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Medieval Archaeology 1066-1539 - 20 Credits (HS2382)

Course Description

This 20 credit, part 2 module provides an introduction to the archaeology of medieval Britain. We begin with an introduction to the historiography of the subject, in order to understand the key methodological and interpretive developments which have influenced the development of the discipline. We then examine the people of medieval Britain through the evidence from cemeteries. The remainder of the course is divided into 5 sections. The first deals with settlement – towns, villages and the interactions between the two, as well as the study of medieval houses. The second looks at religious life, through the study of monasteries, churches, evidence for private devotion (such as the use of apotropaic objects) and practices surrounding death. The third looks at status, through the study of castles, palaces, parks and material culture. The fourth section relates to everyday life in medieval Britain, through the study of childhood and the lifecourse, gender, craft and work and food. The course finishes with two lectures examining the start and end of the medieval period; the Norman Conquest and the Reformation.

In addition to the 20 lectures, there are also 5 seminars in which students will examine small towns, buildings, dress accessories, castles and the role of hunting in the medieval period.

Credits: 20

Availability of module: Alternate years: 2012-13, 2014-15, 2016-17. Autumn and Spring semesters.

Prerequisites: N/A

Necessary for: N/A

Tutor: Dr Ben Jervis

Teaching methods

  • Twenty weekly lectures (50 minutes)
  • 5 seminars .


The course will be assessed by:

  • One essay of 2000 words, to be submitted in the Spring semester (50% of module mark).
  • A written exam (2 hrs) in the Spring semester (50% of module mark).

Summary of course content

  1. The Development of Medieval Archaeology

Who were the first medieval archaeologists? What factors influenced the development of medieval archaeology? Did the discipline develop differently in town and country?


  1. History, Archaeology and Theory

How has the relationship between medieval history and archaeology changed? What role does archaeological theory have in medieval archaeology? How might theoretical approaches contribute in the future?

  1. The Medieval Population

What trends can be discerned regarding the medieval population from historical and burial evidence? What can the study of human remains tell us about medieval people? What illnesses affected the medieval population?

  1. Towns

What characteristics define the medieval town? What evidence is there for the planning of towns? What was the social make-up of the urban population?

  1. Rural Settlement

What was the form of medieval rural settlements? How did rural settlement change through time? How did rural settlements differ across the country?

  1. Urban and Rural Economy

What was the relationship between town and country? How did the economies of rural settlements differ from those of towns? Are differences apparent in the economies of towns of different size?

  1. Houses

What kind of houses did medieval people live in? How did house forms vary through time? Are regional styles of housing discernible? What was the social significance of the medieval house form?

  1. Monasteries

What factors influenced the foundation of monasteries? How does the archaeology of different religious orders vary? What can be learnt about monastic life from the interpretation of monastic architecture?

  1. Churches & Hospitals

What features define the medieval parish church? How did churches develop through time? What does the place of churches in the landscape tell us about patterns of devotion and power? What was the role of religious hospitals in medieval England?

  1. Private Devotion

How were artefacts used in personal religious devotion? Can evidence for devotion be seen in the burial and deposition of artefacts? What kinds of objects were interred in graves?

  1. Death

How were the dead treated in medieval society? What differences can be seen between the treatment of individuals of differing levels of wealth and status? What does the study of grave slabs tell us about social identity?

  1. Castles

What are the core characteristics of the medieval castle? What factors determined their placement? How did the role and form of castles change over time?

  1. Palaces and Parks

Who built medieval palace? What was life like in a medieval palace? What evidence is there for medieval parkland, and what was its social significance? How does palace architecture relate to other forms of domestic and institutional architecture?

  1. Status and Material Culture

How were objects used to define social status? How did personal possessions vary in accordance with status? How did access to material culture vary in accordance with economic trends?

  1. Childhood

How can archaeological evidence be used to explore issues surrounding the lifecourse? What was life like for a medieval child? What were the stages that a young person went through on their way to adulthood?

  1. Gender

How can archaeological evidence be used to explore masculine and feminine identities in medieval society? How did the experiences of men and women differ? Do gendered identities vary in accordance with social status?

  1. Craft and Work

What kinds of goods were produced by medieval people, and what evidence is there for craft production? How can archaeology be used to explore craft and merchant guilds? What kinds of work were undertaken by medieval people?

  1. Food

What did medieval eat? How did cuisine relate to elements of social identity? What sources are available to us for the study of medieval food?

  1. The Norman Conquest

Did the Norman Conquest leave an archaeological signature? What was its impact on the everyday lives of medieval people? Can we explore variations in individual or communal experiences of conquest?

  1. The Reformation

What was the impact of the reformation and how can this be studied using archaeological evidence? Is there evidence for change in portable material culture? What became of medieval monasteries?

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module you should have a broad knowledge of the following aspects:

a) The sources of information commonly available to the medieval archaeologist

b) The development and function of medieval castles and other elite buildings

c) The form and function of medieval towns

d) The form, archaeology and function of medieval churches and monasteries before the Reformation

e) Settlement, farming and communities in the medieval countryside

f) The scope of medieval artefact studies and the interpretative issues pertaining to them

g) The development of medieval archaeology.

h) The role of archaeology in understanding elements of medieval identity such as those relating to gender and status.

Suggested Introductory Reading (A full bibliography can be found on Learning Central)

Dyer, C. (1994). Everyday Life in Medieval England, Hambledon: London. Reprinted Hambledon: London. (2000). [DA185.D9]

Hinton, D.A.  (1990). Archaeology, Economy and Society: England from the fifth to the fifteenth century. Seaby: London. [DA130.H4]

Platt, C. (1978). Medieval England. RKP: London. [DA 175.P5; Architecture: 942P]