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Revolution in Dating Early Anglo-Saxon Archaeology

25 September 2013

A revolutionary digital archive is now live thanks to the results of a 15-year multi-national research project into Early Anglo-Saxon Archaeology. The multidisciplinary team included experts from Cardiff University, English Heritage, Stirling University and Aarhus in Denmark.

Academics can now access the new data via the national Archaeology Data Service website  (doi:10.5284/101829) to assist their research. The results of the project’s newly published volume Anglo-Saxon Graves and Grave Goods of the Sixth and Seventh Centuries AD: A Chronological Framework, edited by John Hines and Alex Bayliss, will now inform scholarship for future generations.

Professor of Archaeology at Cardiff John Hines explains: "As well as testing and demonstrating the applicability of the most up-to-date laboratory and mathematical techniques in archaeology, the results offer exciting and thought-provoking new insights into the interlinked series of economic, social and ideological changes which saw the emergence of the Christian kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England by the end of the seventh century."

"The Early Anglo-Saxon Period in England (fifth-seventh centuries A.D.) is characterised in terms of material culture by the regular inclusion of artefacts in human graves. The scope for dating these objects and graves as precisely as possible, in order to produce a detailed image of the dramatic changes that saw the establishment of an England over the ruins of Roman Britain, has long been studied. However, it has in the past proved much easier to identify and enumerate the chronological problems of this material than to solve those problems. Prior to the work of this project, there was no comprehensive chronological framework for Early Anglo-Saxon archaeology, and the level of detail and precision in dates that could be suggested was low.

Funded by English Heritage, the multinational and interdisciplinary research team including Professors John Hines and Christopher Scull of Cardiff University, Professor Gerry MacCormac, Principal of Stirling University, formerly of the Queen's University Belfast, Alex Bayliss (English Heritage) and Karen Høilund Nielsen (Aarhus, Denmark), has worked together for 15 years analysing the evidence afresh using a co-ordinated suite of dating techniques, both traditional and new: a review and revision of artefact-typology; the seriation of grave-assemblages using correspondence analysis; high-precision radiocarbon dating of selected bone samples; and Bayesian modelling incorporating the results of all of these.

Stage 1, involving a new level of high-precision radiocarbon dating, was run from the Queen's University, Belfast; Stages 2-4, the analysis and publication of the results, were managed by Professor John Hines in the Department of Archaeology, Cardiff, from 2005 to this year. The printed report came out at the end of July, and the digital back-up material now makes it possible not only for further researchers to explore the data-set and the complex mathematical analyses of it in full, but also, if they wish, to add new data, or remodel the data studied by the project team.

For more information on research at Cardiff’s School of History, Archaeology and Religion: