Restructuring the 8th Century Landscape: Planned Settlements,Estates and Minsters in pre-Viking England
Although current scholarship has developed a convincing model for the structure and functioning of Middle Saxon estates, little is known of how elite lordship infuenced the wider settlement landscape in this pre-Viking period. Archaeological investigation within currently occupied villages, however, is providing crucial evidence of settlement in areas located away from estate centres and their agricultural cores. This paper reviews two excavations that have identified Middle Saxon settlements within the environs of modern villages in Cambridgeshire. These stable and structured communities,which utilised a mixed farming economy, represent a vital contribution to our understanding of the early medieval countryside. It is argued that settlement planning was a common feature of pre-Viking rural settlements, probably first initiated by ecclesiastical communities. It appears that the move towards more stable settlement foci and a structured agricultural landscape was motivated by newly permanent monastic groups before the breakdown of large ‘multiple’estates. These changes, it is asserted, laid the foundations of what were to eventually emerge as nucleated medieval villages.