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


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Volume 7 (2018) Current Issue

The Perils of Periodization: Roman Ceramics in Britain after 400 CE

Keith J. Fitzpatrick-Matthews and Robin Fleming

Originally published in Fragments, Vol. 5 (2016)

The post-Roman Britons of the fifth century are a good example of people invisible to archaeologists and historians, who have not recognized a distinctive material culture for them. We propose that this material does indeed exist, but has been wrongly characterized as ‘Late Roman’ or, worse, “Anglo-Saxon.” This pottery copied late-Roman forms, often poorly or in miniature, and these pots became increasingly odd over time; local production took over, often by poorly trained potters. Occasionally, potters made pots of “Anglo-Saxon” form using techniques inherited from Romano-British traditions. It is the effect of labeling the material “Anglo-Saxon” that has rendered it, its makers, and its users invisible.

The Cemeteries of Roman Baldock

Keith J. Fitzpatrick-Matthews

Originally published in Fragments, Vol. 5 (2016)

Ritual Landscapes in Pagan and Early Christian England

Austin Mason and Tom Williamson

Originally published in Fragments, Vol. 6 (2017)

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.

Baptism and Burial in Stone: Materializing Pastoral Care in Anglo-Norman England

Aleksandra McClain and Carolyn Twomey

During the eleventh and twelfth centuries the English parish church was undergoing an intense period of transformation, including the codification of the parochial system and the rights of pastoral care, as well as the standardization of the use of stone in church architecture and fixtures. This article examines a body of evidence compiled from documentary sources, baptismal fonts, and burial markers from Anglo-Norman Yorkshire to reveal the intersections between pastoral care, liturgical practice, parochial formation, patronage, and materiality in this formative period. We argue that the development of the medieval parish system was inextricably linked to not only the obligations of pastoral care, but also the physical materials with which the rites of birth and death were performed. The interdisciplinary methodology employed here enables us to reveal the nuances of a process that was more complex and more contingent on the efficacy of material culture than has been traditionally understood.

Runes and Commemoration in Anglo-Saxon England

Martin Findell and Lilla Kopár

Originally published in Fragments, Vol. 6 (2017)

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.

Of Piers, Polltaxes and Parliament: Articulating Status and Occupation in Late Medieval England

L. R. Poos and Martha D. Rust

Originally published in Fragments, Vol. 5 (2016)

This paper examines the articulation and vocabulary of a newly complex social order demarcated by occupation and status in England during the later fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, comparing Langland’s Piers Plowman with Parliamentary enactment of (and documentation resulting from) the later fourteenth century polltaxes and the Statute of Additions (1413). The idyllic vista of an agrarian “fair feeld ful of folk” at the opening of Piers Plowman evokes the “three estates” vision of social structure, which Langland quickly renders outmoded by populating the “feeld” with representatives of numerous artisan and commercial occupations (reflected in the manuscripts of Piers, which frequently highlight occupational terms in red ink). The polltaxes (by expanding the taxable base of government’s financial support, from land and movable wealth to occupation and status) and the Statute (by requiring new information in legal records about status) were responses to the same reality.

An Honest Bed: The Scene of Life and Death in Late Medieval England

Katherine L. French, Kathryn A. Smith, and Sarah Stanbury

Originally published in Fragments, Vol. 5 (2016)

Our article explores the bed as an object that projects notions of status, aspiration, decorum, and morality. We are interested in the economic and symbolic values that accrue to the bed, bedding, and the bedroom in late medieval England, as described in wills and household accounts, and as evoked in literary and artistic imagery. We situate our analysis in relation to literal and represented household beds, those associated with birth and inheritance and also those portrayed in images of death. “Childbed” and “deathbed” are terms that frame the human lifecycle. They also invoke the most important item of furniture in the premodern household.

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

Originally published in Fragments, Vol. 6 (2017)

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.

Black Death Bodies

Sharon N. DeWitte and Maryanne Kowaleski

Originally published in Fragments, Vol. 6 (2017)

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.