The broadest aim of Fragments is to generate new, integrated ways of thinking about the premodern past. More...


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Volume 6 (2017) Current Issue

Black Death Bodies

Sharon N. DeWitte and Maryanne Kowaleski

The fourteenth-century Black Death was one of the most important and devastating epidemics in human history. It caused or accelerated important demographic, economic, political, and social changes throughout the Old World and has therefore been the subject of scholarly research in a variety of fields, including history, anthropology, demography, and molecular biology. In this paper, we examine the Black Death (specifically, the first and second outbreaks of fourteenth-century plague, c. 1347–1351 and 1361–1362) from bioarchaeological and historical perspectives, focusing on attempts to reconstruct mortality patterns and addressing the questions: Who died in England during the Black Death? How did they die, where and when? We evaluate how historical and bioarchaeological sources are uniquely informative about these questions and highlight the limitations that are associated with each type of data. The combination of the two bodies of evidence, when possible, can provide insights that are not possible when each is analyzed in isolation.

Flesh on the Bones: A Historical and Bioarchaeological Exploration of Violence, Trauma, Sex, and Gender in Medieval England

Anne L. Grauer and Andrew G. Miller

Medieval England has been characterized as a particularly violent time and place in human history. Exploring the recently translated and digitized Calendar of the Patent Rolls (CPR), alongside data collected from human skeletal remains, provides novel and interdisciplinary means to evaluate this assertion. This study posed three questions: Could reliable quantitative measures of violence be developed using the CPR and skeletal evidence; could actions based on sex and gender be evaluated; and could engendered aspects of medieval violence be recognized and assessed? Our investigation found women recorded in the CPR having committed violent acts, but far less frequently than men. The analysis of human skeletal remains found that close to 13 percent of skeletons recovered from medieval archaeological sites displayed bone fracture, with males exhibiting almost twice the number of fractures as women. Interpreting these disparities is difficult. However, meshing history and bioarchaeology provides new insight into medieval sex, gender and trauma.

Ritual Landscapes in Pagan and Early Christian England

Austin Mason and Tom Williamson

This article explores some of the complex relationships which existed between topographic patterns and social organization in early medieval England. It argues that group identities were not entirely elective in character and random in their boundaries, but were to a significant extent shaped by the structures of the natural landscape. The same was true of the places which particular groups found significant in ritual terms, as meeting places and burial grounds. This is a cross-disciplinary study, in that it applies models developed by English local and regional historians, which are normally used in a later medieval or post-medieval context, to throw light on the character of the location of early medieval ritual sites. More specifically, employing Alan Everitt’s “river and wold” concept, we examine the commonality of the landscape settings of pagan Anglo-Saxon cemeteries, and later Christian churches. We suggest that the broadly analogous patterns of location they displayed arose from networks of contact and communication engendered by the configuration of drainage basins and their watershed boundaries. We also identify the conceptual difficulties involved in separating out the recurrent influence of such patterns from simple long-term “continuity” in the importance of particular places.

Runes and Commemoration in Anglo-Saxon England

Martin Findell and Lilla Kopár

Runic inscriptions are of interest not only as evidence of language and literacy in early medieval England, but also of the cultural functions of the objects on which they appear. In this paper, we present three case studies to examine the ways in which runic writing was used to commemorate the dead in Anglo-Saxon England: a cremation urn from Loveden Hill, Lincolnshire; the wooden coffin of Saint Cuthbert; and a carved memorial stone from Great Urswick, Cumbria. Our study highlights the diversity of rune-inscribed objects in their material and function, from containers for human remains to monuments on public display. In each case we discuss the linguistic problems of the text and the relationship of the inscription to the object and its find context, before turning to a broader examination of the role of inscribed objects in the act of commemoration and the question of the choice of runic over the Roman script.