Rural Riches team in England

Rural Riches team posing with the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit of the Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art (RLAHA)
Rural Riches team posing with the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit of the Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art (RLAHA)

Last week the Rural Riches team attended the Staffordshire hoard conference in London. This amazing hoard dating to the third quarter of the seventh century will change our view on wealth in post-Sutton Hoo seventh century England.

The hoard consists mainly of the gold and garnet decorated parts of the hilts of swords. This suggests that a conscious selection of objects determined the composition of the hoard. It is suggested that the fragmented objects were part of the spoils of a battle. Some liturgical objects, one of which is considered a part of a bishop’s head dress, another is part of a cross, were considered to represent members of the clergy present at such a battle. The day after this vivid picture of battling bishops colored the pages of the Times.

The Staffordshire Hoard conference, photograph by Howard

The hoard, consisting of fragmented and destroyed objects, may however be removed several steps from the collection of complete objects on a battle field. In the discussion Frans Theuws suggested that the fragmentation and destruction of objects could be considered an important act in the transformation of the original enchanted objects to just bullion reducing them to their material value only, so they could be melted and recycled. For the Rural Riches project the conference was an important experience of great help in the reflection on the circulation of gold (including recycling) and the distribution of wealth in Merovingian times.

Admiring the beautiful Old English and Merovingian archaeology in the Ashmolean museum, Oxford

The journey continued to Oxford where we were warmly received by Professor Helena Hamerow and her team of the ERC funded project FeedSax. The FeedSax project uses highly sophisticated and innovative scientific methods offered by the laboratories of the Oxford Archaeological Institute, to study the expansion of cereal cultivation in early medieval England. Papers were presented by members of both projects. This highly productive exchange of information between two simultaneously funded ERC projects was very stimulating.

For the Rural Riches team it was highly rewarding because one of our goals is to analyse the possible early agricultural specialization in parts of northern Gaul where regions might concentrate on either wine production or grain cultivation already in Merovingian times. The next day our team was offered a very informative tour through the Oxford Archaeological Institute laboratories. Dr. Liz Strout showed us her isotope research on animals and plants, while professor Thomas Higham demonstrated the latest developments on radiocarbon dating and the complicated process of sample preparation.

Early medieval graves found in Leiden

An excavation uncovered Merovingian graves within viewing distance of the Rural Riches project office. This excavation is conducted by the archaeology faculty in Leiden and the archaeological company ARCHOL. The grave in the photograph below contained a very well preserved skeleton and several metal objects. It was lifted en bloc by conservation company Restaura and will be examined further in the laboratory.

Merovingian grave, Leiden

Pottery analysis at Liège

Part of the Rural Riches subproject on early medieval production involves the study of pottery. Our post-doc researcher Line van Wersch and research master student Sophie Vullings are currently in the research laboratory at the University of Liège to do macroscopic analyses on Merovingian pottery from production sites in the town of Huy.

Sophie Vullings, pottery research

Rural Riches at the EAA in Barcelona

Four members of the Rural Riches project will be presenting at the EAA in Barcelona in September 2018. Frans Theuws will present a paper about the reinterpretation of the distribution of sceatta coins titled ‘Rethinking sceatta’s and the economy of northwestern Europe in the 8th century’ in the session ‘ Silver, status and society ‐ transition from late Roman to Early Medieval Europe’.

Line van Wersch will be talking about ‘Early medieval tesserae in northwestern Europe. Long distance trade or local supply?’ in the session ‘Pirenne vs. Glass: The contribution of archaeological and archaeometric glass analysis to the study of early medieval long‐distance trade networks’.

Mette Langbroek’s presentation is titled ‘Rural Riches: on beads and anarchy in Merovingian Northwestern Europe’ in the session ‘‘…In with the New!’: The future of archaeological research in Medieval Europe’

Martine van Haperen will talk about economic implications of grave reopenings in a presentation titled ‘Deposition, transformation, retrieval: the value of objects from reopened graves’ in the session ‘Revamping value(s): on the destruction of value during the Bronze and Iron Age in Europe and the Mediterranean’.

Barcelona EAA