Placing Medieval Buildings in Context

Posted on February 10, 2017


Buildings archaeology can be one of the forgotten aspects of archaeology because of the belief that traditional archaeology is about digging holes to find stuff and not examining standing heritage. Moreover, if a building is buried it tends to be its foundations that survive which makes if difficult for people to imagine the full 3D experience of a buildings. Luckily, for us there are many archaeologists working on buildings and we filmed a session of the them at the EAA conference.

Session Details:

Author – Berryman, Duncan, Queen’s University Belfast, Belfast, United Kingdom (Presenting author)
Co-author(s) – Kerr, Sarah, Queen’s University Belfast, Belfast, United Kingdom
Co-author(s) – Barry, Terry, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland
Keywords: Buildings, Recording, Society

This session is an attempt to place buildings archaeology in a wider context. Buildings were important aspects of medieval society and the medieval landscape, they were central to the lives of people at all levels of society. The study of medieval buildings can tell us much about society and people’s beliefs and attitudes, therefore they are a very valuable source for the study of the Middle Ages. This session incorporates papers that consider any aspect of buildings archaeology and what it can tell us about the people or society. These will focus on buildings in their landscape context, building comparisons, building evolution and adaptation, studies of building materials, or spatial analysis. With contributions from across Europe and further afield, these papers will form a significant discussion of medieval buildings, their study, and their meanings.

Buildings, Spaces and Societies: Manorial Sites in Normandy, ca 1050-1200
Author – Dr. Weikert, Katherine, University of Winchester, Winchester, United Kingdom (Presenting author)
Keywords: buildings, medieval, space

This paper focuses on the interpretation of space at manorial sites in Normandy from the central middle ages, and what spatial analysis can provide to a social meaning of a building. Focusing on research undertaken at manorial sites in Calvados, this paper suggests that considering spatial aspects of medieval buildings provides a heightened awareness to the society using these places, particularly in examining the ways in which social authority would be embodied or enacted through the material trappings as well as the spatial indications of the buildings.
The main sites under examination include the Motte d’Olivet (Decaëns 1981, 1987, 1988), Chateau de Creully (Impey 1993, 1995, 2012) and Beaumont-le-Richard (Impey 1993, 1999). As a result of the spatial examination, this paper will also seek to interpret the Motte d’Olivet within a broader context of landscape considerations and a contextualized view of the place and its owners. Parallels to English sites such as Goltho (Beresford 1987, Stocker 1989) and Boothby Pagnell (Neck et al. 1992, Blair 1993) will be drawn to demonstrate potential consistencies or contradictions to a cross-Channel society. This paper will ultimately demonstrate the varying applicability of spatial analysis in considering social interpretations of buildings particularly for interdisciplinary studies of buildings and societies. This is seen through the Norman and English case studies of the paper, in seeking to discern aspects of the relationships between these intertwined societies of the central middle ages. Overall the paper will demonstrate that the utilization of spatial analysis can be used not only to deepen an understanding of society and their buildings, such as those in Calvados in a period of cultural exchange, domination, and altering views of authority, but also that the use of this method can further illuminate aspects of space and society by using a different lens to view the Norman worlds of the central middle ages.
Living on the Edge: Cheshire Castles in Context
Author – Dr. Swallow, Rachel, Altrincham, United Kingdom (Presenting author)
Keywords: Castles, Cheshire, Frontier

Landscape studies have seen considerable recent debate, resulting in the development of an interdisciplinary research environment, thus reinvigorating castle studies by promoting new approaches and interpretations. However, in this work, the county of Cheshire in north-west England has been hitherto ignored, perhaps because few medieval documents exist for the county, and because relatively little archaeological excavations and survey have been undertaken on the county’s castles. Interdisciplinary landscape research for Cheshire’s castles therefore distinguishes itself from previous studies, in its recognition, definition and presentation of the entire medieval county of Cheshire as a medieval frontier. Considered separate from England by its contemporaries, this frontier, and the unique power of the earls of Chester, provided the contexts for the multifarious purposes and forms of Cheshire’s castles. Placing the construction of the castle within the political framework of Anglo-Welsh social and political relations is therefore an original dimension of this paper to both castle studies and to the study of the medieval March of Wales.
However, the frontier of Cheshire also had influence beyond its boundaries: it was representative, and indeed pivotal, to changes within the British Isles. The county was clearly and intrinsically linked with the overall political, social and economic dynamics of not only England, but also Wales and the Irish Sea Province. This paper therefore questions traditional documentary and secondary source narratives, which have taken on divisive Welsh versus English cultural identities based on false or irrelevant, modern, and thus constrictive, historic time periods and tenurial boundaries.

The archaeology of medieval buildings in a borderland: a study-case
Author – Dr. Istrate, Daniela Veronica, Braov, Romania (Presenting author)
Keywords: buildings archaeology, medieval church, Transylvania

My paper will explore the region of central-western Romania, commonly known as Transylvania, in the first centuries of the second millenium. This region was part of the kingdom of Hungary, but was in fact located on a confessional and ethnic frontier, between Orthodox and Catholic Europe, and in an area of bewildering ethnic and linguistic variety—both factors responsible for giving the region its distinct character of a borderland. One of its most significant forms of expression of that character was religion: pagans, orthodox and catholics settled this area and found specific ways of living and practising their believes. Archaeology is indispensable for the understanding of the early period (10th-13th c.), for which there are very few, if any written sources. Although the study of built structures is a relative new sub discipline in the field of medieval archaeology, in the last decades has brought important contributions to the better understanding of the history of this area.
In my paper I will provide an accurate overview of this topic and focus on the ruined church uncovered recently in Alba Iulia fortress – the oldest medieval church ever found north of the Lower Danube. The ruins were unexpectedly uncovered during structural works, in a very complicated stratigraphic context, consequence of the use of the area during the last two thousand years. Prehistoric, Roman, post-Roman, Gepid, and 8th-10th centuries’ habitation evidence was found beneath the church, which was in use for about a hundred years, until it was in turn pulled down during the second half of the 11th century, when the first Roman-Catholic Cathedral was being built. Subsequently, the ruins were disturbed and partly destroyed by the 11th-13th centuries’ medieval graveyard and later still by numerous medieval and modern intrusions. The analysis of this discovery (archaeological context, architectural features, building materials) offers a unique opportunity to explore the history of the Carpathian Basin around the year 1000.

Medieval Roof Trusses in the Swedish landscape of Västergötland
Author – Master Gullbrandsson, Robin, Västergötlands Museum, Skara, Sweden (Presenting author)
Keywords: Medevial churches, Medieval roof structures

This paper deals with the methods and results of an inventory made 2014–2015 with the aim to survey what is preserved of medieval roof constructions in church attics in the Diocese of Skara in the landscape of Västergötland of western Sweden. More or less intact roof trus-ses from the 12th century up until the first half of the 13th century are scarcely preserved outside Scandinavia, which add up to the importance of mapping this quite unknown heritage in Sweden. Similar surveys have been made in the dioceses of Lund, Skara, Stockholm, Strängnäs and Västerås during 2013–2015 and are about to be made in Linköping, thus giving us a more complete view of the grade of preservation.
It has been as-sumed that the Swedish material may consist of some hundred Romanesque roof structu-res and probably almost a hundred Gothic structures. Until the conduct of above mentioned surveys our knowledge of the number of preser-ved objects was scarce and more or less random. In the present stand it seems that the early med-ieval roof structures of churches in the landscapes of Götaland may comprise the largest preserved corpus of this kind in Northern Europe. This heritage is about to attain its proper importance as a source for the dating of churches and for understanding the proces-ses behind their erection. 164 churches in the Diocese of Skara have medieval origins. They are all situated in the old landscape of Västergötland. The survey has identified whole or partly preserved medieval roof constructions or traces of such in the attics of almost 70 of these churches. 28 roofs can be regarded as well preser-ved roof trusses with tie beam, dating from the 12th century and the first half of the 13th century. Ten are only partly preserved and 18 remains as reused parts in later constructions. Some of the early medieval churches have been dated with dendrochronology and span from the 1110s up until around 1250. A group of roof trusses with two canted struts (often meeting the rafters and tie beam with tenons) seems to belong to the oldest ones, though these are only partly preserved in a few geographically concentrated churches. The most common type of roof trusses has crossed struts, the most advanced of them boasts six and the most simple two. Some of these roof trusses have decorative features or mountings for liturgical bells, which clearly shows that the earliest stone churches in the diocese did not have ceilings or vaults. Four early medieval tower roofs have been preserved. From the end of the 13th century up until the beginning of the 16th century, very few construc-tions are preserved. Probably there never existed any great number because of the economic and political decline for Västergötland after the plague and agrarian crisis in the mid- 14th century. Roof trusses from these centuries exist today in 13 churches.

The Cathedral of Anagni. A case study of the evolution of Southern Lazio in the the Middle Ages
Author – Dr. Nastasi, Arianna, Universit di Roma Sapienza, Roma, Italy (Presenting author)
Keywords: buildings archaeology, cathedral, medieval Italy

The cathedral is one of the most distinctive buildings of the medieval city. Symbol of the power of the Bishop and of the Church and connected with the heart of Christianity represented by the city of Rome, the cathedral offers a valuable insight into medieval society. In Italy this type of building influenced settlement dynamics in different ways across the geographical areas. In particular, in Central and Southern Italy, the cathedral was often a site in conflict due to the proliferation of dioceses with limited territorial extension and uncertain borders subject to suppressions and unifications. It is within this context that the proposed case study of the Cathedral of St. Mary in Anagni – an important medieval city in Southern Lazio – is situated. Today this church presents a Romanesque architectural style, as designed and developed by Bishop Peter from Salerno, in the eleventh century. However, its history dates back at least two centuries earlier. A comparison between archaeological data and written sources points to the hypothesis that the first cathedral was built in the ninth century by Bishop Rumualdus on the highest point of the city, the same spot where today rests the Romanesque church. It is thus possible to reconstruct the development of the cathedral over the centuries from the Early to the Late Middle Ages. The church of St. Mary can be situated within the historical evolution of the territory at a time when the Carolingian kings recognized and guaranteed to the Church of Rome its spiritual and political power by granting it large portions of land to rule. Evidence of this wide administration is found in the exceptional epigraphic record that is today held at the Diocesan Museum of Anagni. The record consists of a corpus of inscriptions all of which are ascribable to the same charta lapidaria, namely a documentary epigraph, a copy of a notary deed which lists chattels and landed properties attributed to the cathedral. The inscriptions, characterized by strong stylistic and palaeographic similarities, are engraved on parts of sculptural ornaments belonging to the liturgical decoration of the ninth century church. The examination of these inscriptions has generated two results. Firstly, a reconstruction of the extent and importance of the land donated to the church; secondly, a hypothesis about the original location of the marble pieces today decontextualized by their display in a museum. The decoration engraved with inscriptions has an even more important value if we consider that many of the fragments were consciously reused by Bishop Peter from Salerno for the Romanesque makeover with a clear symbolic intent of reconnecting with a historical moment of supremacy of the Roman Church in which bishops, as local representatives, were the pinnacle of territorial power.

The medieval hospitals of England: a complex issue
Author – Huggon, Martin, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, United Kingdom (Presenting author)
Keywords: Archaeology of charity, Hierarchies of space, Medieval Hospitals

This paper will outline the importance of examining the full range of buildings found at the medieval hospitals of England, and how they interact as part of a complex, for understanding how these sites functioned, both physically and religiously. The medieval hospital first appeared in England in the 1080s, with two founded by Archbishop Lanfranc of Canterbury, and they lasted until 1547 when Edward VI passed the Chantries Act, abolishing the practice of prayers for the souls of the dead. In the four and a half centuries between these dates, the medieval hospitals were utilised by the charitable to cater to a range of people deemed worthy of Christian charity. Whilst poverty was an overwhelming concern, this often manifested in care for sufferers of leprosy or in sheltering poor wayfarers and pilgrims, and often attention has focussed on seeing how different hospitals cared for different people. Unfortunately this has often meant that examination of their underlying ideological foundation, especially architectural layout, has been ignored. Previous architectural discussion of English medieval hospitals have focussed specifically on the infirmary hall and chapel, the most likely elements to survive as standing remains, and have otherwise noted little overall planning to the site, if the rest of the buildings, such as kitchens or dormitories, are studied at all. Archaeologically, despite the ever increasing number of excavations from across the country, there has only been limited synthesis, the most complete by Roberta Gilchrist in 1995. In both fields the great variation in the nature and form of these buildings across the country has been noted and described as random, but medieval hospitals acted within a form of spiritual economy that also included institutions such as monasteries, nunneries, friaries, and chantries. Despite the overwhelmingly religious nature of these institutions, the underlying presence of a structure to their space has never truly been investigated. New research has suggested that when looking at these sites as a whole a hierarchy of space can be seen that implies that at some level there was a unified conception of how these sites should look and function, with areas to the south and east being ideologically higher than the north and west. Utilising case studies from excavated hospitals across England these structured spaces will be explored, from the famous St Mary Spital in London, to St Bartholomew’s at Bristol, to small pilgrim cells such as St Mary Magdalene at Partney, and suggest that the layout of English medieval hospitals was likely based upon religious ideology, social standing, and attitudes to gender. This paper will also highlight some of the implications this ordering of space may have had for those residing in the hospital complex, both staff and inmates. Ultimately the nature of the structured space is not surprising, given the mixed nature of these communities, with men and women, religious and secular, rich and poor, living together. What is surprising is the apparent ubiquity of this structuring across the country and throughout the later medieval period.

The Alp Fenga – Analysis of a post medieval alpine dairy hut in the Silvretta Alps

Author – Ranzinger, Mario, Heidelberg, Germany (Presenting author)
Keywords: Geoarchaeology, Monastery, Settlement

The Alp Fenga has been analysed in form of a bachelor thesis in the year 2013. It was possible to determine typology, chronology and functionality with an interdisciplinary approach. Beginning in 2007 with a field survey it has been excavated in three campaigns. Due to the project “Rückwege” there should be created a record of human activities and environmental changes within this region. The building can be interpreted due to the finds, results and historical notes. For example the ground plan of the ruin has similarities in the 18th/19th century. Furthermore with the help of dendrochronological examination, analysing finds (e.g. the only coin) and historical maps this dating could be verified. Although this building is meant to be build in the 18th/19th century, we also have clues and written evidences that the pasturing activities already started in the medieval period. Another attempt in the whole region to record archaeological sites was to collect data with satellite images, drones and geoarchaeological methods. Beside the chronology it was possible to find evidences for almost constant human activities in this high mountain region. In conclusion the Alp Fenga is an important part for the archaeological research of dairy farming in the Silvretta Alps.

Medieval Oslo’s Masonry Buildings Revisited

Author – Bauer, Egil, Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research, Oslo, Norway (Presenting author)

Keywords: Masonry buildings, Norway, Social topography

Recent excavations in Oslo’s medieval town revealed two masonry cellars close to the episcopal complex. Both cellars date to the late 13th or early 14th century, i.e. the high-medieval period in Norway. Most excavated masonry cellars in Oslo are interpreted as late- or post-medieval.
However, this paper problematizes the basis for the dating of some of these structures. The recent finds accentuate the need to revisit Oslo’s masonry buildings and discuss the impression of the medieval town as an almost exclusively timber-constructed town, built around the high-status masonry complexes belonging to the bishop, the king, and the monastic orders. This paper will utilise both archaeological and written sources and address Oslo’s known secular masonry buildings, their chronology, context, use, and owners. A central question is how the masonry buildings functioned as social markers in a town where the secular architecture mainly consisted of timber constructions. Oslo might have a greater number of medieval masonry buildings than hitherto believed. This possibly impacts earlier interpretations of the town’s social topography. A central aspect considered in the paper is how the secular masonry architecture reflects the builders’ status, motives, and activities.

The metalworker’s farm. A study of a medieval “bygård” in Oslo
Author – Edman, Therese Marie, Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research, Oslo, Norway (Presenting author)
Keywords: building and property, medieval town, Norway

Since 2013 the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research has been excavating several sites in the medieval town in Oslo, in connection with a major railway project. One of the sites contained remains from several phases of medieval buildings with domestic and industrial activity from the late 11th to the early 14th century.
The paper aims to present one of the buildings in a Norwegian medieval town property, a “bygård”, literally a “farm in the town”. The building itself has at least two building phases, and possibly several phases of occupation and use. There are several ovens used for metalworking on the property, as well as evidence of domestic activities like a latrine and keeping animals. I will show how the use of the building and the surrounding property changes over time and how they fit into the context of the town. The excavations have shown that several of the neighboring properties may also have been used for metalworking This could mean that the buildings and other features in the excavated area formed part of a metalworking district in the heart of the town of Oslo until a new law, Magnus the Law-mender’s law for the towns, was introduced around 1276. This law regulated metalworking activities to the fringes of the town because of the risk of fire. The excavated building was destroyed in a fire, demonstrating the need for such regulations.

Finnish medieval brickmakers’ marks as markers of identity Author – BA Aalto, Ilari, University of Turku, Turku, Finland (Presenting author)
Keywords: Buildings, Identity, Symbols

Late medieval brickmakers’ marks used in the Nordic countries are a poorly studied set of symbols used by master brickmakers to sign their production. The signs consist mostly of symbols that derive from the common medieval imagery – attributes of saints, apotropaic symbols and letters. In Finland the brickmakers’ marks can be mostly found in still standing masonry buildings like castles and particularly churches. Lately they have also been found in excavations of urban sites. As the marks seem to have been personal, they offer also a mean of relative dating of masonry buildings.
It’s suggested here that these marks could be used to study both the medieval brickmaking industry and the visual and mental culture behind the marks. Furthermore the comparison of marks in different buildings makes it possible to study the geographic areas where the brickmakers worked. In this way the marks could reveal data about the craftsmen that has not been preserved in written sources. I will also bring up the question of the ethnicity of the medieval brickmakers who worked in the area of modern Finland. Were they Swedish-Finnish or German?

To build the Medieval harbourside of Gammel Strand, Copenhagen, Denmark
Author – Whatley, Stuart, Museum of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark (Presenting author)
Keywords: Buildings, Landscape, Medieval

From the Early Medieval period onwards, the harbourside of Copenhagen was constantly developed to provide a safe and profitable harbour for shipping and trade. By the 1400s, the harbourside had expanded southwards to Gammel Strand, and this area became the central area of the harbour in Copenhagen. At this location a new set of administrative public buildings focussed on trade were constructed, with the newly created land to the north, east and west developed into private housing for the elites. A curious mix of maritime industry, administration, elite private housing and the fishing industry existed side by side in a way that would not occur in modern times. The buildings were located on the southern border of Copenhagen, and maritime border to the Baltic Sea. The aim of this talk is to discuss the Late Medieval and Early Renaissance buildings uncovered in the Metro Cityring excavations in relation to the development and later use of the area. From a combination of structural evidence, artefactual remains and natural science evidence a picture emerges of how the structures were built, where the building materials were transported from, who would live there and how the buildings were used.

Urban life in an early byzantine small scale house
Author – M.A. Steinborn, Miriam, Römisch Germanisches Zentralmuseum Mainz, Mainz, Germany (Presenting author)
Keywords: Byzantium, Excavation, Household

The early byzantine settlement of Caričin Grad in southern Serbia, which is supposed to be the imperial city Iustiniana Prima, existed for merely 90 years. Without any marks of earlier or later occupation, the excavations provide undisturbed insight into everyday life in an early medieval settlement of the 6th century. Excavations in Caričin Grad take place since 100 years. The early campaigns concentrated on representative buildings like churches, while the emphasis nowadays is on the living quarters. Considering the concept and methodology of Household Archaeology, one single room house was excavated in 2014 and 2015 in high resolution with integration of archaeobiology and soil science. The finds indicate a habitational function. The interpretation of the building bases on the results of the interdisciplinary research. The simple configuration of the house and the multiplicity of potential types of use in a single room structure challenge the examination. This is the crucial point where field work and the theories of Household Archaeology come together. Working with an elementary constructed house andna few objects connected with specific activities restrict the possibilities which houses with many rooms and outdoor-areas may provide. It is necessary to examine the activities in- and outside the building to understand the function the household fulfils in the settlement system regarding social, religious and economic aspects. The building accommodated one or more persons who belonged to an average or low social stratum. Taking their perspective on the settlement raises the question of their everyday life. The household can be seen as the place where social roles are negotiated in daily routine and thus as a social landscape which reflects the mentality of the dwellers. The analysis of installations and formation processes helps to understand activities carried out in daily routine and how the domestic space may be used. The distribution of finds is imbalanced between the inside of the house and its exterior what depicts the pattern of disposal organisation. This and other domestic activities display in little the organisation of the whole settlement. Working on households provides information of how the dwellers contributed to the development of the society. Changes and continuities in the ceramic spectrum and the settlement structure may indicate cultural but also economic transformations which concerned the ordinary people directly.
The talk will examine if it is generally possible to work with the household concept if there are unspecific structures or if it is rather necessary to apply it to gain more information. For this purpose it will place the archaeological remains of a specific small house into the context of the organisation of a settlement.

The Formation of the three-compartment rural house in medieval Central Europe

Author – Associate Prof. Vareka, Pavel, University of West Bohemia, Plzen, Czech Republic (Presenting author)
Keywords: cultural synthesis, medieval archaeology, rural housing

A new house form represented by a three-compartment rural dwelling was formed in Central Europe during the 12th – 14th century. Consisting of a central entrance room, a living room and a storage room/granary (mostly in Eastern Central Europe) or a byre (mostly in Western Central Europe) it has remained the most common type of traditional village house until the 20th century. Identical house forms appeared in areas of fundamentally different early medieval building traditions of “Germanic” and “Slavic” culture spheres. A comparison of the formal attributes of this new house form with earlier house types provides evidence of a formation process which can be characterized as a synthesis or type of cultural hybridity based on the mutual influences.
Special building materials? The architectural importance of placed deposits in early medieval Europe

Author – Dr. Sofield, Clifford, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom (Presenting author)
Keywords: Architecture, Society, Worldview

Deliberate burials of animals, vessels, and other artefacts are persistent (if rare) discoveries in and around buildings throughout early medieval Europe. Sometimes called ‘foundation deposits’, such discoveries have traditionally been interpreted intuitively as blessings upon a new home, charms to ward off evil, or offerings to a supernatural power. Recent research has preferred to view these deliberately ‘placed’ deposits as traces of household practices, intended to achieve practical domestic results. This paper proposes that placed deposits can be partly understood as a kind of building material widely used throughout early medieval Europe, with specific examples drawn from southern Scandinavia, Germany, the Netherlands, England, Ireland, and Iceland. The main focus will be on two widespread patterns: the placement of objects under hearths or floors, and the burial of material (especially animal remains) in doorways. The paper will argue that such deposits should be viewed not as accessories to a selfsufficient, completed structure, but as integral components of the building’s architecture, without which its ability to function as a building would be seriously, even fatally, compromised. The paper will close with a brief consideration of how objects deposited in buildings at their demolition may have been cornerstones of an ‘architecture’ of destruction.

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