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The investigation of currently inhabited villages of medieval origin:
Agrarian archaeology in Asturias (Spain)
Margarita Fernández Mier
, Jesús Fernández Fernández
, Pablo Alonso González
José Antonio López Sáez
, Sebastián Pérez Díaz
, Begoña Hernández Beloqui
Department of History, University of León, Campus de Vegazana s/n, 24071 León, Spain
La Ponte-Ecomuséu, Villanueva de Santo Adriano s/n, 33115 Asturias, Spain
University of Cambridge, Downing Street, CB2 3DZ, Cambridge, United Kingdom
GI Archaeobiology Group, Institute of History, CCHS, CSIC, Albasanz 26-28, 28037 Madrid, Spain
Sebastián Pérez-Díaz, GEODE, UMR 5602 CNRS, Université Toulouse-Le Mirail, 31058 Toulouse, France
Group of Research in Heritage and Cultural Landscapes (GIPyPAC), UPV-EHU, Facultad de Letras, Departamento de Geografía, Prehistoria y Arqueología, C/
Tomás y Valiente s/n, 01006 Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain
article info
Article history:
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This paper presents the results of a series of studies conducted in two villages located in the region of
Asturias, north of the Iberian Peninsula. These studies explore medieval settlements as well as agricul-
tural and cattle farming activities in these villages, with a special focus on areas still inhabited today as
well as surrounding productive spaces. An interdisciplinary methodology was used, which involves
pollen and sedimentological analyses, physical and chemical soil analyses, and includes micromorpho-
logical studies and radiocarbon dating. These data are combined with the interpretation of stratigraphic
information derived from archaeological excavations. The areas ofstudy in the village of Vigaña comprise
the necropolis and a nearby meadow, which provided a stratigraphic sequence from the Neolithic era to
the present day, and are characterized by the continued signicance of farming activities. In Villanueva,
meanwhile, both village areas and productive spaces were excavated, which provided information from
the Roman period, and revealed the existence of combined agricultural and farming activities since the
early medieval era.
Ó2014 Elsevier Ltd and INQUA. All rights reserved.
1. Introduction
Research on medieval landscape transformations during the
Middle Ages has undergone major changes in recent years. Both
rural history and landscape archaeology have made signicant
contributions to the understanding of how agricultural structures
emerged in the Middle Ages, especially between the 5th and 10th
centuries. This period was traditionally approached either as an
epigone of the Roman world, or as an antecedent of the Middle
Ages. Today, however, the period is considered in its own terms,
which demands that research questions, methodologies and the-
ories be tailored to suit its particular conditions.
The role archaeology has played in uncovering medieval rural
landscapes has been signicant, particularly throughout Europe.
Different strands of archaeological inquiry have developed, as
witnessed by the growth of the Ruralia congress from 1995 (Ruralia,
2013). This evinces the increasing complexity of the eld, as well as
the overcoming of the traditional monumentalist approach. One
example of this is the study of deserted villages and their sur-
rounding areas to better understand the settlement patterns within
(Aston, 1985;Lewis et al., 1997;Hamerow, 2002, 2006, 2012;
Gardiner and Rippon, 2007; Christie and Stamper, 2012). The Ibe-
rian Peninsula follows a similar pattern, whereby the archaeology
of productive spaces and deserted villages has allowed for quali-
tative and quantitative advances in the understanding of medieval
landscapes (Vigil-Escalera Guirado, 2003, 2007,2010;Quirós
Castillo, 2009, 2012). However, the breadth and depth of research
has been geographically uneven. Most studies focus in plateau
areas, while the large mountainous spaces of northwest Iberia have
been neglected. This stems partially from the fact that many early
medieval settlements and linked agricultural landscapes coincide
with contemporary inhabited villages. This complicates archaeo-
logical practice, and especially the analysis of agriculture and
livestock growing areas, as the traces of these activities are con-
cealed by latter productive and post-depositional processes.
*Corresponding author.
E-mail addresses:, (P. Alonso
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Quaternary International xxx (2014) 1e15
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archaeology in Asturias (Spain), Quaternary International (2014),
However, as has been shown for the Anglo-Saxon period, (Lewis,
2005-12, 2007), the history of medieval landscapes cannot be
elaborated exclusively from the study of deserted villages, as this
would only offer a highly partial view. Thus, it is necessary to widen
our analytical lens to incorporate currently inhabited villages
whose landscapes result from long processes of use and trans-
formation by rural communities. This also implies enlarging the
range of historical sources employed and adopting a multidisci-
plinary approach in the elaboration of long term micro-territorial
studies (Jones and Page, 2006;Turner and Webster, 2011;Turner
et al., 2013;Aston and Gerrard, 2013).
This situation has led us to design a research methodology
suited for the study of currently inhabited villages in the northwest
of the Iberian Peninsula, whose origins lie in early medieval times
(Fernández Mier, 1999, 2010, 2013; Fernández Fernández, 2012;
Fernández Mier, 2013). This endeavor is framed within the
broader emergence of agrarian archaeology in northwest Iberia,
which has enabled us to overcome the traditional and restrictive
studies of previous approaches to medieval archaeology. This new
analytic framework seeks to understand the complex processes
entrenched in the social construction of landscapes (Ballesteros
Arias, 2002, 2003, 2010; Ballesteros Arias et al., 2006; Ballesteros
et al., 2010; Quirós Castillo, 2009, 2010, 2012; Vigil-Escalera, 2010).
Fundamentally, the methodology approaches the study of
landscapes from an interdisciplinary and diachronic perspecti-
vedwhereby the territory is addressed as a continuum, and
therefore overcoming the traditional separation between habitat
and productive spaces. This also involves rethinking the concept of
the archaeological site, which used to refer to an abandoned built
environment or an isolated building. The concept must thus be
expanded to take into account currently inhabited areas with
ancient origins and their surrounding territories (Fernández Mier,
2010; Quirós Castillo, 2010). Accordingly, areas of livestock and
agrarian production have become part of the primary focus of
research, including agricultural terraces, pasture, grazing, and
wooded areas.
The results of archaeological interventions are combined with
toponymic studies, paleoenvironmental and geographic informa-
tion system (GIS) analysis, as well as chemical, micromorphological
and sedimentological studies of soils (Fernández Mier, 1999, 2010,
2013; Fernández Mier et al., 2013; Quirós Castillo, 2012). This
understanding of landscapes necessarily implies a diachronic
approach to the territory that accounts for changes and continuities
and for the different rhythms of variation between productive and
inhabited areas. This complex approach to the archaeological site
involves not only different kinds of data, but also an acknowledg-
ment of the multiple causes behind landscape formation. Ulti-
mately, the objective is to provide a social reading enabling us to
identify the main processes of production related with rural com-
munities, and the ability and potential of these groups to transform
their landscapes.
This paper presents the results of the study of two villages of
medieval origin in Asturias, located northwest of the Iberian
Peninsula (Fig. 1). Both villages have access to different types of
productive resources, and were subjected to different forms of
control during the Middle Ages. The current agrarian organization
of the north-western mountain regions of the Iberian Peninsula
shows a complex articulation between habitat, agricultural, and
livestock spaces, that stems from a long-term process of formation
originating in the medieval era. This form of organization has
remained in use well into the 20th century, because of the lack of
spatial planning policies altering traditional uses (García
Fernández, 1988; García Martínez, 1988; Rodríguez Gutiérrez,
1989; Bouhier, 2001; Corbera Millan, 2008). Those landscapes are
characterized by their multifunctionality. Their uses vary
throughout the annual agricultural cycle in order to maximize the
productive potential offered by the ecological and territorial
context. Thus, agricultural and livestock uses shift depending on
the needs of the community, something that must be taken into
account in our interpretation of archaeological data (Fig. 2). This
paper explores from an archaeological perspective the formation of
those landscapes in two villages of medieval origin located in
Asturias, namely Vigaña and Villanueva (Figs. 3 and 4). Although
they have remained inhabited until present, today they face a se-
vere depopulation process prompting a deep landscape
2. Area of study
Vigaña is a small mountain village, situated at 650 m above sea
level in the valley of the Pigüeña River (Fig. 3). The habitat is located
on a small plateau on the hillside, spreading throughout a segment
Fig. 1. Location of the study area.
M. Fernández Mier et al. / Quaternary International xxx (2014) 1e152
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archaeology in Asturias (Spain), Quaternary International (2014),
of the valley that runs from the bottom to the highest parts of the
slope, that is, from 200 to 900 m high. The highest area is partic-
ularly well suited for cattle raising, an activity that can be traced
back to recent prehistory. From an archaeological point of view, we
could record the existence of a megalithic construction, an Iron Age
hill fort, and the presence of a village since at least the 12th century,
as revealed by written sources. These archaeological landmarks
rendered the area a suitable location for a diachronic landscape
study. Accordingly, archaeological interventions were planned in
habitat sites (the contemporary and the ancient), and in spaces of
livestock and agrarian use. The analysis of prehistoric occupation
reveals the intense transformation undergone by the area since the
4th millennium BC (Fig. 5). These communities concentrated their
habitats in a particular area, but were active throughout
itdresulting in a landscape form later inherited by Roman and
medieval communities (Fernández Mier, 2013).
Villanueva is located in the bottom of the valley of the river
Trubia, 150 m above sea level (Fig. 4). The village has access to a
space with different available ecological niches. The proximity of
the river provides more cultivable areas than Vigaña, although
these are narrow and difcult to plow. During the Middle Ages, the
village was under control of the Tuñón monastery. This was a major
power center at the time, organized and built around an important
pre-Romanesque church constructed during the 9th century.
3. Methods and data
With the aim of gathering information on the articulation be-
tween the medieval habitat and the productive spaces surrounding
the village, our team utilized test pits and surveys in contemporary
villages, as well as in agricultural and livestock areas. The planning
of the interventions was based on previous studies of toponymy,
Fig. 2. Map presenting the traditional land uses in the parish of Villanueva de Santo Adriano. Until the mid-twentieth century, this system remained in operation. The traditional
parcel division and the memory on the different uses of agrarian and cattle productive areas are still alive today. Agricultural activity concentrates in the valley, surrounding the
inhabited area (150 m over sea level). Around it, we nd the smallholder plots for the summer production of hay, where cattle remained grazing during winter. At higher altitudes
(between 500 and 1200 m over sea level) there are commonly owned livestock areas (equinoctial brañas or shepherd villages used for pasture in spring and autumn, hay in summer,
and summer brañas for grazing).
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archaeology in Asturias (Spain), Quaternary International (2014),
plot allotments, GIS analysis and the study of written documenta-
tion (Fernández Mier, 1996, 1999; Fernández Fernández, 2012).
Surveys in productive areas were carried out using two kinds of
plots: those without any built structure, such as La Sienra, and
those with terraced areas and division walls, such as El Manso. In
our attempt to gather as much data as possible, we made pits of
small dimensionsdusually 4 4mdsome of which were then
expanded according to the archaeological data they provided.
The excavation was carried out through mechanical and manual
methods, with emphasis placed on the latter for a number of rea-
sons. First, because certain areas are still in use, which makes the
usage of landscape-altering heavy machinery impossible. Second,
because it was necessary to retrieve as many archaeological ma-
terials as possible that could provide chronological information;
the scarcity of pottery in some areas required a meticulous exca-
vation that would allow us to document the little data available,
and assess whether those materials were related to land fertiliza-
tion processes, management of domestic resources, or land erosion.
Third, to gather information about soils of agricultural use or traces
of agricultural tools being used. After the stratigraphic analysis of
the diggings was carried out, we took various samples of soil for the
study of pollen, physical-chemical composition, micromorpholog-
ical characterization and radiocarbon analysis.
The physic-chemical analysis of the pollen samples (from Vig-
aña and Villanueva) was based on the classical method (Burjachs
et al., 2003), although acetolysis was not carried out to allow the
identication of any contamination by modern pollen. Small ali-
quots of the residues were mounted in glycerin, sealed with His-
tolaque and all recognizable pollen and spores were counted under
a light microscope using a 400magnication. For each of the
pollen samples, some 200 pollen grains and a minimum of 20 taxa
were recorded as this allows for statistically reliable inferences. The
relative values for each taxon, whether arboreal, shrub or herba-
ceous, have been obtained from the sum of the absolute values for
each one of them referred to a pollen total. This total does not
include hygrophilous taxa, cryptogam spores, undetermined pollen
grains, non-pollen palynomorphs (NPPs) as well as those from
Fig. 3. Location of the Pigüeña valley.
Fig. 4. Image of the villages excavated and their surrounding agrarian areas with the
diggings numbered. The intervention codes are as follows: 1. IT-VI/CV, 2. IT-VI/CAS, 3.
IT-VI/CASM, 4. IT-VI/EV, 5. IT-VI/SIE, 6. IT-VI/LH, 7. IT-VI/LE, 8. IT-VI/MU, 9.IT-VI/ARR,10.
IT-VI/GR,11. IT-PTE, 12. IT-MNS, 13. IT-VIÑ,14. IT-FRE, 15. IT-PND, 16. IT-SRM,17. IT-CDR,
18. IT-PMR, 19. IT-PLO.
M. Fernández Mier et al. / Quaternary International xxx (2014) 1e154
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archaeology in Asturias (Spain), Quaternary International (2014),
Cichorioideae, Cardueae and Aster-type because of their hypothet-
ical overrepresentation in sedimentary deposits due to their zoo-
phyllic character (López Sáez et al., 2002).
Pollen and spore taxonomy follows Valdés et al. (1987), Moore
et al. (1991), Reille (1999) and Beug (2004). Non-pollen paly-
nomorphs (NPPs) were mainly identied according to van Geel
(2001). The system of graphical representation of the results cho-
sen is the pollen diagram due to the type of deposit and its specic
sedimentary genesis process. On the horizontal axis, there are
various taxa and their presence percentage, while the vertical axis
represents the depth of the samples of the column within each
stratigraphic unit with their respective relative chronology.
Different taxa comprised in the study are represented in vertical
columns, their percentages being calculated from the total amount
of AP (tree pollen), NAP (non-tree pollen), and Varia. Those values
not exceeding or equating 1% are represented by a dot.
The physical and chemical composition of the soil was analyzed
at the Institute of Natural Resources and Agrobiology of Salamanca
(IRNASA-CSIC). Physical analyses focused on the distribution of size
of mineral particles, while chemical analyses looked at the following
parameters: pH, % organic matter, % total nitrogen, carbon/nitrogen
ratio, as well as assimilable phosphorus, assimilable calcium, and
assimilable potassium (in ppm). Radiocarbon dating was carried out
in the Centre for Isotopic Research on Cultural and Environmental
Heritage (CIRCE-Innova), Seconda Università degli Studi di Napoli,
according to their protocols (Passariello et al., 2007). The radio-
carbon dating was calibrated with a precision of 2
(95.4% proba-
bility; Blaauw, 2010) using the software OxCal v.4.2.2 (Bronk
Ramsey, 2009) with IntCal09 atmospheric data (Reimer et al., 2009).
The micromorphological study was based on the collection of
undisturbed samples for consolidation, and large format thin
sheets (13 10, 7 cm), which enabled the petrological and micro-
morphological study. Sediment samples consolidated with resin
were also collected, and analyzed with magniers and petrological
microscopes. Moreover, sediments from higher levels were oated
for the identication of early and full medieval seeds (Sopelana,
2012). The material otation study was conducted at the Univer-
sity of the Basque Country. The samples were processed, sieved,
and carpological and anthracological materials were separated. A
binocular microscope was used to observe the oating material.
For the identication of recovered carpological remains, the
botanical atlases of Cappers et al. (2006) and Bojnanský and
Fargasová (2007) were used, with the general nomenclature
following Tutin et al. (1964-1993). In addition, we employed the
reference collection of seeds with modern materials (carbonized
and non-carbonized) and other archaeological materials belonging
to the archaeobotany laboratory of the University of the Basque
Country. In the samples, anthracological material greater than
2 mm, and wildlife material (malacofauna greater than 2 mm, and
remains of microfauna), were separated.
4. Results
4.1. Vigaña and La Sienra
The archaeological works carried out in the currently inhabited
village were centered on small unoccupied spaces surrounding
houses and gardens, especially near the village church. Some of the
surveys conducted, however, did not provide any information
because contemporary buildings had razed older levels. Therefore,
most of the information about the occupation of the village was
gleaned from the areas surrounding the church (Fig. 6). The exca-
vation of the necropolis enabled us to document 60 tombs with
long occupational sequences, dating back the early medieval times,
most probably before the construction of the church. The oldest
levels of the necropolis correspond with two burials, one of them
oriented from north to south, the other from east to west. Both are
cut by two postholes that were part of a larger wooden structure.
One of the buried corpses is adorned with a burial outt; this dates
back to between the second half of the 6th century, and the rst
half of the 7th. In short, these elements from the early medieval era
are buried underneath the necropolis that is associated with a
religious building. As such, the tombs present a wide range of
material typologies, which evidences the chronological breadth of
its use, dating back to the early medieval era, and enduring
throughout the Middle Ages until the end of the 14th century.
Farther out from the necropolis, a number of negative structures
were discovered. Some of these structures were postholes, planted
both before and after the burial phase. The analysis of archaeo-
logical materials associated with the lling of graves and postholes
proves interesting. In most cases, the different layers of soil are
blackish, with an abundance of coal, scrap metal, and fragments of
Fig. 5. Fireplace from the IV millennium B.C. below the contemporary agrarian land-
scape in Vigaña.
Fig. 6. Necropolis of Vigaña.
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reductive potterydthe latter of which is quite worn, some with grid
decorations, and others made with combs. These layers can be
considered dark earths. According to radiocarbon dating, the ma-
terials in these layers date from between the 6th and 11th cen-
turies. However, we must take into account their secondary
position. These dark earths would probably have been transported
from habitat spaces located in the surroundings of the necropolis,
and were used to ll the negative structures once those were
abandoned. Judging by one of the layers stratied immediately over
the tombs (cal AD 1287e1432. Table 1. Sample EV61DSH 3622), the
cemetery seems to date back to the full or late medieval.
The term dark earth, a specic type of archaeological soil
recorded in different archaeological excavations, especially in En-
gland, describes stratigraphic units that present different degrees of
thicknesses, varying between 60 and 90 cm in urban environments,
generally overlying strata from the Roman period. The dating of the
strata underneath the dark earth ranges from the 2nd to 5th cen-
turies AD, while dark earths normally date from the early medieval
centuries, with the 9th century as the reference date. The dark earth
shows little evidence of any internal structure of deposition but
may sometimes present tip lines,that is layers pointing to
microphases of stratication processes. They are characterized by
an abundance of organic matter, such as coal, which provides its
characteristic dark color. These soils mark a turning point with the
functions of previous periods, and have been interpreted as phases
in which a mixture of scrambled materials such as wood, straw or
stubble takes place. This might point to an alternation between
phases of construction and agricultural production during which
the materials help to enlarge the stratigraphic sequence (Macphail
and Linderholm, 2004). Contrary to the use of the term in England,
the description of black soils in the continent, and especially in
France (terres noires), has been applied to a wide variety of
archaeological deposits of dark color whose chronologies are
broader, comprising the rst millennium AD as a whole, and
covering urban and rural settlements such as the ones under study
(Courty et al., 1989; Macphail et al., 2003; Loveluck, 2004).
The lack of archaeological strata that is related to levels of
habitat contrasts with the relative wealth of domestic materials in
the lls of burial pits and postholes. This leads us to consider the
existence of domestic levels of occupation in the nearby areas of
this sector, dating from the early medieval eradbetween the 6th
and 11th centuries, with most dates pointing to the 10th century.
The fragmented information regarding habitat spaces and the ne-
cropolis is supplemented with data from the productive areas of the
surroundings of the village. The area under study is called La Sienra
(Fig. 7), located in the surroundings of the village and considered its
most important growing area until recently, as our ethnographic
research revealed. This space is mentioned in medieval documents,
although there is no record of its usage. Previous investigations
suggest that it was a space that combined the cultivation of cereal
crops with livestock (Fernández Mier, 1996,1999). It is important to
note that the name sienra became a toponym that had a double
meaning in medieval timesdsienra designates both the personal
services that peasants had to carry out to serve their lords, and was
used to refer to a space for cereal crops (García Fernández, 1988).
Today, La Sienra is a pasture producing hay for livestock growth.
Despite being a relatively large plot, it is an extremely piecemeal
area, with all the households of the village being surrounded by
smaller patches of land. Until the mid-20th century, the area was
used for agricultural production, was surrounded by access paths,
and enclosed by walls to keep animals out. The internal area was
divided into small plots of narrow shapes. Small paths provided
access to the plot leading to different areas of the sienra, thereafter
moving through other lands, which required a specic regulation on
rights of way. The plots were separated by markers driven into the
ground, and sometimes the plow created terraces on the edges.
Traditionally, the land was worked as a semi-collective property. In
times of bountiful cereal production, each plot was managed indi-
vidually. After the harvest, it was exploited collectively for cattle
raising purposes. This required the development of complex use
standards that applied to the entire community, from dates of cattle
exit and entry, to wall and path maintenance. Morphologically, the
area presents different degrees of slope: at areas in the center and
slight leanings at the edges, to counter the processes of erosion and
land ll.
The excavation was conducted in one of the plots with fewer
slopes. This seemed to offer a deep stratigraphic sequence, which
was relatively easy to identify (Fig. 8). Under the humus layer (O
layer) there are several units (A) related to levels of medieval,
modern and contemporary agricultural uses, based on the scarce
pottery recovered (U.E 001, 002,003). One of these use levels (S.U.
003) presented a number of tiny postholes with a sharp end posi-
tioned in parallel, which might correspond with a wooden palisade
(S.U. 007). This layer covers the others, and was full of coal and
ceramic materials. The dating of this stratigraphic unit (008) pointed
to the early medieval (cal AD 687e874. Table 1 EV62). The 009 unit
did not provide any archaeological information, constituting a ho-
rizon of abandonment or use shift associated with the accumulation
of sediments from natural erosion. The archaeological level under-
neath this unit also corresponded to a level of use without struc-
tures. A fragment of rolled prehistoric pottery appeared without any
clear chronological ascription. Radiocarbon dating of a chunk of coal
from the layer pointed to a chronology of (2
) 2858e2500 cal BC.
This sequence was superimposed on a yellowish clay horizon (C)
that stretched across the excavated area.
The chemical analysis of the different archaeological layers
shows a gradual enrichment of organic material in the sequence,
according to variations in levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and cal-
cium. Potassium is the only nutrient whose levels decrease in the
sequence. Precisely, the highest levels of potassium are in the units
009 and 010, the latter dating from the Neolithic period, which also
coincides with a lower presence of phosphorus, nitrogen and cal-
cium (Table 2, Geochemistry SIE/UE2-10). The joint analysis of the
data previously discussed suggests that this area was widely used
as a farm beginning from the Final Neolithic, with the high levels of
potassium (353 ppm) indicating that soils are being created
through deforestation, i.e., through logging and the slash-and-burn
of wooded areas. The ashes would then be used as fertilizer, which
explains the high levels of potassium in the initial moments of the
sequence, and the low levels of other nutrients such as phosphorus
(8 ppm) and nitrogen (0.077%). In all probability, due to the
Fig. 7. La Sienra, agrarian space of Vigaña.
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itinerant character of production, the area seems to have been
abandoned later. This period witnesses a slow process of sedi-
mentation of materials washed from the higher levels of the slope,
favoring the emergence of a new archaeological horizon overlying
the previous one. After this change of use, indicated by low organic
matter (0.79%) and the low carbon/nitrogen ratio (6.3), a new
period of agricultural use began in the early medieval times, which
has endured until present. The levels of nitrogen (0.125%), phos-
phorus (21 ppm) and calcium (3487.8731 ppm) reect different
usages. The abundance of organic material, along with the presence
of pottery, can be related with the fertilizing practices and the
transfer of manure and domestic refuse from habitats or places
holding livestock to productive areas (Miller and Gleason, 1994,
Leonardi et al., 1999;Sandor, 1992).
Therefore, the data obtained suggests that the area has been
dedicated to farming from the early medieval era to the present.
Nonetheless, the interpretation remains complicated if we consider
the data provided by pollen analysis (Fig. 9). The samples are sterile
for older stratigraphic units. During the early medieval era, the 008
unit (from the 7th to the 9th centuries) reects a landscape with a
highly reduced arboreal presence (9%), comprising chestnut trees
and hazel, while the shrub layer consists of junipers and heathers.
Subsequently, the arboreal landscape is further reduced (5%) and
some specimens of pine appear. The most recent shrub layer
sample indicates even more heather and fewer junipers. Riparian
vegetation was scarce, and was represented by the poplar or aspen,
which almost totally disappears in the second period. The absence
of oak and beech contrasts with the dominant presence of chestnut
trees. Despite being a native species (Fineschi et al., 2000), its
presence was clearly favored by humans (Manuel Valdés et al.,
2003). The herbaceous stratum is dominant in the whole
sequence. At rst (S.U. 008), there is a signicant presence of
pasture grasses and, to a lesser extent of Compositae. The degree of
moisture was high and there were probably ooded areas. These
data point to a signicant process of deforestation reaching all the
vegetable species. Given the palynological studies for the Roman
period in the surroundings of Asturias, this deforestation process
occurred before the Middle Ages, but endured during the period
(López Merino et al., 2011; Reher et al., 2012).
During the second period (S.U. 003), the presence of trees falls
even further (3%) and the dominance of the herbaceous layer be-
comes clear in two taxa: grasses and composites. In turn, humidity
drops considerably. This phenomenon could be related to a period
with a warmer and drier climate, but it could also be the outcome of
human activity. The low presence of arboreal pollen reveals that the
anthropization of the area was not the outcome of the existence of
crop elds because cereal pollen is absent. The lack of cereal or any
other plant associated to crops is relevant. The presence of other
types of crops, such as fruit trees, Rosaceae,orLeguminosae,is
impossible due to the scarce presence of these taxa in the sequence.
Given the lack of grain, indicators pointing to the presence of
livestock are relevant, especially Sordariaceae. Finally, the presence
of some non-pollen palynomorphs has yielded data about erosion
processes (Glomus and Pseudoschizaea).
The interpretation of this information is complex. Certainly,
chemical indicators point to a progressive enrichment of soils
related to the input of organic matter. However, this need not be
interpreted as sites of agricultural production. The data provided by
pollen analysis suggest that the area was highly deforested for
farming purposes. The presence of organic matter could be directly
related to the presence of cattle in the area at certain times of the
year, which is further conrmed by the presence of fragmented
pottery, which in used in fertilizationprocesses for hay production.
This practice is still carried out today in the mountain regions,
throughout the months of February or March. The meadows are
fertilized with manure from the stables located in the village, or in
the surrounding areas to facilitate grass growth in the spring, to be
harvested and stored during summer. The relevance of farming of
this area is supported by the remains of a wooden palisade docu-
mented in the full medieval period levels (U.S. 006 and 007).
In conclusion, the archaeological data suggest that this area
was not dedicated to cereal production during the medieval
period, despite being one of the major cereal producing areas of
the village until recently. This applies at least to the area where
our study was performed, which does not exclude the possibility
of having crops in other nearby areas, especially if the high levels
of dispersion of cereal pollen is taken into account (Vuorela, 1973).
All evidence points to the signicance of livestock-related activ-
ities on a highly deforested and humanized landscape since at
least the 8th century. The high levels of chestnut compared to oak
and beech conrm this point. Cattle production does not, however,
appear to be extensivedas it is usually considered to be in the
early medieval eradbut rather intensive. This is proved by the fact
that there was an alternation between livestock growth and hay
production, and can be conrmed by the aforementioned fertil-
ization processes.
4.2. Villanueva and El Manso
In Villanueva, three excavations were carried out within the
contemporary village, and six in productive areas that offer relevant
information about the early medieval era (Fig. 2). The inhabited
area presents an extensive sequence of occupation from the Roman
period to the present (surveys IT-PMR and IT-CDR; Fig. 10), which
comprises the following phases: (i) Roman period; (ii) Early Me-
dieval (9the11th centuries); (iii) High and Late Medieval (13the
14th centuries); and (iv) Early Modern and Late Modern (16th
These surveys present the rst archaeological horizon of live-
stock use in Roman times (S.U. 13 CDR and 10 PMR). This horizon
contains a few fragments of Roman pottery and terra sigilata his-
panica that can be ascribed broadly to the High Imperial period. We
are, however, unable to determine a more accurate date given the
paucity of the information retrieved. The pollen data reect a
deforested area at the time, with a percentage of arboreal pollen of
only 20% (Fig. 11). The main element is the oak, followed by other
species such as birch, chestnut, holly and native high mountain
pines. Note that the identication of walnut (Juglans) in
Fig. 8. Stratigraphy of the excavation IT-VI/SIE carried out in La Sienra,Vigaña.
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Fig. 9. Pollen diagram from the medieval and modern layers of the excavation IT-SIE.
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archaeology in Asturias (Spain), Quaternary International (2014),
percentages of about 5% can be related to chestnut cultivation, as in
other areas of the northern Peninsula (López Merino et al., 2009).
The wealth of herbaceous and shrub vegetation points to the ex-
istence of large deforested areas, which can be associated with
anthropic pressure over the territory in relation to the expansion of
cattle farming. The chemical analysis of the soils reveals a non-
agricultural use because of the low presence of organic matter
(0.70%) and the low carbon/nitrogen ratio (6.6) in the S.U. 013-PMR
(Table 2). The fact that some elements like phosphorus abound
(106 ppm) corroborates the hypothesis of an anthropogenic alter-
ation of space. In the S.U. 10-PMR, the higher levels in the per-
centage of carbon indicators reveal different uses of soil.
Over these former horizons, a peasant community settled down
in the early medieval era. The rst activity we detect on these soils is
agricultural, in relation to an early medieval crop eld (S.U. 009 IT-
PMR). The chemical analysis of soils points to the abundance of
organic material and a quite signicant increase in the carbon/ni-
trogen ratio (9.1). The presence of trees recovers from previous
periods, rising to about 30%, with an increase in chestnut, but no
presence of walnut. These soils present high levels of cereal pollen
(3.9%) reecting in situ cultivation (López Sáez and López Merino,
2005). The material culture consists mainly of black and gray
ceramic remains, decorated with vertical comb grooves and in-
cisions, which sometimes form grids characteristic of early medieval
periods (Requejo Pagés, 2003-2004). There are no absolute dates for
this period of cultivation, but there are for the overlying horizon,
pointing to dates ranging between the 9th and 11th centuries.
Furthermore, there are negative structuresexcavatedon the rst
horizons from the Roman period in other surveys (S.U. 012, IT-CDR),
which are subsequently amortized by early medieval llings (cal AD
966e1044, S.U 011. Sample DSH2222, Table 1). These llings are
related to a period of household use, perhaps associated with the
rst uses of the area as a farm during medieval times, as previously
described (S.U. 009, IT, PMR). The rst exclusively non-agricultural
context is documented in a rst intervention over the agricultural
soils, as described above (S.U. 008, IT-PMR). In the other interven-
tion, it is found amortizing the rst negative structures recorded
(S.U. 011 and 010, IT-CDR). In both cases, those layers are dark
earths where fauna, pottery and iron scrapdmainly nailsdare
intermingled and embedded in blackened soils with abundant
carbonized vegetable matter. Pollen data indicate a major shift in
the use of this space. Cereals disappear, and were replaced by
nitrophilous elements, more common in habitat environments.
Again, chestnut pollen is absent in this horizon.
Chemical analyses showcertain divergences in the composition of
these dark earths in comparison to agricultural soils, especially con-
cerning the high indicators in the carbon/nitrogen relation (S.U. 008,
IT-PMR: 13.1, S.U 010, IT-CDR: 21.4. Radiocarbondata point to the 9th-
11th centuries, and most likely to the10th century (Table 1:CNA944
and CNA945). In turn, pottery consists mainly in remains of cooking
vessels, with thick or slightly unsettled fabrics, silicon-quartzite
degreaser, slow wheel-made and variable qualities (Fig. 12). The
fauna consumed in the siteincludes goat,pig and cow mainly, in ratios
of respectively40%, 30% and 30%. The analysis of largevegetal remains
extracted from sediment of these layers through otation techniques
provided some charred seeds. Although carpological remains were
few and mostly non-identiable, in some cases evidence of cultivated
plants was documented. Of particular interest is a unit of Triticum/
Hordeum that had lost its outer covering, and therefore could not be
dened as either wheat or barley, which was coming from IT-PMR/
S.U. 8. The same archaeological layers provided a potential fragment
of Leguminosae and some seeds indirectly related to the presence of
crops and roads: a unit of Plantago arenaria and another of Poacea sp.
The messy character of dark earths, its lack of internal organiza-
tion, and its identical features throughout the different areas of the
site, required us to employ other methods to understand those soils,
and look for potential differences. Micromorphological analysis
allowed for this, through the extraction of samples and their trans-
formation into thin sheets. This reveals certain differentiating char-
acters between the dark earths documented. The S.U. 010 IT-CDR
provided organic matter with abundant acicular materials, some of
them siliceous, which could be identied as phytoliths. This is the
trace left in the sediment by some kind of manure, which however
does not appear in the samples analyzed in S.U. IT-PMR. The latter
was apparently similar in a macro scale and has been identied as
dark earth as well. This fact allows us to determine the existence of
potential differential use spaces within the inhabited area.
This large volume of data reveals the presence of a peasant
community developing combined livestock and agricultural pro-
ductive processes, thus taking advantage of the diverse resources of
its environment. In this regard, it follows patterns similar to other
villages identied in the same period (Vigil-Escalera, 2003). The
Fig. 10. Stratigraphy of the excavations IT-PMR and IT-CDR, Villanueva de Santo Adriano.
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overlapping of domestic and farming areas reveals the villages
former phase of growth, which colonizes areas previously used for
farming. It can also reect a less compact settlement pattern, from a
morphological point of view, in the Full Medieval period. This
different internal structure could be interpreted as an indication of
a more exible peasant identity (Wickham, 2009). However, as
noted by Quirós Castillo, we should not question the fact that these
sites are peasant villages at this time, even though they will un-
dergo changes rendering them more stable later on (2006, 2007).
Another domestic space was located over the previously
described dark earths that can be related to more solid and durable
structures, made of llings to stabilize the soils (S.U. 008, IT-CDR).
Within these, different domestic spaces can be found, such as re-
places (S.U. 007. Fig.13). Another substantial difference with the dark
earths is the evidence of internal stratication and the ordination of
the spatial distribution of material culture. The fauna reects a
greater presence of pork at the expense of goat and cow, the latter
barely appearing, the ratio being respectively of about 70%, 20% and
10%: S.U. 7-8, IT-CDR (67 remains), includeby species: cattle, 2; goats,
1; sheep-goat,3; pork, 15.Identied by size: macro-mammal without
identication, 4; medium-mammals without identication, 5.
Vegetable macroremains analysis has enabled us to retrieve some
charred seeds, namely a unit of Triticum/Hordeum,twoofLolium sp.,
two of Leguminosae,three of Poaceae sp., one of cf. Leguminosae, one
of Rosaceae (concretions), one of Plantago sp., one of Polygonaceae
(concretions) and three non-charred units, including Poaceae, Che-
nopodium and Leguminosae. Besides the scarcity of carpological re-
mains (only two litters of sediment were oated), many of them are
in a poor condition because they are concretionary, which hinders
identication. Despite this fact, there is evidence of cultivated plants,
particularly cereals (Tritium/Hordeum). There is also a record of
fragments of legumes coming from a domestic context that enables
us to ascribe them to some cultivable species, although not specif-
ically to any particular species. Furthermore, there is evidence of
some wild plants such as Poaceae, Lolium,Plantago and Polygonaceae
that can be associated with human activity. Radiocarbon dating re-
fers to the XIII or beginnings of the XIV century (Table 2: DSH2217).
Clearly, this information reects the existence of a fully
consolidated village with perfectly identiable structures. The shift
in the peasantshabits of consumption in relation to early medieval
layers is clear. The reduction of cattle and the increase of pork can
be associated with the social and demographic changes that
occurred since the 14th century. The domestic space composed by
the levels described above appears isolated by a negative unit (S.U.
Fig. 11. Pollen diagram from the excavation IT-PMR.
Fig. 12. Early medieval pottery from the excavations IT-CDR and IT-PMR, Villanueva de
Santo Adriano.
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archaeology in Asturias (Spain), Quaternary International (2014),
006), lled by alluvial sediment from a nearby stream (Regueiru de
San Romano). Probably, a torrential episode destroyed the habitat
area sometime between the 13the14th and the 15th-16th cen-
turies. This phase is comprised in the S.U. 004, 005 and 006 IT-
CDR10 and S.T. 006 and 007 IT-PMR10. These levels were
removed in later periods, in order to level the terrain for novel
productive uses after the ood, with its thickness varying in
different areas. From the dating, we can locate this paleoavenuein
a moment of major climate change: the start of the Little Ice Age
(XIVeXIX centuries).
Above these levels, the rst documented uses of this space
appear in the 16th century. A dating from S.U. 003 CDR-IT casts a
chronology of cal AD1469e1635. In the case of the PMR area, the
rst layer overlapping the paleoavenue is the 005, where a coin was
found, identied as four maravedíes of the Catholic Monarchs
coined during the 16th century. These early uses were covered by
an archaeological horizon that was kept in agricultural use until the
second half of the 20th century, before becoming grassland. Along
with habitat areas, crop spaces were investigated, and a moment of
intense intervention in the agrarian landscape was identied be-
tween the 8th and the 11th centuries. This coincides with the
habitat sequence that witnessed the consolidation of a peasant
village which grew by occupying previous agricultural areas around
the 9th and 11th centuries. The main recorded sequence comes
from El Manso (IT-MNS), where an early medieval agricultural
terrace was excavated (Fig. 14). At the base of the terrace, below the
rst horizons of medieval use, a stratigraphic unit (009) was
foundda quartzite tool (a denticulate) that we consider to be a
Middle Paleolithic natural import from an archaeological site
located in the top of the terraced area, a Pleistocene uvial terrace
(Fernández Fernández, 2010). The horizon above that stratigraphic
unit, however, provided no information on anthropic activities (S.U.
On these baseline levels, and before the construction of the
medieval terrace, there was a space of use related to agricultural
activity, which can be dated back to between the 7th and the 9th
centuries (Table 1, DSH2232). However, it does not seem yet to be a
fully-edged agricultural terrace (S.U. 007). Above this layer, there
is a rst lling (S.U. 005), dating to the 9the12th centuries, and
more between the 10the11th centuries (Table 1: CNA824, CNA825,
DSH2218). This layer contains cereal pollen in low percentages
(0.4%). The carbon/nitrogen ratio corresponds to those of other soils
of agricultural use analyzed previously (8.6). This sediment came
from a nearby site, probably from the upper part of the slope, where
two further test pits were conducted to allow us to verify the
original soil disturbance. This is a sequence formed only by the
supercial humus layerdthe Ohorizondoverlying the geological
substrate without the existence of A or B horizons, in an area with
little inclination, and unaffected by erosion.
The sediment removed at the top was used for terracing the
southern slope, where the terrain gradually acquired greater incli-
nation towards the river Trubia. The dates obtained do not provide
data of the exact time of the construction of the terrace, but of the
lling instead. However, we argue that both events (conversion of
agricultural land in lling) were temporally close. This is so because
this sediment was continuously removed, and continuously
received organic matter (coal, manure, etc.), that is then progres-
sively degraded by exposure. Only buried organic matter remained
unchanged. Therefore, the dating obtained from these materials
will reect generally the time when agricultural soils were in use.
These causes determine that these kinds of sediments cannot pre-
sent extreme datingdeither too old or too recentdbecause they
will always be among the longest possible period of duration of
organic matter in tilled lands and the moment of the latter addi-
tions before burial. Just in case the sediment utilized had been
previously utilized as lling, the dating would become more com-
plex, and there is no data pointing in that direction. Two test pits
carried out in the upper part of the terrace (IT-VIÑ and IT-FRE)
revealed an alteration of the soil due to a lack of sediment, which
was probably removed and used to ll the stratigraphic unit 005 IT-
Material culture also points to medieval chronologies, showing a
complete correspondence between the ceramic typologies retrieved
from this lling (S.U. 005) and the early medieval layers excavated in
the vicinity of the village (S.U. 008 and 009 IT-PRM and S.U. 010 and
Fig. 13. Fireplace of a late medieval hut located nearby the early medieval quarter of
San Romani, Villanueva de Santo Adriano (S.U. 006 y 007 IT-CDR).
Fig. 14. Stratigraphy of the agrarian terrace of El Manso (IT-MNS).
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011 IT-CDR). The rst terrace levels appear sealed by late medieval
layers dating back to the 12th-14th centuries (Table 1: DSH2215),
over which a thick sedimentary layer sits that is rich in modern
pottery (U.S. 004). The sequence ends with the construction of a nal
terrace with masonry (U.S. 003), associated with modern and
contemporary material dating from the 19th and 20th centuries.
El Manso is a land connected to the parish church of San Romano.
The existence of written references to this type of agricultural space
dedicated to the maintenance of the parish clergy is common in late
medieval documentation in Asturias. These lands are related to the
evolution of early medieval dextros, which, during the process of
parochialization dating between the 11th and 12th centuries,
expanded to incorporate lands with a view more towards economy
than worship. The solidlybuilt terrace of El Manso (U.S. 005) coincides
with this process, and can be related to it. However, the sequence
reveals a previous use of the area before the parochialization period,
showing the alteration of the original soils and the emergence of
processes of development and construction of this productive land
between the7th and 9th centuries. Thisformer process can berelated
with the inuence of the nearby power-center abbey created by
Alfonso III in Tuñón, 3 km away from Villanueva, in the late 9th
century. San Romano, the early medieval designation of Villanueva,
was one of the villages subjected to the power of the abbey.
5. Conclusion
The archaeological interventions carried out in two currently
inhabited villages have shown the great potential of this type of
methodological strategy for the documentation of previously
almost completely unknown historic periods such as the Neolithic,
the Bronze Age and the Early Medieval Times. This paper has
presented a series of test pits that provide information about the
early medieval centuries (between the 7th to the 12th centuries)
and has contextualized them in relation with other test pits with
other chronologies. This approach offers a long term view of the
articulation of the landscape and the historic changes in terms of
human settlement and production patterns. In addition, a series of
test pits were carried out in the inhabited areas of Vigaña and
Villanueva. In Vigaña, only one of the ve surveys, carried out next
to the church, has provided useful data. The intense erosion pro-
cesses of mountain areas explain the relative low percentage of
success in terms of the amount of archaeological information
gathered. It is therefore necessary to consider the need to increase
the number of interventions in order to record the human occu-
pation in secondary position, that is, in places where sediments
have been deposited as a result of erosion processes. In turn, the
test pits in inhabited areas of Villanueva have provided more in-
formation because the settlement is located at the bottom of a
valley on the banks of river Trubia, where postdepositional pro-
cesses are of different nature.
The positive results obtained through this methodology high-
light the need to combine the study of productive and settlement
areas instead of analyzing each of them in isolation. Although
there is a comprehensive body of literature addressing the study of
currently inhabited areas (Lewis, 2007, 2005-12;Jones and Page,
2006;Turner and Webster, 2011;Aston and Gerrard, 2013), only
a few works have focused explicitly in the joint investigation of
settlement and agricultural spaces (Hey, 2004; Quirós Castillo,
2012; Fernández Mier, 2013), and even less have included the
study of livestock use areas in their analysis (Fernández Mier,
2013). Therefore, it is necessary to expand this research method-
ology to encompass not only these areas where deserted villages
are difcult to locate, but also where deserted villages have been
already studied, focusing in the analysis of the settlement
This methodology has allowed us to gather information on the
productive processes of the peasantry in a relatively undocu-
mented period. Data were obtained both from habitat and ne-
cropolis areas and from productive spaces. The two villages present
similar occupational sequences, but differ in their economic dedi-
cation. Both reect human activity in Roman times, although it
remains impossible to dene the type of settlement that existed.
The information is more conclusive in Villanueva, where it seems
that a cattle raising farm existed. Data become more precise in the
early medieval era.
At least since the 7th century in Vigaña, and in an undetermined
moment before the 9th century in Villanueva, the existence ofstable
settlements can be clearly seen. In Villanueva, the occupation of the
area is characterized by the alternating uses of agricultural and
livestock productive processes. These spaces were later occupied by
domestic settlements. Data from elds close to the habitat reveal the
existence of agricultural and cattle activity in the surroundings. This
activity takes place in a deforested landscape, especially in the case
of Vigaña. Here, pollen studies show little tree presence, limited to
the existence of chestnut trees, and the abundance of pasture areas,
in line with the potential of the mountain territory. Thus, although
we have not been able to record the presence of agriculture, its
existence cannot be completely ruled out.
The location of Villanueva at the bottom of a valley favors a
combination of agricultural and cattle activities taking place in a
deforested landscape, though to a lesser extent than Vigaña. A deep
rearrangement of agrarian spaces took place between the 8th and
11th centuries, which is associated to the construction of terraced
spaces that involved signicant earthworks to the shaping of
agricultural productive areas. This landscape rearrangement may
be related to the foundation of the abbey of Santo Adriano de Tuñón
in the 10th century, which became a local power-center that
controlled the productive processes of the communities living in
the valley (Fernández Fernández, 2012).
These dynamics resemble other processes recorded in different
areas of the northern Peninsula. Researches on these areas point to
the early medieval period as a time of major landscape trans-
formation, associated with the emergence of terraced areas be-
tween the 6th and 10th centuries, as shown in Galicia and the
Basque Country (Ballesteros Arias, 2010; Quirós Castillo, 2012). This
historical period marks a turning point, because habitat spaces
become stable with their associated areas of agricultural produc-
tion. This deep transformation takes place over an already highly
deforested landscape inherited from previous periods, whose
articulation remains, however, unknown. The data presented here
demonstrate the validity of the methodology put forward in our
research, which aims to deal with the study of villages that are
currently inhabited. Although the framework deployed remains
ultimately a landscape perspective, the present investigation shows
how we can also narrow down analysis to the micro scale, in order
to obtain a better understanding of the reality of early medieval
peasant communities.
This work was funded by the project La formación de los pai-
sajes del NW peninsular en la Edad MediaHAR2010-21950-CO3-03
(Plan Nacional IþDþi, Spanish Ministry of Economy and Com-
petitivity), and co-funded by the Dirección General de Política
Forestal del Principado de Asturias (Spain).
Appendix A. Supplementary data
Supplementary data related to this article can be found at http://
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archaeology in Asturias (Spain), Quaternary International (2014),
Table 1
Geochemical tables and stratigraphic units.
Table 2
Radiocarbon datings.
pH Carbonatos Mat. Org. %C N C/N ppm P ppm ca ppm K Interpretation
VI/SIE/UE2 6.10 0.00 4.87 2.79 0.29 9.60 50 4337 183 Early Modern agrarian soil
VI/SIE/UE3 6.60 0.00 3.12 1.81 0.21 8.60 26 4174 321 Early Modern agrarian soil
VI/SIE/UE8 6.80 0.00 2.01 1.18 0.13 9.40 21 3487 357 Early Medieval agrarian soil
VI/SIE/UE9 6.90 0.00 0.79 0.46 0.07 6.30 9 2664 369 No agrarian soil
VI/SIE/UE10 7.00 0.00 1.12 0.65 0.08 8.50 8 2778 353 Neolithic agrarian soil
MNS/UE1 7.80 13.20 1.74 1.01 0.12 8.60 32 10,037 148 Late modern agrarian soil (terrace)
MNS/UE4 7.70 3.88 1.19 0.69 0.08 8.80 40 4612 112 Early modern agrarian soil (terrace)
MNS/UE5 7.80 10.21 1.39 0.81 0.09 8.60 37 10,197 152 Early Medieval agrarian soil (terrace)
MNS/UE8 7.70 1.07 0.79 0.46 0.06 7.60 68 3943 103 No agrarian soil
MNS/UE9 7.40 0.00 0.40 0.24 0.06 4.30 42 2643 117 Natural soil
CDR/UE013 7.40 0.00 0.70 0.41 0.06 6.60 106 3701 146 Roman livestock use area
CDR/UE7 ee e 2.28 0.11 20.73 ee eInhabited area soil (domestic soil)
CDR/UE9 ee e 1.47 0.06 24.50 ee eInhabited area soil
CDR/UE10 ee e 1.07 0.05 21.40 ee eInhabited area soil (dark earth)
PMR/UE8 ee e 1.84 0.14 13.14 ee eInhabited area soil (dark earth)
PMR/UE9 ee e 0.91 0.10 9.10 ee eEarly medieval agrarian soil
PMR/UE10 ee e 0.70 0.05 14.00 ee eRoman livestock use area
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Major volume with contributions by leading archaeologists exploring Britain and Ireland's landscapes and settlements across the early to late medieval period. A monograph for the Medieval Settlement Research Group
In the course of the fifth century, the Roman farms and villas of lowland Britain were replaced by the new, distinctive settlements of Anglo-Saxon communities. This volume presents a major synthesis of the evidence, now rapidly growing, for such settlements from across England and throughout the Anglo-Saxon period. Its aim is to explore what this evidence reveals about the communities who lived in them and whose daily lives went almost wholly unrecorded. The book examines the appearance, 'life-cycles' and function of their buildings; the relationship of Anglo-Saxon settlements to the Romano-British landscape and to later medieval villages; the role of ritual in daily life; what distinguished 'rural' from 'urban'; and the relationship between farming regimes and settlement forms. A central theme throughout the book is the impact on rural producers of the rise of lordship and markets, and how this impact is reflected in the remains of their settlements.