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for the generous spirit of the AWaP in allowing us to work with this material, which is currently still partially unpublished.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.
However, we want to take in a flexible position. While collecting data we took on board a series of 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.
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 Karlsruhe, 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, Soissons, Beauvais and Amiens. We did not want to enter the Paris Basin to the south because that is a region related to developments in central Gaul, which can among others be seen in a much more intensive presence of kings and aristocrats. Moreover it has been intensively studied by the team of the ‘Programme collectif de recherche, Archéologie des nécropoles mérovingiennes en Île-de-France’. They created a database on Merovingian archaeology of their own.
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.
Pr. Fr Hartert from the geology department of Liège University performed PXRF analyses on slags from a merovingian settlement in Huy. These found with remains of glass production are slags due to the production of iron. Some traces are unusual for ores for the mosan region…research to be continued.
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.
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.