Migrations and material culture change in Southern and Eastern England in the fth century AD: the investigation of an archaeological discourse
Geoffrey James Harrison
Department of Archaeology, University of Durham, (Thesis submitted for the degree of Ph.D) July 2001
This thesis aims to reassess one of the principal concepts used by archaeologists in their attempts to explain how ‘Roman Britain’ became ‘early medieval England’: the Anglo-Saxon migrations (i.e. the movement of people(s) from northern Europe or southern Scandinavia to southern and eastern England in the fifth century AD). This reassessment involves examining two inter-related themes. The first is largely historiographical, the aim being to highlight the socio-political and intellectual contexts in which ‘the Anglo-Saxon migrations’ became an important discourse. This is achieved by contextualizing both the beginnings of Anglo-Saxon archaeology and the archaeological investigation of ‘the migrations’ as well as the early historical sources that appear to describe those migrations (why and how were they written and by whom?). The second theme concerns material used by archaeologists to address questions such as: who were the people that migrated; where did they come from and travel to; when did this happen? A reassessment of the theoretical underpinnings of those archaeolological approaches is presented. Building on that, an analysis of several brooches types – material that has often been said to be significant for the above questions – is described. This analysis focuses on the contexts in which those brooches were deposited/found and thus highlights how people in the past used them as part of specific social practices. The results demonstrate that the pattern of material culture usually thought to prove that the Anglo-Saxon migrations did take place is actually quite varied and migrations may not be the best explanation for such diversity. Having critiqued the discourse of the Anglo-Saxon migrations, a number of alternative ways in which the Roman-Medieval transition in England might be understood are suggested. These alternatives focus on theories of material culture appropriation and how this relates to changing personal and/or collective identities.