Beyond Villages and Open Fields: The Origins and Development of a Historic Landscape Characterised by Dispersed Settlement in South-West England
University of Exeter
Maney Publishing on behalf of the Society for Medieval Archaeology
Pollen evidence has, to date, made little contribution to our understanding of the origins and development of the medieval landscape. Compared to the prehistoric period, relatively few long palaeoenvironmental sequences provide a continuous record for the past two millennia, and those that have been analysed are mostly located in upland locations that lay beyond areas settled during this period. The nine sequences reported here from central Devon and the edges of Exmoor start to redress that imbalance. They suggest substantial clearance of woodland in lowland areas and the upland fringe by the Late Iron Age, and that the incorporation of this region into the Roman world had little impact on patterns of landscape exploitation. In a region that lay beyond the main area of Romanisation, it is not surprising that the 5th century saw little discernible change in management of the landscape. These palaeoenvironmental sequences suggest that around the 7th–8th centuries, however, there was a significant change in the patterns of land-use, which it is suggested relates to the introduction of a regionally distinctive system of agriculture known as ‘convertible husbandry’. This may also have been the context for the creation of today’s historic landscape of small hamlets and isolated farmsteads set within a near continuous fieldscape, replacing the late prehistoric/ Romano-British/post-Roman landscape of small, enclosed settlements with only very localised evidence for field systems. This transformation appears to be roughly contemporary with, or even earlier than, the creation of nucleated villages in the ‘Central Province’ of England, suggesting that the ‘great replanning’ was just one of several regionally distinctive trajectories of landscape change in the later 1st millennium A.D.
© 2006 Society for Medieval Archaeology. Reproduced with the permission of the publisher. Journal home page http://www.maney.co.uk/journals/ma ; complete issue available at http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/maney/med
Medieval Archaeology, (2006), 50, pp. 31-70