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Britain in the Middle Ages: An…

Britain in the Middle Ages: An Archaeological History

by Francis Pryor

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    Terry Jones' Medieval Lives by Terry Jones (avelynwex)
    avelynwex: Terry Jones has interesting insight into societal roles in Medieval England. The book is a nice light read but informative (especially the illustrated edition.) The DVD version is also an interesting watch, with just a hint of Monty Python flair too.

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For those of us who love exploring the dirty details of archaeological evidence from the comfort of our easy chairs, this will be a book for you. Early into this book it is quite apparent that the author is an accomplished archaeologist and very much in-tune with the small but significant details that can be unravelled from a good dig. Overall, I think I learned as much about the mechanics and aims of a modern dig as I did about the era and the island. Pryor is clearly trying to paint a different picture of household British life in the “dark ages” than that which modern media generally portrays, and he succeeds.

This book studies 900 years of English history, covering some major sub-topics including: the difference between “wet” and “dry” digs, construction and carpentry techniques, the evolution of population dispersal in both rural and urban settings, the effects of the plague on social and industrial levels, farming techniques, and many others.

I found it to be a slow, weedy read in the first half or so of the book—yet intrigued enough to continue. I was easily distracted by the author’s direct narrations to the reader; often including tirades and criticisms of different archaeological approaches. However, I can say the book did pick up momentum quite nicely throughout the middle and near the end of the book as I became accustomed to Pryor’s authorial idiosyncrasies.

Despite these few shortcomings, I was delighted by the numerous “aha!!!” moments I had throughout, where Pryor’s conclusions were very enlightening. This is one of those reference books where I found myself with pencil in hand on many occasions underlining (gasp!) some really neat tidbits of info that would surface as the cream of the discussion. It’s now fully dog-eared as well.

All in all, it was a thoroughly straight-forward non-fiction, with good insight despite the sometimes serpentine analysis provided by the author. It’s not what I would consider a light read, or an “overview” oriented reference. But if you’re in the mood for a good saturation of details on some very specific topic areas, I do recommend giving this one a look over. (HarperCollins, 2007)

Browse-able version here: http://browseinside.harpercollins.ca/index.aspx?isbn13=9780007203628

Review by Lady Avelyn Wexcombe (SCA)

PS - Pryor can be spotted as one of the specialists on the BBC show "Time Team". Kind of neat... ( )
  avelynwex | Jul 14, 2011 |
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This book is dedicated to the memory of DR CHRIS SALISBURY friend, doctor and archaeologist
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I found the archaeological exploration involved in the writing of my previous book, Britain A D, so fascinating that I decided I had to carry the story forward in time.
Good archaeology is all about having to make uncomfortable choices.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0007203624, Paperback)

As in ‘Britain B.C.’ and ‘Britain A.D.’ (also accompanied by Channel 4 series), eminent archaeologist Francis Pryor challenges familiar historical views of the Middle Ages by examining fresh evidence from the ground.

The term 'Middle Ages' suggests a time between two other ages: a period when nothing much happened. In his radical reassessment, Francis Pryor shows that this is very far from the truth, and that the Middle Ages (approximately 800-1550) were actually the time when the modern world was born. This was when Britain moved from Late Antiquity into a world we can recognize as more or less familiar: roads and parishes became fixed; familiar institutions, such as the church and local government, came into being; industry became truly industrial; and international trade was now a routine process.

Archaeology shows that the Middle Ages were far from static. Based on everyday, often humdrum evidence, it demonstrates that the later agricultural and industrial revolutions were not that unexpected, given what we now know of the later medieval period. Similarly, the explosion of British maritime power in the late 1700s had roots in the 15th century.

The book stresses continuous development at the expense of ‘revolution', though the Black Death (1348), which killed a third of the population, did have a profound effect in loosening the grip of the feudal system. Labour became scarce and workers gained power; land became more available and the move to modern farming began.

The Middle Ages can now be seen in a fresh light as an era of great inventiveness, as the author examines such topics as 'upward mobility'; the power of the Church; the role of the Guilds as precursors of trade unions; the transport infrastructure of roads, bridges and shipbuilders; and the increase in iron production.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:20 -0400)

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"With technical advancements including the widespread use of metal-detectors and a recent increase in the number of archaeological excavations nationwide, Britain in the Middle Ages draws on a depth of knowledge and research to dispel the common misconception of the 'Dark Ages' as an era characterized by chaos and violence. Redefining everything from the role of the Vikings - conventionally depicted as rapists and pillagers but here shown to have played a crucial role in extending existing trade routes - to the supposed rigidity of the feudal system - now revealed to have existed in a state of considerable flux - Britain in the Middle Ages demolishes many of the schoolroom myths about medieval Britain. Far from a period of stasis, Francis Pryor demonstrates that the Middle Ages, particularly the two centuries following the Black Death epidemic of 1348, were a time of diversity, transition and growth." "Britain and the Middle Ages takes readers on a tour of a landscape at once familiar and foreign, from the Middle Saxon town of Lundenwic that proves the nation's capital has been a major trading port for 1,400 years, to excavations at Winchester showing that many early towns were planned and laid out in Saxon times by the famous King Alfred. In so doing, Francis Pryor advances a convincing argument for a new definition of the Middle Ages as the era which gave birth to the modern world."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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