About This Research

This thesis explores the construction and negotiation of the social identities of early medieval communities , AD 300 to 700. The Roman and early medieval archaeology will be analysed in context to construct a systematic narrative of the development of social identities in the study locale. Excavated material, place-names, and documentary evidence will be used alongside primary archaeometric data to produce an original synthesis that will be used to explore and illustrate the identity of individuals and communities. This synthesis is the basis for a narrative of complex social processes in this period and to challenge existing models, with the ultimate goal of establishing a coherent narrative of the formation of the historically attested Kingdom of Sussex.

This research examines the archaeological reflections of social identities, from the artefact to the social landscapes of regions, to further explore early medieval lifestyles culminating in the establishment of the South Saxon kingdom. The core of this thesis updates and extends the study of early medieval Sussex by Martin Welch (Welch, 1971, 1983). This hypothesis is predicated on the particular eastern Sussex bias of fifth-century artefact types recovered from cemeteries such as Alfriston, Rookery Hill, East Sussex and Highdown Hill, West Sussex while similar early Germanic material in the hinterland of the former Roman town of Chichester, Roman Noviomagus Regnensium, apparently begins from the sixth century onwards. This hypothesis was subsequently taken up by Barry Cunliffe (1973) who argues more baldly for ‘enclaves’ of either sub-Roman or Germanic communities in the fifth century. Perhaps as a testament to the tireless work of Welch and the strength of Cunliffe’s support, the enclave theory has not been seriously challenged in the 40 years since it was postulated.

The previous approaches to the study of South Saxon society has been predicated on the presence or absence and nature of the funerary data. While the mortuary record provides an overwhelming majority of the evidence at hand, it is far from a complete picture. In addition, most of our current understanding of South Saxon society neglects to consider the persistence and change of Romano-British identity during this period. At the core of this thesis is a fundamental reconsideration of the evidence available as grey literature and other excavated material collected within the last thirty years since Early Anglo-Saxon Sussex was published. This seminal work, while exceptional by several metrics, has not yet been seriously challenged. A methodology developed by Stein (2002) will be applied to interpret the archaeological expression of culture contact and social identity for this period. Stein’s model acknowledges that polities of any scale (social groups: household to kingdom) are heterogeneous and that diversity is as important as the external processes such as trade or colonization. Therefore, the material record can be seen as the cumulative outcome of a variety of internal and external processes (Stein, 2002: 907). The multiscalar and nested models of social identity will allow for inter-comparison of data within and between sites as well as the comparison of data of similar spatial scales within Britain and the larger northern European cultural milieu.


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Brandon, P. (1978). The South Saxons. Chichester: Phillimore.

Carver, M. (2002). Reflections on the Meanings of Monumental Barrows in Anglo-Saxon England. In S. Lucy & A. Reynolds (Eds.), Burial in Early Medieval England and Wales (pp. 132–143). London: The Society for Medieval Archaeology.

Cunliffe, B. (1973). The Regni. London: Duckworth.

Díaz-Andreu, M., & Lucy, S. (2005). Introduction. The Archaeology of Identity: Approaches to Gender, Age, Status, Ethnicity and Religion (pp. 1–12). Abingdon: Routledge.

Stein, G. J. (2002). From Passive Periphery to Active Agents: Emerging Perspectives in the Archaeology of Interregional Interaction. American Anthropologist, 104(3), 903–916.

Welch, M. (1971). Late Romans and Saxons in Sussex. Britannia, 2, 232–237.

Welch, M. (1983). Early Anglo-Saxon Sussex British Archaeological Reports British Series 112BAR British Series (Vol. 1). Oxford: Archaeopress.

Welch, M. (2002). Cross-Channel Contacts between Anglo-Saxon England and Merovingian Francia. In S. Lucy & A. Reynolds (Eds.), Burial in Early Medieval England and Wales (pp. 122–131). London: The Society For Medieval Archaeology.

Willey, G. R., Peso, C. C. Di, Ritchie, W. A., Rouse, I., Rowe, J. H., & Lathrap, D. W. (1955). An Archaeological Classification of Culture Contact Situations. Memoirs of the Society for American Archaeology, 11.

Yorke, B. (1990). Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England. London: Routledge.


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