aNgLo-saXoN bUriaLs A new chronology aNgLo-saXoN bUriaLs aNgLo-saXoN bUriaLs A new chronology
Belfast, a timelag that there is no way to speed up. When the final results of the dating programme were drawn together in 2008, they revealed some major surprises. Chief among these was that rather than a gradual decline over 150 years, the practice of furnished burials came to an abrupt end in the AD 670s-680s. The disappearance of these rites coincided exactly with Theodore of Tarsus’s period as primate. Dates alone cannot, of course, prove a direct link between the elimination of furnished burial and the reforming zeal of this hero of the early Church. Even so, it seems overwhelmingly likely that one of Theodore’s unsung achievements was to effect a far more radical shift in burial practice among the general population than previously considered possible.
: Mag g iMages
current archaeology | www.archaeology.co.uk
LeFt The 7th-century ‘princely’ burial at Prittlewell, near Southend, Essex, was excavated by the Museum of London Archaeology Service (now MOLA) in 2003. This reconstruction by Faith Vardy (above) shows how the elaborately furnished burial chamber, once covered by a mound, may have originally looked.
John Hines, Professor of Archaeology at Cardiff University, emphasises the significance of the new dates. ‘We can now argue with real conviction that this final break with tradition is a product of the Church consolidating its position,’ he states. ‘While Theodore of Tarsus is a key figure, we can also see a degree of opportunism, as this is really the first time that the Church in England was in a position to enforce a norm of burial more in keeping with its preferences.’
‘While Church leaders of the late 7th century, such as St Cuthbert, could be dug up and reburied with objects including his pectoral cross and portable altar, other levels of society had to find new ways to mark their status. Over time this was done by being buried close to the church or even within a church. The Church’s success in taking control of this aspect of people’s material life and experience can be measured by its endurance for many centuries, surviving even the shockwaves of Viking invasions.’
Anglo-Saxon armaments control
The programme of Bayesian dating has also helped to clarify shifting fashions in treatment of the dead prior to the final disappearance of furnished burial in the AD 670s or 680s. One particularly eyecatching development can now be confidently assigned to a century earlier in the 570s, when there is a sudden and marked decline in male and female burials with grave goods. Once tentatively linked to the initial arrival of Christian missionaries in 597, the new dates make it clear that this shift in practice begins too early for it to be explicable through church interference. Equally interesting is that while female burials with grave goods reappear for a spectacular final flourish from the 620s or 630s through to the 670s or 680s, male weapon burials maintain a low profile right up to the final cessation of furnished burials.
Attempts to interpret these changes are still in their earliest stages, but John Hines feels that these developments might reflect broader social changes. ‘The old style of production and marketing was decentralised and in the hands of itinerant craftsmen,’ he points out, ‘so that anyone with the means could get hold of whatever commodities they desired. This situation changed when communities began to coalesce as political
December 2013 |
You have no current subscriptions in your account.
Would you like to explore the titles in our collection?
You have no collections in your account.
Would you like to view your available titles?