Monday, 29 August 2011

Back to the Fifth Century – The Saxons are coming

We left the 20th century and its planes and radar and went back nearly 2,000 years to see the traces our forebears have left on the countryside.


In the years after the Romans left Britain, new people arrived. Collectively known as Anglo-Saxons, they were from Germanic tribes and brought with them the name by which my homeland is still known – Englaland in Old English, England today.

At West Stow, near Bury St Edmunds, during a trial for sand and gravel extraction between 1965 and 1972, fragments of pottery were discovered and   excavations showed the remains of an entire Anglo Saxon village.  Though the wood had rotted, enough traces remained to attempt a reconstruction.

Now, archaeologists are a contentious lot and really love a good argument.  Luckily for them, no Anglo-Saxon was likely to turn up and settle the debate so they turned the reconstruction into an experiment to see which building design worked best.   The one thing they did know was that the huts were built over a shallow pit – it was a start.


The simplest would be having no walls so they tried that. The pit filled with sand and there was then no headroom.  No worries. They tried again.  Some remains suggested wooden floors so several huts were built with different construction methods.


The villagers lived in family groups and this was a big village with 69 huts, 7 halls and 7 other structures found. They were still in touch with their homelands as glass and metals have been found at the site which are not produced locally.

There were also too many loom weights for the villagers to have only woven their own clothes.  They probably made them for trade.


These people were farmers and another day, we went to see the remains of  much higher status Saxons at Sutton Hoo.  To find out more about West Stow, Wiki is your friend.

If you visit on a day when re-enactors are on site, it’s a big bonus. One man was sewing leather gloves and I asked him what evidence they had for gloves in the period.  “They had a word for them. In old English the word is glōf.”

That made the Anglo-Saxons feel more real.

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