This website is hosted by the Rural Riches Project at Leiden University (the Netherlands).
It is a platform on the archaeology of the Merovingian Period.
Information will be provided on ongoing research projects, new finds and excavations and datasets will be presented. You are invited to write contributions about your activities on this blog. If you want to get in touch, please use the contact form.
An ‘empty shell’, ‘ghost town’, or even a ‘field for pigs’. The prevailing image of the early medieval town in northern Gaul just after the collapse of Roman authority in the fifth century is one of crumbling ruins. For a long time, preconceived notions of what an early medieval town ought to look like have cast their shadow over the evidence. But new archaeological discoveries and a fresh perspective on the written sources is starting to change this picture. Here, I will zoom in on one such town: Cologne around the year five hundred.
The blog post is written by Jip Barreveld for the Leiden Medievalist Blog, based on ongoing research for his dissertation on ‘Towns and elites in Merovingian northern Gaul’ as part of the Rural Riches project.
Rural Riches can now be found on Twitter! Although we love to be with our minds deep in the Merovingian past, we also recognize that sometimes it is important to catch up with modernity. With Twitter we hope to increase our public outreach and contribute to the valorization of knowledge.
We will use Twitter to bring attention to new blog articles on this website, but we will also use it independently to report on the project, the team, and the world of Merovingian archaeology at large. It should be interesting both for specialists and interested lay(wo)men alike. So, if you are on Twitter and like Merovingian archaeology, make sure to to follow @RichesRural.
If you have news pertaining to Merovingian archaeology or history that you would like to share to the world, please contact us! Both our website and Twitter are meant as a platform for research on the Merovingian world.
As published by R. Legoux, Merovingian pots with the same decoration can be found in distant places. In 2017, M. Kars and F. Theuws noticed that pots with identical roulette stamp impressions are known from the cemetery of Sittard (grave 86), Obbicht (grave 43) and Rhenen (grave 159). Six fragments with a similar impression were also found in the potters’ kiln n°4 excavated in Maastricht-Wyck. The sites of Obbicht, Sittard and Maastricht are 20 km apart, but the distance between them and Rhenen is about 125 km. It is certain that the roulette stamp was used in Maastricht-Wyck and that this workshop produced pots with this decoration. So, the pot from Rhenen might have come from this place.
In order to
prove it, this week, we proceed to macroscopic exams and to chemical analyses by
PIXE-PIGE in order to know if the techniques and materials were the same and in
order to check if the pot found in Rhenen was “made in Maastrich”.
The first results
show that the clay is different and that the pot from Rhenen was not produced
at the same place that those found in Limburg. If they still need to be controlled,
they might be the proof of artisans’ movements.
On February 28th and March 21st the entire Rural Riches team attended a conference in the town of Huy (Belgium), located along the river Meuse. Several excavations in Huy have uncovered evidence for craft activities, indicating that the town was a significant center for early medieval production. Over the course of the Merovingian period, all major artisanal crafts were practiced here, including the production of pottery, glass, iron, copper alloy, bone and antler.
The conference was organised by Catherine Péters and Sophie de Bernardy de Sigoyer from the AWaP (l’Agence wallonne du Patrimoine), in cooperation with Line van Wersch from the Rural Riches project. It was attended by archaeologists, material specialists, historians and other researchers from Wallonia and beyond. Rural Riches team members Frans Theuws and Martine van Haperen presented a general introduction to the RR project and an inter-regional perspective on the production from Huy. Line van Wersch presented the results of her studies on the pottery production sites from Huy.
The craft center in Huy will be a central case study for the Rural Riches project, in our research on the modus operandi of Merovingian artisans. We are grateful for the generous spirit of the AWaP in allowing us to work with this material, which is currently still partially unpublished.
Yesterday, December 14 2018, the publication of the large cemetery of Broechem near Antwerp was presented in Brussels. Rica Annaert and her team invested many years of research resulting in two large volumes with an analysis of the cemetery and an extensive catalogue presenting in detail the evidence on each grave. The analysis is characterized by a truly interdisciplinary approach. This cemetery will be one of the key sites for the study of Merovingian society in Flanders and the southern Netherlands. Rica Annaert pointed out herself that the present analysis, although already extensive, is only the start of exploiting the research potential of this site.
Annaert, R., 2018: Het vroegmiddeleeuwse grafveld van Broechem/The early medieval cemetery of Broechem, Volume 1 Analyse/Analyses, volume 2 Catalogue, Habelt Verlag, Bonn. (Merovingian Archaeology in the Low Countries, 300 and 594 pp respectively)
In December 2018 Femke Lippok, our PhD member working on changing burial rites organised a conference drawing attention to the much neglected cremation burials in early medieval continental archaeology. Experts from Belgium, Germany, the UK and the Netherlands came together to discuss the occurrence and interpretation of this intriguing way of disposal of the dead. The graves are interesting on their own accord, and in addition they point out the minimal attention that has been paid to variability and compatibility of diverse grave types. The conference started out from the premise of considering local burial repertoires from a bottom-up perspective. Discussions on how a grave is constructed in a social sense, how decisions surrounding funerals were made, what social aspects have a role in dealing with death were focal points. We’d like to thank all participants for making this expert meeting a success. From Brussel, Dries Tys, Rica Annaert and Sarah Dalle were present. Raimund Masanz came all the way from Berlin. Egge Knol travelled from Groningen and Howard Williams from Chester. Frans Theuws, Martine van Haperen, Arjan Louwen and myself were participants from Leiden.
If this sparks your interest, read the well written description of the talks and discussions by Howard Williams here.
Across Europe, people deposited similar glass beads in Merovingian graves. These beads are known to have been produced at different places in the world, ranging from India and the eastern Mediterranean to northwestern Europe. The study of Merovingian bead-sets can thus give us great insight into 6th century exchange systems. One of the questions that remains to be answered is whether identical beads found in several cemeteries across Europe were actually produced in the same workshop. Chemical analyses of those beads can possibly answer this question. At the start of November, project member Mette Langbroek took the complete set of beads from the Merovingian cemetery of Lent-Lentseveld to the University of Liège for X-ray and XRF analysis. This is a first step that allows us to distinguishing groups in the chemical composition of these beads. Next spring, the beads will be taken to the IRAMAT-Centre Ernest-Babelon in Orléans for LA-ICP-MS analysis to establish their exact chemical composition.
Mette Langbroek and David Strivay (Centre Européen d’ Archéométrie, Université de Liège) operating the XRF laser
Frans Theuws and Femke Lippok visited our German colleagues in Freiburg to discuss about militarisation as an alternative driver of change in the early middle ages. The conference was held 28th-29th of November, contributions varied from topics like Viking marching camps in the UK to late roman weapon burials in southern Germany.
In addition, a visit to the Colombischlössle Archeological Museum revealed an unexpected treasure trove of early medieval grave goods in the museum’s basement. Some of the incredible artefacts are displayed for you below. Well worth a visit if you’re in town.
The Rural Riches project focusses on northern Gaul. Northern Gaul in Merovingian times distinguishes itself from central and southern Gaul in several respects. One of them is the general presence of a lavish burial rite resulting in thousands and thousands of graves with abundant grave goods in women’s and men’s graves. Further south lavish burial is present but less common. Another characteristic of Merovingian northern Gaul is the strong decline of Roman towns and the absence of bishops in the fifth century in many of them. The nature of the burial rites and the condition of towns were two important criteria in determining the limits of our research area. The limits are indicated on the map below. Also indicated are bishop’s seats, vici, remaining Roman fortresses and major Roman roads still in use in Merovingian times.
A first ‘natural’ choice was to take the Rhine frontier as the northern limit. However, we felt that it was important to compare developments inside the former Roman Empire with those just outside. So, it was decided to include the northern Netherlands and Nordrhein-Westfalen across the Rhine River in Germany. We then decided to follow the Rhine River southwards until Worms, to include the densely populated area of Rheinhessen. Then we move away from the Rhine River in a westerly direction to cross over to the heights of the Vosges and follow this mountain range to the south so as to include the important road from Strasbourg to the west in the direction of Metz and Reims. From there the limits of our research area extent further west. It is not easy to find a proper southern limit in the densely populated northwestern France. Here practical reasons also played a role. One of the goals we set ourselves was creating a good database on all Merovingian sites in the research area. If this area was too large this task would prove to be impossible to realize, if it was too small we would certainly not be able to observe a number of important developments in the area. We also wanted of course to include a number of towns. So we decided to include a number of civitates at the southern limits of the research area. They are Metz, Verdun, Reims, Laon, Noyon and Amiens. In principle we excluded the town of Soissons and its civitas just because of the sheer amount of data to be recorded. Moreover when entering the Paris Basin to the south we enter a region related to developments in central Gaul, which can among others be seen in a much more intensive presence of kings and aristocrats.
However, we want to take in a flexible position. While collecting data in the last year we took on board a series of sites in the Soissons civitas as well as sites in the German Wetterau, although we do not aim at a comprehensive collection of all sites such as we intend to do for the research area proper.
In defining this research area we think we are able to follow a number of fundamental processes characteristic for northern Gaul in Merovingian times. In the late fifth and early sixth century no one would consider this an important part of the former Roman Empire, and no one would have predicted that it is from this part of the world that western Europe would be dominated 300 years later. Something happened in this region which deserves our curiosity.
In celebration of Frans Theuws’ 65th birthday, the Rural Riches & Royal Rags- conference and book presentation was held at Leiden University on the 29th of June. The one day conference attracted many guests and speakers from all over Europe and was thoroughly enjoyed. A big thank you to the organising committee: Roos van Oosten, Ady Roxburgh, Mirjam Kars, Arno Verhoeven and Bregt Balk.