Medieval Archaeology Stream

(C) Ian R. Cartwright 2012

In the Medieval Archaeology stream you will benefit from the teaching and supervision of specialists who cover the periods from late antiquity to the 17th century.

The stream focuses on the material remains of medieval Europe, including Britain, and the Byzantine World. You will engage with both established and new approaches to archaeological and other forms of evidence, including written sources and art, as well as with current debates regarding how such evidence should be interpreted.

Your taught modules and independent research will allow you to deepen your knowledge and understanding of the often dramatic social, religious, and political developments of the medieval world.

The small-group teaching and learning provides you with the opportunity to explore key sources of evidence and methodological and theoretical approaches in order to investigate and debate a wide range of subjects, such as:

  • material culture
  • settlements
  • landscapes
  • cultural contact
  • trade and economy
  • religion
  • dress and adornment
  • death and burial

The historic city and University provides a magnificent setting to study and research medieval archaeology. Students benefit from the world-renowned collections of the Bodleian Libraries, Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, and other resources. Some modules also include classes in the Ashmolean Museum, where students will have the opportunity to handle and study medieval material culture. 

The University, and Oxford more broadly, has been at the forefront of medieval archaeology since the early 20th century, leading the development of the discipline and advancing our understanding of the medieval period. The School of Archaeology continues to be a world-leading centre for learning and research.

You will take one module from List A, and one or two from List B. You will also take the Archaeological Principles module, and complete a 15,000-word dissertation on a stream-related topic.

If you take only one stream module from List B below, you may take another module offered from either: List B in any other stream*; the MSt in Classical Archaeology*; or a subject from the MSc in Archaeological Science*.

*Not all offered every year

List A (Assessed by Written Examination)

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(C) Ashmolean Museum

The option will focus on the period of c.AD 1100 – 1600 in Europe, with an emphasis on western and northern Europe, including Britain. Through the material remains we will investigate this period of dramatic economic, religious and social change, to develop our understanding of daily life and death for medieval populations. The module will cover the following topics: development of historical archaeology, medieval identities, economy, religion & belief, settlements & households, and material culture.

Module Convenor: Dr. Eleanor Standley

(C) Ashmolean Museum

This course examines the diverse societies of Europe from the end of the Western Empire in the fifth century to the Viking Age.  It offers an overview of material culture change over a wide geographical region over a period of some 500 years, although the emphasis is on western and northern Europe, including Britain.  

The objective of the course is to understand the social structure and economies of early medieval societies, the complex cultural interactions of in the period and the early stages of state formation.  How did the influences of the late Roman Empire, the early Church, and the 'barbarian' Iron Age peoples of Europe together shape the culture, especially the material culture, of the early Middle Ages?

Although this is a period for which written sources are frequently scarce, it is essential to build up an historical framework from the reading lists provided.

The course is structured thematically and chronologically: the first two lectures provide an overview of ‘Eastern’ and ‘Western’ societies; Lectures 3-5 deal with social structure (as expressed in votive deposits and mortuary practices), and Lectures 6-8 with socio-economic development (the rural economy; the revival of towns and trade; the impact of the conversion to Christianity and of Viking incursions).  The course also addresses the problems and potential of comparing written sources and material culture.

Module Convenor: Professor Helena Hamerow

List B (Assessed by two 5000-Word Essays)

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(C) 2006, SCALA, Florence / ART RESOURCE, N.Y.

The course covers the urban development of Constantinople from its foundation by Constantine in 324 until its fall to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. Combined archaeological and written evidence forms the basis for study of utilitarian infrastructure (defence, water supply, commercial and harbour facilities, etc.), ceremonial/imperial architecture (palace, hippodrome, honorific monuments), and cult buildings. Key written texts to consult include the Notitia urbis Constantinopolitanae (ca. 425), the Miracles of St. Artemius (ca. 650), the Parastaseis syntomoi chronikai (8th c.), the Book of the Eparch (912) and the Book of Ceremonies (6th-10th c.). Material evidence is provided by surviving structures (circuit walls, cisterns, churches, etc.), and excavated sites (Great Palace, Saraçhane, Zeuxippos Baths, etc.). Consideration will be given to the character of the city during its initial period of expansion (4th-6th c.) and in the following periods of recession (8th c.) and economic recovery (from the 9th c.) until its fall to the Fourth Crusade (in 1204) and its final period (1261-1453).

Module Convenor: Dr. Ine Jacobs

(C) Ashmolean Museum

Current estimates and characterisations of religion in Late Antiquity are still largely based on what texts tell us. Yet, ‘material religion’ – one of the most exciting developments in the contemporary field of religious studies – stresses that religion is not something one does with speech or reason alone, but also with the body, the objects it touches and the spaces it inhabits. Moreover, material culture in the form of objects, images and landscapes shaped religion. Consequently, archaeology is an extremely promising resource to gain insight into how people in the past induced experiences of supernatural power. This course scrutinizes seemingly inconsequential archaeological contexts to evaluate how religious considerations were expressed and how salient they were in various aspects of daily life in Late Antiquity. The incredibly rich archaeological record for this topic includes small finds and architecture with religious imagery or texts, as well as unmarked items of which the state of preservation (e.g., unusual traces of wear or fragmentation) or only the archaeological context suggests an extraordinary usage (e.g., as is often the case with building offerings). In-depth study of this material is combined with archaeological theory and theory from religious studies.

Module Convenor: Dr. Ine Jacobs

(C) Shmuel Magal, Sites and Photos

The course provides an overview of architectural development from the 4th to the14th century, covering buildings belonging to the secular and religious, public and private spheres. Individual types include urban honorific monuments, administrative buildings, baths, defensive installations, communal accommodation (barracks, inns, hospitals, monasteries), habitation, tombs, churches (basilical and centralized) and synagogues. Building and decorative materials are studied.

Module Convenor: Dr. Ine Jacobs

(C) Ashmolean Museum

This course covers roughly the period from 450-750 and examines current debates in several areas of the subject, including migration theory and the nature of post-Roman Britain; death and burial; the links between material culture and identity; settlements and settlement patterns.

Module Convenor: Professor Helena Hamerow

(C) Ashmolean Museum

The Late Saxon period (c 950-1066) saw England emerge as a unified nation and by the eleventh century its productivity and wealth made it worth conquering – not once, but twice. This course considers key areas of Late Saxon studies to which archaeology has made a major contribution, namely: the development of towns and the economic basis of kingdoms; the nature of the Scandinavian presence in the Danelaw; the origins of the manor; the development of trade and industry; and the exercise of power.  Classes will be seminar-based and will consider specific case-studies as well as current academic debates. Topics covered are:

  • The archaeology of civil defence and frontiers in Mercia and Wessex
  • Scandinavian Impact I:  Economy and Urbanism
  • Scandinavian Impact II:  Identity, rural settlement and burial
  • Exploitation of the Land: Farmers, Lords and the Medieval ‘Agricultural Revolution’.
  • Towns, trade and Industry
  • Archaeology of Governance: Assembly places and execution cemeteries

Module Convenor: Professor Helena Hamerow

(C) Ashmolean Museum

This course investigates the material culture of mainland Britain, focusing on objects that were worn and adorned clothing during the period c.AD 1200-1600. Using archaeological material, and other sources of evidence, the course will examine how these artefacts were used in the daily lives of people, and how their context of use was affected by major social events, such as the Black Death, the Wars of the Roses, and the Reformation. Themes covered will include the history of artefact studies, fashion and consumption, courtship, sexuality, devotion and pilgrimage, magic and protection, and death and burial. A multidisciplinary approach will be taken to understand the themes fully, drawing predominantly on archaeological evidence, but also using material from history, art history, anthropology and related disciplines. Material from the Ashmolean Museum's medieval collections will be made use of, and how medieval material evidence is collected and disseminated will also be investigated.

Module Convenor: Dr. Eleanor Standley

Previous Dissertation/Essay Titles

  • Defining the Self and Community: Multiple Interment Practices in Early Anglo-Saxon England
  • Traditions of placed deposition in watery places in Anglo-Saxon England
  • Byzantine Objects in Early Anglo-Saxon England: A New Assessment through the Portable Antiquities Scheme
  • Sir John Evans and Medieval Archaeology: An investigation into the significance of his collections
  • Early Anglo-Saxon Board Games: A Re-assessment of the Evidence, 400-700 AD
  • Early Christian Female Pilgrimage to the Shrines of Saint Menas, Saint Simeon the Elder, and Saint Thecla
  • Witness to the Passion: an examination of medieval Icelandic crucifixes
  • The Triconch Church at Aphrodisias
  • Blurred Boundaries: Mentality, Spirituality and Magic in Later Medieval Britain
  • Empire, commerce, and the Church. Weighing the primary factors in the urban transformations of Aquileia and Ravenna in the fourth and fifth centuries.
  • An analysis of the siting of medieval castles in Wales and the agendas of their owners
  • Islamic Influences in Norman-Sicilian Art after Roger II: The Deterioration of a Precious Heritage or a Natural Cultural Evolution?

Please note that the modules and streams listed on this website are indicative of the typical offerings and are subject to review each year. Whilst every effort is made to offer the full variety of modules/streams this is not possible to do every year. This is due to the fact that some modules/streams are dependent on student numbers to ensure an appropriate quality of education; timetable clashes; staff availability; etc. We aim to keep the website as up-to-date as possible but we recommend that you seek specific advice from pgt-support@arch.ox.ac.uk on module/stream availability.

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