In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Medieval Archaeology in Britain, Twelfth to Fifteenth Centuries

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • International, National, and Regional Journals
  • Specialist Journals and Newsletters
  • European Perspective
  • British Isles
  • Theory
  • History
  • Literature

Medieval Studies Medieval Archaeology in Britain, Twelfth to Fifteenth Centuries
David A. Hinton
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 December 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0052


By the start of the 12th century, large-scale migrations had ended in Western Europe, although colonizers followed in the wake of successful invasions, such as that of the Normans into Ireland in 1169, and “aliens” from the Low Countries became a substantial group in 14th- and 15th-century England. The relationship of medieval archaeology to social anthropology, to historical documentation, and to contemporary literature takes the discipline beyond the study of physical remains alone. Themes include the role of material culture in shaping the environment and the lives of the people in its cities, towns, villages, and farmsteads. Churches provided a forum for their expressions of belief and received their corpses for eternity; their bones can reveal their aches, strains, and vulnerability to disease and inadequate nutrition. The social hierarchy is expressed in buildings that are increasingly likely to survive at least in part as standing structures: the elites’ castles and palaces; landowners’ manor houses; peasants’ farmhouses and barns; urban merchants’ grand dwellings and storage provisions; and the urban artisans’ terraces. Agriculture was the main economic activity; topics include the growth and decay of settlements, the crops grown, and the stock reared. Farming’s ability to change with the balance of supply and demand depended on ownership and control of land, leading to social issues, such as peasants’ ability to retain some of their production surplus. Urbanism, the market, and the physical evidence of trade are major themes. Objects range from elaborate gold and enameled goblets to pottery cups, from gold coins to copper-alloy tokens, and from crowns to pilgrims’ badges. Use of these depended on resources and the application of technologies, but also on people’s mindsets and their view of what was appropriate in terms of investment, behavior, and social positioning.

General Overviews

The Society for Medieval Archaeology publishes an annual journal, as well as an annual summary of the year’s principal fieldwork results, available through its website, and an occasional monograph series, all of which form the backbone of disciplinary studies of the archaeology of the Middle Ages. Medieval History and Archaeology, published by Oxford University Press, is an important series; the Council for British Archaeology’s Research Reports have included work on the medieval period, British Archaeological Reports are an outlet for these, and other societies may have multiperiod interests but include medieval articles or books from time to time. There is currently a dearth of publishers for more popular but nevertheless authoritative books. In contrast, there is a proliferation of special-interest groups, which produce journals and newsletters.

  • British Archaeological Reports.

    Occasionally includes a title on the archaeology of the later Middle Ages, such as that by Pamela Graves on parish churches.

  • Council for British Archaeology.

    The umbrella organization for archaeology as a whole, bringing together the voluntary and professional sectors. Its Research Reports have included one on Welsh medieval settlement, edited by Kathryn Roberts (Roberts 2006, cited under Villages, Hamlets, and Farmsteads). Its website is the portal for information and discussion, and its publications include the British and Irish Archaeological Bibliography, now online.

  • Medieval History and Archaeology.

    Oxford University Press series, publishing interdisciplinary studies such as that by Stephen Mileson on parks (see Other Uses of the Land).

  • Society for Medieval Archaeology.

    The annual journal is the premier outlet for articles, whether of primary data, syntheses, or debates. Also includes summaries of recent fieldwork and the pick of material reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Its reviews are an important source of information on a range of foreign and British publications. The society’s website includes details of its conferences and visits and allows access to the annual reports on fieldwork in Britain and Ireland; its newsletter is another forum for dissemination of discussion and debate.

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