May. 8th, 2010

ossamenta: (Book store = shiny!)
Every second year the German town Lübeck hosts a big symposium on urban archaeology, focussing on the Hanseatic region, i.e. the parts of northern Europe where this mercantile alliance of cities and guilds formed a trade monopoly during the 13th-17th centuries.

Yesterday I saw that the Sackler library - the arts and archaeology library in Oxford - had bought five books with papers from those symposia, and naturally I was very curious. Two in particular merited browsing: Crafts and Luxury and Lifestyle.

The Crafts book was very interesting: an overvew of the archaeological evidence of various crafts in 43 medieval towns in 14 countries, ranging from Cork in the west to Novgorod in the east, and from Konstanz in the south to Bergen in the north. There are only two craft specific articles: on paternoster bead making (focussing on Konstanz) and on building construction in Pskov. Now, despite I’m saying overview, the papers are enough detailed to yield useful information for each craft that was discussed. Naturally all crafts in these towns have not been included, since many leave little or no identifiable remains at all. I found it very interesting to see what’s been found in other towns, particularly for ways to identify craft activites from archaeological remains.

The luxury symposium was held two years later, in 2006, and concern more ”shinier” items. Not to the level of royal luxury, but more well off merchants and nobility. The area and countries present are mostly the same as in the Crafts symposium. This book was not so relevant for me, since I’m mostly interested in everyday crafts, and while animal bones can be used to discuss status, this is hardly mentioned at all here. Still, the book would be very useful for archaeologists and finds specialists that are interested in ways to express high status through objects during the Middle Ages and Early Modern period and to archaeologically identify high-status households.

I can highly recommend these books not only for archaeologists, but also for re-enactors, as photos and drawings of many interesting objects have been included. Unfortunately there are no colour photographs, probably to keep the cost down. Even so, a quick search showed that the books cost €50 each, so I guess it’s more a matter of inter library loan and photocopying the relevant pages rather than actually buying the books. Language-wise, the papers are either in English or in German. It’s a rough 50-50 split, and all summaries are in the other language.

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