes, S., Semple, S., & Millard, A. 2020. 'Theatres of Closure: Process and Performance in Inhumation Burial Rites in Early Medieval Britain', Cambridge Archaeological Journal 30:3, 389–412.

Inhumation burials are recorded in Britain and Europe during excavations in a
standardized way, especially graves of early medieval date. Just a limited number of
attributes are usually foregrounded and these mainly concern skeletal identification, the
grave plan and, when a burial is furnished, a list of objects, particularly metalwork, as
well as occasional reference to burial structures, if present. In this paper, we argue that
concealed within these recorded details are attributes that often receive little attention,
but which can provide evidence for community investment in the individual funerary
rite. These include grave orientation, grave morphology, the body position and the
empty spaces in the grave, as well as categories of material culture. We argue here that
these factors enable us to define communal burial profiles and can facilitate the
identification of group perceptions and actions in dealing with death. By capitalizing
on these additional aspects of funerary ritual, archaeologists can move away from a
general dependency on well-furnished burials as the main stepping-off point for
discussion of social and cultural issues. This has particular relevance for regions where
unfurnished burial rites are the norm and where furnished rites do not rely on a
wealth of metalwork.


Dr. Clare Rainsford, Freelance Consultant Archaeologist




Clare Rainsford (2021) One hoof in the grave? Animal remains as inhumation grave goods in early medieval eastern England, Archaeological Journal, 178:1, 146-165, DOI: 10.1080/00665983.2020.1864613
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/00665983.2020.1864613

Animal remains placed into inhumation graves in 5th-7th century
England have been recorded for many years, but for reasons
related both to the development of the discipline and the sparse
nature of the evidence, there has been little systematic study of
these remains. The evidence for animal remains in inhumation
burials across five eastern UK counties (Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex,
Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire) is reviewed, and results from three
cemeteries – Oakington, Cambridgeshire; Lakenheath, Suffolk; and
Castledyke South, Lincolnshire – are discussed in detail. A broadly
consistent animal cosmology is indicated, which may extend
across the UK, but the practices in which animals are incorporated
as grave goods are seen to vary between cemeteries and even on
an intra-cemetery or family basis. This may have implications for
the analysis of animal remains in early Anglo-Saxon cremation
cemeteries, where the much larger numbers of burials and animal
pyre goods have resisted easy interpretation.


Femke Lippok, Leiden University.




Femke Eline Lippok (2020) The pyre and the grave: early medieval cremation burials in the Netherlands, the German Rhineland and Belgium, World Archaeology, 52:1, 147-162, DOI: 10.1080/00438243.2020.1769297
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/00438243.2020.1769297

This paper problematizes grand-narrative thinking in continental, north western
European early medieval (450–800 CE) burial archaeology. Using the existing
research history and current debate on early medieval cremation burials,
I demonstrate that European early medieval burial archaeology has focused on
explaining the development of the furnished inhumation burial since the discipline’s
conception. This has led to a misrepresentation of the diversity of early
medieval burial practices and reinforced broad, unsatisfactory explanatory models.
By including other burial types, like cremation burials, the overall model is
changed in terms of what early medieval burial practices comprised, enabling
a better understanding of the development of early medieval society.


This is a podcast about new and innovative research in archaeology.

Each episode I talk with pioneering and influential archaeologists about their journal papers, books and research projects.

Season 1 is all about the latest research into the Archaeology of the Roman West.

Season 2 is on Innovative Research in Australia.

Season 3 is on Early Medieval Europe.

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Medieval Europe, Osteoarchaeology, Mesoamerica, Pacific Archaeology, Prehistoric Burials, Post-Medieval, Scientific Techniques, South-east Asia, Bronze Age Monuments. You tell me!

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