aNgLo-saXoN bUriaLs A new chronology liss
graph log y
: Tees Arc haeo photo
Christian successors. Equally, historians were increasingly worried about the lack of any concrete evidence for direct church involvement, such as issuing decrees, in the key regions where change was afoot.
Eventually these factors prompted a move away from the conversion hypothesis and the emergence of a new consensus, which held that the church adopted a laissez-faire approach to burial, with the clergy content to sit back and allow the old ways to die of natural causes. Common to both models is what could be called a long chronology. The disappearance of furnished burial was seen as a drawn-out process, starting in the AD 590s and only petering out as late as 740, half a century after Theodore’s death.
In truth, all attempts to understand the processes creating the change visible in the
current archaeology | www.archaeology.co.uk above The northernmost site analysed by the researchers was Norton in County Durham, where Cleveland County Council Archaeology Section (now Tees Archaeology) uncovered a 6th- to 7th-century Anglo-Saxon cemetery in 1984-1985. The shield boss and spearhead visible in this grave testify to the weapons that accompanied its occupant to the next life.
LeFt This graph shows probability distributions for the end date of furnished burials in England for men (blue/purple lines), women (red line), and overall (orange/green lines), according to the final, preferred, chronological model.
archaeological record were hamstrung by the absence of a robust chronology for the burials. Dating was dependent on the objects placed in the graves, and in particular combinations of different artefacts, a technique known as seriation. At its simplest, the presence of items A and B would be indicative of one date, while the combination of B and C would imply a later burial. Such crossdating has been refined by centuwas dependent on the objects ries of careful scholarship, but could easily carry a margin of error of half a century or so.
Despite advances in the sequencing of graveassemblages, thorough analysis of Europe-wide relationships, and associations with datable coins and dendrochronologically datable wood, that was how the situation stood in the 1990s, when Alex Bayliss, then Scientific Dating Co-ordinator at English Heritage and now Head of Scientific Dating, began searching in earnest a project to test whether advances in scientific dating techniques could make a real difference to the understanding of this period.
Bring up the bodies
While the advent of radiocarbon dating in the 1950s had revolutionised knowledge of the timescales involved in prehistory, the technique had proved less fruitful for the post-Roman era. With a level of precision that might return a date range of AD 410-650, if you were lucky, the method seemed to hold little promise for advancing Anglo-Saxon studies. By the early 1990s, though, increasingly sophisticated statistical techniques were producing jaw-droppingly tight dates for prehistoric monuments. Long barrows constructed around 6,000 years ago, for example, were being dated to within 30-year limits. If such precision could be replicated in the Early Medieval period, it would be a major step forward. Much of the new precision in radiocarbon dates was achieved using a form of mathematical analysis known as Bayesian modelling. Discussed in detail in CA 259, this approach allowed the raw scientific data provided by analysis of an
December 2013 |
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