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Spotted on the New Book Display shelves in the fabulous* Sackler library in Oxford (dealing with archaeology, classics and art history):

Gitte Hansen, Steven P. Ashby and Irene Baug (eds) (2015) Everyday products in the Middle Ages. Crafts, consumption and the individual in northern Europe c. AD 800-1600. Oxbow Books.

I’ve heard about this book for a while now, but was waiting to see it in the flesh, as it were, before deciding to buy or not. And it seems like a highly useful book if you are interested in basic consumer goods, its production, the craftspeople and the consumers in Medieval northern Europe.

The list of contents is up at the publisher, and it has quite a variety in its topics, from general articles on craftspeople, to pottery and glass imports, leather working, bone and antler working, textiles, stone working, iron production and blacksmithing.


*: not because it’s particularly fancy – it’s not – but because they have so much useful and interesting stuff.
ossamenta: Picture of an owl from a Medieval manuscript (Medieval owl)
Rain/heavy rain was forecast and consequently my plans for the weekend involved me, sofa, good book, embroidery and not going outside more than I absolutely had to. However, that Friday evening I found out that there was a temporary exhibition at the Natural History Museum in Tring on a new bird book. And it turned out that Saturday was my only available day before the exhibition closed…

Nothing for it. Off to Tring.

The exhibition showed 15-20 exquisitely drawn bird skeletons, often ”in life” rather than merely standing up, three mounted skeletons and the book. I had said to myself that if I liked the book I would put it on my Christmas wish list, as it was £35, and it would be far better if someone else spent that money :-) . But after a quick glance through the book in the shop, I decided that instant gratification was the better choice. After all, Christmas is a long time away, and the book could go out of print. If it had only been anatomical drawings, I probably would have passed. But the text is highly informative on how bird behaviour, appearance and posture are influenced by their anatomy, and vice versa. As the author says, it’s not a book about the inside of birds, it’s about the outside of birds.

John's review post is full of info and pictures, so instead of repeating most of this, I will merely link to his blog. He didn't include my favourite drawing, a diver under water, so I'll post a photograph here. Unfortunately, what with the lighting and placement of the drawings, this one in particular was very hard to photograph, as it all reflected back in the glass. You can even see parts of the emergency exit sign reflection in the lower left corner of the glass.

 photo Tring_diver_zps4723e7d6.jpg
Diver (that's loon in the US) under water, with a fish and waterlily leaves seen from below in the upper right corner.
ossamenta: (Book store = shiny!)
Winchester is an interesting town. The ”first” settlement was an Iron Age hill fort, then at c. 70AD the Romans came and established a town there. In the early and mid-Saxon period there seems to be a decline of the town, but in 662AD Winchester becomes the site of the bishopric, and then becomes the capital of the kingdom of Wessex. After the Norman invasion London takes over the throne (so to speak), but Winchester remained the site of the bishopric. And not just any bishopric: the See of Winchester was one of the wealthiest in Medieval England.

winchester book cover

The Northgate House, Staple Gardens and Winchester Discovery Centre (formerly Winchester Library) sites are located in the north-west corner of the Roman and Medieval town, within the walls*. The Saxon (and Medieval) street Brudene Stret (nowadays Staple Gardens) separates the sites. There is plot continuation throughout the Late Saxon, Anglo-Norman and High Medieval periods, which lent itself to comparisons between the plots both spatially and chronologically. However, in the early 13th century, the buildings on the northwest side of Brudene Stret were demolished and the area formed part of the Archdeacon’s residence.

The book gives an introduction to the sites, including documentary evidence from the Medieval period and land use over time. The next few chapters discuss the two sites by period: Prehistoric and Roman, Late Saxon (c. 850-1150), and Anglo-Norman/Medieval (c. 1150-1550). The latter two chapters are discussed by property, which would facilitate easy chronological comparison. Thereafter follows a discussion of the site in a wider context, again by period. Here the Late Saxon and Anglo-Norman/Medieval periods are combined and form a substantial chapter, discussing the creation of the town, building development, water supply, pit function, industry and craft (metal working, textile working, skinning and furriering**, bone and horn working), and the Archdeacon’s residence.

There is a short chapter on the scientific dating evidence, i.e. radio carbon dating and archaeomagnetic dating, a method which was chosen since there was an abundance of fired hearths in situ throughout the Saxon period. A large number of dating samples were taken to form a detailed phasing of the site, trying to find out whether the properties were laid out at the same time, or grew more organically. Other research aims included finding out whether the settlement existed before or after the ”official” foundation of the burh, and trying to calibrate the pottery dating sequence.

That’s half the book. The other half is devoted to the finds. Lots of pottery, from prehistoric to post-medieval, much building material such as tile, stone and painted wall plaster, 305 Roman coins, several ”small finds”, i.e. metal and bone objects, glass and shale. The small finds are significantly summarized in the book (a shame, as I found lots of worked bone mounts when I did my analysis, and I haven’t got around to check the cd yet - mea culpa), and the full report is included on an accompanying cd. In fact, all specialist reports, including scientific dating, are included in full on the cd. The finds section in the book also includes the ecofacts, i.e. animal bone (a lot, including evidence for a furrier’s workshop), molluscs (not many), charcoal, seeds and other plant remains (a lot, including evidence for dyeing, probably textiles), as well as human bone (mainly a small number of Roman infant burials), intestinal parasites (very few). There’s also a summary of an analysis of soil micromorphology, chemistry and magnetic susceptibility.

As with the Lankhills book, there are plenty of drawing and colour photographs throughout the book. I would recommend the book to anyone with an interest in urban archaeology from these periods.


*: The layout of the town wall didn’t change much over the centuries. Waste not, want not, I guess.
**: This is one of the sites I use for my tawyers and furriers talk at the conference in Gdansk in September. It’s (AFAIK) the second site in Britain where they have found dumps of bones from squirrel feet - one of the most common fine furs in the Medieval period and subject of a huge industry and trade. The other site is much later in the period: The Bedern in York (14th century).

B.M. Ford and S. Teague, 2011. Winchester - a city in the making. Archaeological investigations beteeen 2002 and 2007 on the sites of Northgate House, Staple Gardens and the former Winchester Library, Jewry Street. Oxford Archaeology Monograph No. 12.
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Photobucket

The The Routledge Handbook of Archaeological Human Remains and Legislation was spotted by yours truly in Foyles bookshop yesterday. As is obvious from the title, the book deals with the legislation and treatment of human remains in 62 countries around the world (even Antarctica is included!). I wrote part of the Sweden chapter, together with Torbjörn Ahlström, Kristina Jennbert and Elisabeth Iregren.

At £184.99 it's not for everybody's bookshelf, but if you deal with excavation of human remains in several countries it might be a good idea to get hold of it.
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As one of the contributors, I got a copy of the new Lankhills cemetery book last Friday. The book is so new it’s not out in the bookshops yet, but will probably be in the online catalogues next week or so.

Lankhills book cover


It’s a very thorough book, with good illustrations and (several) photographs. It deals with the AD300-400 cemetery outside the Roman town Venta Bulgarum, now Winchester, in southern England. The site has been excavated previously, see for example Clark, 1979, The Roman cemetery at Lankhills, Winchester studies Vol.3. A total of 807 inhumation burials and 32 cremations have been excavated so far. The latest excavations, which this book covers, recovered 284 articulated skeletons, 100 deposits of disarticulated bones and 25 cremations. This latest assemblage also includes some unusual burials, such as eight prone inhumations (i.e. buried face to the ground) and five decapitated skeletons, one of which was an infant.

The main part of the book consists of the grave catalogue, artefact analysis and human remains analysis. The grave catalogue has colour drawings of almost every inhumation, including drawings of pottery and photographs of most grave goods (glass beads, bracelets of copper alloy and shale, rings of copper alloy and silver (including a few intaglio ones), copper alloy brooches (including one with inscription - this is featured on the book cover), bone combs, copper alloy buckles, knives, hair pins, spindle whorls and one glass vessel and a pair of decorated spurs). The hob nails and the textile imprints on artefacts are discussed (and photographed) in the artefact chapter, as is the pottery. The artefact chapter also includes analysis and discussion of each of the abovementioned artefact types, as well as coffin nails, coins and tiles.

The human remains analysis has the usual detailed studies of age, sex and stature, as well as a very extensive pathology section. There is much variation in the pathologies, not just the usual caries, fractures and osteoarthritis, but amputations, decapitations, DISH, cribra and femora orbitalia, osteomas, ankylosis, Perthes’ disease, necrosis, spondylosis, sinusitis, rickets and possible scurvy (as well as several other pathological conditions).

Smaller parts of the book discuss the cremation burials (including pyre technology), burnt and unburnt animal remains in the graves, isotope analysis and funerary rites. The isotope analysis concerns both 13C + 15N and oxygen + strontium. The 13C and 15N analysis focusses on unusual individual graves (DISH, decapitations, prone burials, ones with unusual grave goods) to see if the diet of these people differed from the rest of the population. The oxygen and strontium analysis on the other hand discusses ancestry. Samples were taken from 40 individuals, of which 11 showed non-british signatures: 10 were from the mediterranean region and one possibly from central Europe. The discussion on funerary rites includes the use of coffins and shrouds, body position and grave goods.

All in all, if you’re interested in Roman artefacts, or Roman human remains, I recommend getting hold of this book, or at least checking it out in the local university library. Even if you’re only interested in human paleopathology in general it might be worth having a look.


P. Booth, A. Simmonds, A. Boyle, S. Clough, H.E.M. Cool and D. Poore, 2010. The late Roman cemetery at Lankhills, Winchester. Excavations 2000-2005. Oxford Archaeology Monograph No. 10.
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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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