Current Archaeology 392

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This month’s CA looks a little different, as it is a ‘special issue’ delving into illuminating new research centred on early medieval England.

Originally published in Nature, the project in question highlights how genetic data can shed light on matters including migration, integration, family histories, and burial customs within different communities in the immediate post-Roman period. When exploring questions of ancestry, it is important to do so in a nuanced and self-aware manner, and our intention with this special issue is to highlight the human stories that can now be discerned from cemetery populations, from otherwise invisible family relationships to intrepid journeys undertaken centuries ago. There are fascinating insights and individual stories to share, from the woman (featured on the cover) who was laid to rest beside a cow at Oakington, Cambridgeshire, to a young girl with West African ancestry who was buried in early 7th-century Kent.

Professor Duncan Sayer sets out the project’s main themes in the first feature of the issue, so I will not repeat his summary here. Instead, I will end with a quick note on terminology. As a historical descriptor, ‘Anglo-Saxon’ has been the subject of academic debate in recent years. While it remains a commonly used popular shorthand for the early medieval period in England, and for the people who lived there, its appropriateness has come under scrutiny as, in some contexts, it has been co-opted for less savoury purposes. In acknowledging this, I want to emphasise that, where used in this issue, ‘Anglo-Saxon’ is intended to refer to the kingdoms of early medieval England, rather than to specific ideas of identity or ethnicity.

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In This Issue:



Early medieval migration into the east of England
Duncan Sayer introduces this special issue by laying out the key themes that have come out of a recent ancient DNA project, which is revolutionising our understanding of early medieval mobility.


Re-grounding Anglo-Saxon archaeology
The arrival of the ‘Anglo-Saxons’ in England has long been a controversial topic. John Hines lays out the history of how opinions of the Adventus Saxonum have changed over the centuries.


The perspective from population genetics
Archaeogenetics is quickly transforming our ability to study human movements across the globe. How does the science work, and what has the recent aDNA study featured in this issue impacted on understanding of early medieval migration on a population level? Joscha Gretzinger and Stephan Schiffels explain.


What can ancient DNA tell us about early Anglo-Saxon cemeteries
Zooming in on individual cemeteries, Duncan Sayer looks at the way aDNA evidence can be combined with archaeological contexts and burial customs to provide rich new details as to how early medieval migrants integrated into different regions.


Capturing personal stories with ancient DNA
Delving even further into the genetic evidence, Duncan Sayer, Dominic Powlesland, and Allison Stewart explore individual stories and family histories from the studied cemeteries.


Teasing apart ancestry versus migration in early medieval England
Isotopic analysis is a useful complement to the new genetic picture, providing more-detailed and more direct evidence of migration over the course of an individual’s lifetime, Sam Leggett reports.


Exploring the implications of new evidence
Tying up this special issue, Joanna Story examines the wider implications of the new research and how it feeds into perceptions of early medieval migration.


New Hadrian’s Wall turret discovered in Newcastle; Monastic cemetery and production centre found at Cookham; Prehistoric settlement and industry unearthed in Moray; Investigating Flower’s Barrow hillfort; New analysis shines light on medieval anti-Semitism in Norwich; Science Notes; Tattershall Castle as a trendsetter?; Finds Tray


Joe Flatman excavates the CA archive

A snapshot in time: The Hardmans’ House, Liverpool

British Historic Towns Atlas – Volume VII: Oxford; Archaeology, heritage, and wellbeing: authentic, powerful, and therapeutic engagement with the past; Lost realms: histories of Britain from the Romans to the Vikings; The Antonine Wall in Falkirk District; Moel-y-Gaer (Bodfari): a small hillfort in Denbighshire, North Wales; Maritime Archaeology on Dry Land: special sites along the coasts of Britain and Ireland from the first farmers to the Atlantic Bronze Age

The latest on acquisitions, exhibitions, and key decisions

The Lost King: imagining Richard III at the Wallace Collection

Our selection of exhibitions and events, as well as historical, archaeological, and cultural resources from around the world that are still available online.

Chris Catling’s irreverent take on heritage issues

Ministry of Works Signage Appreciation Society

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