The Viking Settlement of Northumbria: Large and Archaeologically Distinctive, or Invisible?
Updated: Nov 26
Contrasting views of the Scandinavian settlement of the Northumbrian 'Danelaw' have emerged in the historiography of the period. Archaeologically speaking, can we easily identify the presence of these 'Vikings', through culturally distinctive material culture? Or, alternatively, is the narrative of invasion and settlement put forward in contemporary sources far less clear in the archaeological record?
During the mid ninth century, documentary sources point towards a change in the ‘Viking' raiding parties that had harried England since the late eighth century. With the emergence of the Micel Here, a movement from raiding to settlement is evident. However, identifying and interpreting the archaeological record for this settlement has been a central point of contention in the study of England’s ‘Viking’ age. Blair (2018) has recently stressed the notable dearth of overtly Scandinavian archaeological remains. In this, he is building on the minimalist approach of Sawyer (1971), although this remains a product of the academic climate of the 1970s and has largely faded. In contrast, Richards and Haldenby (2018) have proposed a convincing advancement on the traditional maximalist approach, suggesting a broader identifiable archaeological ‘signature’ to Scandinavian settlement, emphasising mass movement and a substantial cultural rupture. Crucially, this argument has been made possible by a two-pronged academic evolution: a change in the way we find, centralise and compare archaeological remains (through metal-detecting and the Portable Antiquities Scheme - hereafter referred to as the PAS), and a refining of the theoretical understanding of ethnicity and culture. However, this simple dichotomy is an oversimplification, and instead the the notion of hybridity adapted from Post-Colonial theory must be introduced. This complicates the notion of clear ethnic identification of material cultures and points towards an inherent difficulty in using archaeological evidence to infer scale - we have little evidence for who used, manipulated and expressed new hybrid identities.
Blair’s central thesis is that ‘Viking’ era settlements are largely archaeologically invisible. Substantial evidence for continuity at many rural sites from the seventh to the eleventh century has been suggested, at odds with the notion of large-scale Scandinavian-led cultural change (Blair 2018, 282). Wharram Percy (Yorkshire) is perhaps the prime example, abandoned in the early modern period and thus easily excavated, and has been interpreted as representing ‘business as usual’ across the period of ‘Viking’ invasion (Richards and Haldeby 2018, 327). The settlement at Catholme (Staffordshire) is equally novel in the completeness of its excavation, and no major changes are evident in its overall layout throughout its development (Losco-Bradley, Kinsley and Brown 2002, 128). Evidence at the settlement of Goltho (Lincolnshire) is more complex; Beresford underplays variation in the structural form of some of the buildings to focus instead of a lack of obvious destruction and minimal impact to the layout over time (Beresford 1987, 124). Certainly, in these examples, there is no great break in continuity that we might have expected to find if the Scandinavian settlement had left a clear archaeological footprint.
Nor is it easy to identify Scandinavian style buildings among English settlement archaeology. The weakness of looking for diagnostically ‘Scandinavian’ forms is discussed below, but Richards points towards a traditional focus on bow-sided structures and longhouses as evidence for ‘Viking’ occupation (Richards 2000, 296). Notably, the ‘halls’ of the ‘Vikings’, growing in size over time in the Scandinavian homeland, are missing from England (Blair 2018, 286). This is remarkable, given the presence of more obviously Scandinavian buildings in settled areas of Scotland and the Isle of Man (Richards 2000, 296). In England there is only one truly convincing surviving example, found at Kentmere in Cumbria, which Blair explains as being tied closely to the cultural unit of the Irish Sea (Blair 2018, 283). Other attempts to draw parallels have been speculative and unconvincing. Building structures at the settlement at Simy Folds (Co. Durham), for example, has been suggested to mirror Scandinavian examples (Richards 1987, 25). Goltho seems to illustrate the emergence of a ‘different structural tradition’ in around the mid tenth century (Beresford 1987, 124), and the bow-shaped constructions of these has been (with retrospect, rather lazily) interpreted as reminiscent of similar examples in Jutland (Richards 2000, 301). Richards has argued, however, that these structural features result more from environmental adaption than any cultural impact (Richards 2011, 50). Indeed, new settlement forms and locations emerge as frequently outside the Danelaw as in it (Richards 2000, 302). So, too, is a Scandinavian footprint largely architecturally invisible in an urban context; the ‘five boroughs’ attested in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle (hereafter ASC) as occupied by the Scandinavians are ‘indistinguishable from [...] Anglo-Saxon burhs’ (Richards 2011, 52). In light of this evidence of settlement layout and morphology, the argument for a lack of clear ‘signature’ to the settlement seems initially convincing.
Burial evidence seems superficially to support this interpretation of invisibility, and the relative dearth of overtly ‘Scandinavian-style’ burials has often been stressed. The cemetery at Heath Wood (Derbyshire) is the notable exception. Here, in relative close proximity to the ‘Viking’ camp at Repton (Derbyshire), a collection of (probably) 59 barrows cover cremation burials (Richards et al 1995, 58). Richards argues strongly for its pagan nature, focusing on cremation as a rite at odds with Christian liturgy (Richards 2004, 65). Certainly, Scandinavian sources frequently highlight cremation; Sturluson’s Heimskringla references that ‘all the dead were to be burned on a pyre together with their possessions’ (Richards et al. 2004, 96). Although Hadley has made clear that cremation is on occasion evident in non-Scandinavian contexts after the Conversion (Hadley 2002a, 223), consensus seems to agree that Heath Wood is the best example of an ‘intrusive Scandinavian cemetery’ (Halsall 2000, 263). The inclusion of nails in these burials has been suggested as a symbolic reference to ship-burial, a rite widely attested to in the Scandinavian world found at Old Uppsala in Sweden and in the accounts of Ibn Fadlan (Richards 2004, 64). It is notable, however, that by the later re-examination of Heath Wood this tentative suggestion had been dropped by the excavators (Richards et al. 2004, 90).
Graves with deposited goods are often simplistically identified as ‘Viking’. The weakness of this approach is discussed below, but graves certainly exist with uniquely Scandinavian artefact types, especially across Cumbria. A notable example is the female burial at Adwick-le-Street (Yorkshire), accompanied most obviously by a pair of ‘tortoise’ brooches in a traditional Scandinavian style, illustrated in Figure 1 (Speed and Rogers 2004, 64). This uniquely ‘Viking’ oval brooch form has been found also at Claughton Hall (Lancashire) and Bedale (Yorkshire) (Halsall 2000, 268). Repton (Derbyshire), a winter camp identified in the ASC, is also notable. The site holds a mass grave mausoleum of hundreds of individuals, but the incomplete nature of the skeletons within make it difficult to identify the context of the dead: it is possible that they are Scandinavians (Richards 2002, 166-7). Grave 511 is, however, relatively unambiguous: a Thor’s hammer pendant is matched by a jackdaw bone and boar’s tusk, interpreted as symbols of Odin and Freya (Richards 2012, 369). However, even with the broadest definition of ‘Scandinavian’ attributes, it is remarkable that the corpus is limited in size with the majority representing single graves only (Richards 2002, 156).
This absence of evidence for the Scandinavian settlement of Northumbria has been variously explored and is far from new. Sawyer, building on documentary sources as a historian, had stressed a minimal scale. Indeed, appreciating the intellectual climate of his time, this seems unsurprising as previous scholarship had relied uncritically on documentary evidence. The ASC recounts, for example, that Halfdan ‘divided up the land of Northumbria; and they were ploughing and providing for themselves’, a vague statement that gives no real information on the density of settlement (Swanton 2000, 74). For the year AD851, the ASC recounts that ‘three-and-a half hundred ships came into the mouth of the Thames’ (Ibid., 65), a number Sawyer discards as little more than hyperbole (Sawyer 1971, 124-5). So, too, did he question the scale of the Micel Here and the extent to which ‘army’ is a valuable translation, artificially inflating our understanding of scale (Ibid., 123). Certainly, some archaeological evidence appears to support this claim: the D-Shaped enclosure at the camp at Repton measures a pitiful 0.4 hectares (Richards and Haldenby 2018, 324). For Sawyer, then, all evidence points towards a small-scale invasion. Blair, however, is notably more reserved in his conclusion. He points towards a much broader set of ‘invisible decades’ from the late ninth to the early tenth century, suggesting an overall remarkable lack of evidence makes drawing a strong distinction between English and Scandinavian structural forms impractical (Blair 2018, 306-8). In its thus largely an invisibility, rather than necessarily an absence, that Blair’s argument stresses.
FIGURE 1 - ‘Tortoise’/ oval brooches from the female burial at Adwick-le-Street (Speed and Rogers 2004, 64).
It is striking that an interpretation of absence stands in contrast with an extensive body of non- archaeological evidence. Place-name evidence has long been suggested to point towards an extensive ‘Viking’ settlement. Smith’s early mapping of Old Norse -by and -thorpe suffixes (illustrated in Figure 2) corresponds almost perfectly to the traditionally understood boundaries of the Danelaw and has subsequently been interpreted as straightforward evidence of a large- scale settlement (Abrams and Parsons 2004, 382). Sawyer was heavily critical of the use of place-names: drawn largely from the Domesday Book, they might equally represent evidence from the invasion of Cnut in 1016 (Richards and Haldenby 2018, 322-3). However, Abrams and Parson have recently challenged this viewpoint, suggesting the frequency of -by suffix names reflect a genuine ‘relatively large number of settlers’ (Abrams and Parson 2004, 422). Of substantial note is the frequency of Old Norse name elements in Lincolnshire field-names, implying a a substantial (non elite) Old Norse speaking population and subsequently a large- scale settlement (Ibid., 402). It seems, then, that Sawyer was too quick to disregard place-name evidence entirely. Beyond this, Kershaw and Røyrvik have recently reinterpreted the findings of the People of the British Isles project: the argument for no clear genetic evidence for a large-scale Danish settlement has been replaced by suggestions of a much stronger genetic contribution (Kershaw and Røyrvik 2016, 1670). The difficulties and inaccuracies of interpreting genetic data are, however, widely acknowledged (Richards and Haldenby 2018, 323-4). The linguistic evidence also points towards a substantial impact of the settlement but remains chronologically imprecise. Dance suggests an extensive linguistic exchange far beyond simple ‘needs-based borrowing’ (Dance 2012, 1727), while the recent Gersum Project has charted the long-term adoption a Scandinavian lexicon into Middle English (The Gersum Project 2020). This all stands in stark contrast to an argument of absence drawn from the archaeological record, and a subsequent need to re-evaluate the evidence is striking. Leading this re-evaluation is a two-part academic evolution that begins to evolve an understanding of a supposed absence of archaeological evidence: a revolution in the practice of archaeology and an evolution in the understanding of culture.
FIGURE 2 - Smith’s (now outdated and over simplistic) map of Scandinavian parish names which, when compared to the marked boundaries of the Danelaw, shows an obvious correlation with areas supposedly occupied by Scandinavian settlers (Abrams and Parsons 2004, 383).
The first of these is clear. It is telling that a great deal of support for a ‘minimalist’ view is drawn from traditional excavation evidence in both funerary and settlement archaeology. Instead, small finds have come to play an increasing role in modern archaeology. An increased focus on metal- detecting is evident, and a subsequent centralisation of these data within the PAS database has lead to a broader holistic approach. Crucially, this is a luxury that had been unavailable to Sawyer and the early ‘minimalists’. Metal-detected evidence points towards a two-fold conclusion: the pool of Scandinavian evidence is larger than previously assumed, and that it also has a distinctive and identifiable archaeological ‘footprint’ than can be traced.
In the simplest sense, metal-detecting has facilitated the identification of more artefacts associated with the ‘Vikings’. Cumwhitton (Cumbria), a cemetery with Scandinavian grave- goods, was located in 2004 only as the result of metal-detector work (Patterson 2017, 259). More significantly, Kershaw has collated a substantial corpus of Scandinavian style brooches identified across England, decorated in identifiable Borre and Jelling styles (Kershaw 2009, 297). These are predominantly female dress accessories, significantly pointing towards a settlement that included more than simply fighting men, perhaps a ‘migration of family groups’ (Kershaw and Røyrvik 2016, 1677). This wealth of new evidence certainly stands in sharp contrast to the absence of examples found in funerary contexts: Figure 3 maps the distribution (although a concentration in eastern England is not relevant here). The role of metal- detecting in expanding this pool of evidence must not be understated; Kershaw suggests traditional modes of excavation contribute only around nine percent of her studied examples (Kershaw 2009, 297).
Concentration of ‘Viking’ artefacts point towards areas of occupation where little obvious architecture archaeology, or no budget to fully excavate, has previously hidden them. Although Torksey (Lincolnshire) lies outside the area of investigation in Northumbria, it provides the best excavated example of a ‘Viking’ camp and is therefore worth noting. Torksey is mentioned in ASC as ‘winter-quarters’ for the Scandinavian army (Swanton 2000, 72) but it is only through the ability to plot the concentration of metalwork loss that it's actual location has been identified (Hadley and Richards 2016, 26). Metal-detected finds on the site illustrate an impressive scale: early medieval finds are in the thousands (Ibid., 29). Artefact distribution covers 55 hectares, consistent with a force of potentially 5000 soldiers, and in direct opposition to Sawyer’s reading of the documentary sources (Richards and Haldenby 2018, 325). Similarities in the artefact ensemble are found at Aldwark (Yorkshire) which, although unattested as a camp in documentary sources, has subsequently been identified not only as ‘Scandinavian’ but associated with the movements of the ‘Viking’ army in 874-5 (Hadley and Richards 2016, 26-7).
FIGURE 3 - A map of the distribution of imported Scandinavian metalwork (alongside evidence for a bullion-weight economy) identified primarily through metal-detecting and the PAS (Kershaw and Røyrvik 2016, 1677).
From this, Richards and Haldenby suggest an identifiable material cultural ‘footprint’ for the Scandinavian presence. By comparing artefact collections from Torksey and Aldwark, and compiling typologies with the aid of the PAS, they argue that ensembles of certain items point clearly towards the presence of Scandinavian settlers. Figure 4 illustrates the twenty seven categories of items suggested as diagnostic of a Scandinavian presence. Scandinavian style metalwork items are relevant here, but of more significance are those items that point towards the functioning of a bullion-weight economy (eg. lead weights, hack-silver and coins outside their normal area of circulation) (Ibid., 343). Significantly, they draw a distinction between the assemblages of periods of camping by the raiding army and later settlement. This stems from evidence at Cottam B (Yorkshire), where variation in object types points towards distinct stages of occupation. Here, simple looting is symbolised by the tools of ‘metalwork processing’: hack- silver and dirhams are particularly relevant, and match the assemblage found at Torksey (Ibid., 345). Alternatively ‘domestic’ item (eg. buckles and brooches), in association with geophysical survey evidence for settlement, point towards longer-term habitation (Ibid., 326). Stamford Bridge 2 (Yorkshire) provides an assemblage similar to the stage of later occupation at Cottam B, with over 50 Anglo-Scandinavian finds, and seems to represent a later period of permanent settlement (Ibid., 334-5). Distribution patterns also vary and highlight difference; at Cottam B later domestic finds are found over a much smaller area, and in a more substantial concentration (Haldenby and Richards 2016). By utilising the PAS and the metal-detector finds, then, we are left with an understanding of the distinctive (notably plural) ‘signatures’ of the Scandinavians.
A clear ‘footprint’ for longer term occupation also allows areas of notable absence to be easily identified and challenges the notion of settlement continuity. Focusing on the sub-kingdom of Deira, Richards and Haldenby identify seventeen sites occupied during the Mid-Saxon period, largely through finds registered in the PAS - of these, only four illustrate the previously identified material assemblages consistent with long-term Scandinavian occupation (Richards and Haldenby 2018, 329). The suggestion that settlement continued unchanged by the ‘Viking’ invasion, put forward by supposed continuity in settlement evidence, is clearly outdated. Instead, evidence now seems to point towards a substantial rupture in material culture, at a wide number of sites.
FIGURE 4 - An illustration of the twenty seven categories of artefacts employed by Richards and Haldenby as evidence a clear ‘signature’ for Scandinavian/ Anglo-Scandinavian presence (Richards and Haldenby 2018, 339).
Consistently, then, the ability to collect and compile a large quantity of diffuse archaeological evidence has begun to challenge the notion of ‘invisibility’ to the Scandinavian settlement. This has become possible only through the evolution in the way we undertake archaeology, namely the rise in metal-detecting and the birth of the PAS. Simply, more can be found. An ability to compare and contrast between sites leads Richards and Haldenby to identify a distinctive archaeological ‘signature’ to the settlement, through which further undocumented sites might be identified. Significantly, we might distinguish even between periods of early occupation and looting at army camps and subsequent more permanent settlement.
The second great challenge to the notion of ‘invisibility’ in the Northumbrian archaeological record is a complication of the idea that material culture corresponds completely with ethnicity. Specifically, the notion of a simple material dichotomy between ‘Scandinavian’ and ‘Anglo- Saxon’ is no longer viable. Some early cultural-historical archaeologists clung too strongly to a clear distinction between the material cultures of different ethnicities: Kossinna had suggested that ‘sharply defined archaeological culture areas correspond unquestionably with the areas of particular peoples or tribes’ (Curta 2007, 161). In reality, ‘it is by no means clear that Danish or English ways of doing things were either as internally consistent or as easily distinguishable from one another as is sometimes supposed’, and by extension identifying the ‘Viking’ become more complex (Trafford 2000, 20).
This is played out, in microcosm, by the settlement evidence. Richards suggests that ‘it is difficult to recognise anything specifically Viking about the Viking Age buildings’ he examines (Richards 2000, 295).The excavation at Simy Folds ultimately concluded that a ‘common tradition’ of construction likely existed between Norse and Anglo-Saxon buildings, making any distinction between ethnicity difficult (Richards 1987, 25). However, it is burial evidence that proves the point most succinctly. The examination of Heath Wood above highlights the two simplistic characteristics by which ‘Viking’ burials have traditionally been deduced: the presence of grave-goods, and notable ‘pagan’ rites to contrast with Christian church burial. It is clear that these two characteristics are a dramatic over-simplification. Instead, it it is crucial to acknowledge burial as an act of theatre. Grave-goods or burial rites are not to be interpreted as simple passive reflections of religion, but as a result of a contemporary ‘great competition for power’ (Hadley 2016, 16).
The evidence for burial in the Scandinavian homeland is not straightforward enough to identify a set of diagnostically ‘Viking’ burial rites that could be sought for in England: variation in funerary architecture, rites and grave-goods make suggesting a standard ‘footprint’ impossible ( Halsall 2000, 262). Clearly, the most extreme examples are distinctive: Heath Wood is unique, and there is little debate over its Scandinavian nature. But even here there is no standardisation; cremation rites appear to occur both in-situ at the mound location, and externally in previous ritual burning (Richards et al 2002, 89). Most persistently, and unconvincingly, the presence of grave-goods is argued to denote a pagan ‘Viking’ burial, in contrast to a Christian unaccompanied grave. Morris’ over-simplistic interpretation of the grave at Wensley churchyard (Yorkshire) as ‘Viking’, accompanied only by an Anglo-Saxon sword, is a prime example of this (Halsall 2000, 264). Halsall has made clear that a simple correlation between the presence of grave-goods and a Scandinavian identity is no longer tenable, pointing towards the lack of documentary evidence for the explicit banning of grave deposits (Ibid., 265). Instead, being ‘Danish’ was ‘socially and culturally constructed’ (Hadley 2002b, 46). Halsall adopts this line in assessing the furnished burials in Cumbria, foregoing a religious interpretation and suggesting they are the result of a period of local tension and social change (Halsall 2000, 271). The borrowing of ‘Scandinavian’ burial elements might thus be seen as an attempt to capitalise on networks of power and expressions of authority. Furnished graves in Northumbrian can thus not be taken as simple evidence for the presence of ‘Vikings’ themselves.
Nor is the opposite true, that all unfurnished burials necessarily represent native Anglo-Saxons. Indeed, a broad ‘rapid assimilation of Scandinavian immigrants to Anglo-Saxon cultural norms’ has been long suggested (Blair 2018, 283). This is particularly pressing in regard to funerary evidence, where re-evaluation would seem to demonstrate that ‘some of those buried without any notable Scandinavian material culture may still have had Scandinavia origins’ (Richards and Haldenby 2018, 324). By undertaking isotopic analysis on the unfurnished graves at Masham and Coppergate, Buckberry et al. suggest possible Scandinavian origins (although they are acutely aware of the drawback to their approach) (Buckberry et al. 2014, 429-30). It is possible that ‘Vikings’ deliberately adapted to domestic systems of expressing power to legitimise themselves: ideas of hasty conversion to Christianity, and thus culturally indistinct burial rites, have proved remarkably persistent, if ultimately less convincing (Paterson 2017, 259). Certainly, the ASC attests to the conversion of Guthrum in AD878, in the process of his peace with Alfred (Swanton 2000, 76).
Assimilation has also been used to challenge the suggestion that burials within concentrated churchyards are straightforwardly Christian Anglo-Saxons. As above, burial on holy ground might simply reflect an adoption of Christian tropes by settled Scandinavians. Furthermore, evidence from Southampton questions the use of identifying the ‘churchyard’ for our period at all; excavation heavily suggests that it is not until the 11th century, well after the establishment of the Danelaw and the initial Scandinavian settlement, that centralised burial around the St Mary’s church occurs (Cherryson 2010, 67). Equally, burial away from the site of a church is a poor reflection of an absence of Christian doctrinal coverage; increasingly, minsters are being appreciated as dispersed sites, covering land away from a single site (Ibid., 64). Seen thus, the ability to distinguish archaeologically between ‘Scandinavian’ and ‘Anglo-Saxon’ is over- simplistic, and subsequently the arguments for absence are equally unconvincing. Social identity, and material culture through which it is performed, is an ostentatious act. Deliberate attempts to manipulate identities to capitalise on power solidify the notion that the archaeological record cannot be easily ascribed to ethnic groups.
So stands the well-established debate: invisibility versus its critics. However, this simple dichotomy is unproductive in maintaining the unique ethnic identities of ‘Anglo-Saxon’ and ‘Scandinavian’. Change is explained as simple acculturation: one adopts the material culture of another. In reality, ‘in England, Scandinavian culture rarely exists in an undiluted form’ and the majority of archaeological evidence is instead of a novel ‘Anglo-Scandinavian’ nature (Richards 2000, 302). This phrase is frequently applied loosely throughout the scholarly literature but points explicitly towards the the notion of hybridisation. This had been stressed by the Post- Colonialists, especially Bhabha, and acknowledges the creation of new and distinct cultural identities through the merging of cultures in a colonial context (Gosden 2012, 241). In contrast to Childe’s notion of the ‘aquatic’ flow of material cultural traits between areas, supported by the cultural-historical archaeologists, acknowledging novelty rejects the simplistic division between ‘Anglo-Saxon’ and ‘Scandinavian’ material culture (Rice 1985, 128).
In England evidence for hybridity is widespread: Lewis-Simpson has supported the idea that personal names in the Danelaw reflect a process of hybridisation (Lewis-Simpson 2011). However, it is archaeologically that it is clearest, particularly with the emergence of new forms of artefacts. The Norse Bells found at Cottam B are a prime example: none have been found in Scandinavian, and their presence exclusively in Scandinavian colonies implies a new identity (Richards 2000, 305). Their frequency at Cottam B suggests a settlement that in itself represents an ‘Anglo-Scandinavian’ model (Richards 2000, 306). Furthermore, Kershaw has made clear the emergence of Anglo-Scandinavian style dress ornaments and their possible connotations in regard to appearing ‘Scandinavian’ (Kershaw 2013, 215). Finally, the ‘hogback’ stonework might be an equal example of this, and is unattested in the rest of the Scandinavian world (Richards 2000, 306).
This evidence for hybridity over assimilation is evident also in the ritual of burial archaeology. Hadley’s argument for a rapid adoption of Christian tropes of burial by the Scandinavians as an explanation for their archaeological ‘invisibility’ seems impractical (Richards et al 2004, 97). Certainly, the process of nominal conversion should not be confused with the complex genuine process of ‘Christianisation’, but it still represents a simple process of acculturation (Buckberry et al. 2014, 414). Instead, Richards makes clear that ‘rather than searching for burial-types that can be matched in Scandinavia we should therefore be looking for the creation of new cultural identities’ (emphasis my own) (Richards 2002, 157). These, in regard to the previous rejection of a simple dichotomy between Christian and pagan burial rites, he finds in the sheer variation of burial rites evident in late Anglo-Saxon England (Ibid., 162). A prime example of this is the variation found under York minster, with the introduction of beds of charcoal and stone slabs (Ibid., 163).
This material cultural evidence of a new hybrid identity is doubly significant, and here an important distinction between impact and scale must be acknowledged. In the first case, this hybridity supports the notion that the cultural impact of the Scandinavian settlement is clearly much larger than the purely ‘Scandinavian’ elements that can be identified. We need not look exclusively for parallels in the Scandinavian mainland, like the oval ‘tortoise’ brooches at Aldwick-le-Street, to suggest a ‘Viking’ impact. In this sense the argument for absence is further undone. Secondly, however, the scale of the settlement becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish, especially from an archaeological perspective. By definition, both the coloniser and colonised participate in the hybrid new material culture. Ascribing an original ethnic identity to those using these artefacts is therefore over-simplistic.
It is perfectly possible in some cases that Anglo-Scandinavian material culture simply reflects Anglicised Scandinavians. At Cottam B, with evidence for settlement shift and a previous army presence, this might be the case. Alternatively, however, we might frame the use of this new hybrid culture as a deliberate tool by native Anglo-Saxons. Indeed, Bhaba conceptualises hybridity as a means ‘of negotiating and resisting colonial power structures’ by subaltern groups (Harris and Cipolla 2017, 178). Kershaw, for example, sees Anglo-Scandinavian brooches as revealing ‘a desire among the local inhabitants to appropriate a Scandinavian appearance’ (Kershaw 2013, 216). Lang identifies hogbacks as ‘colonial monuments’, and they seem similarly to have been employed to illustrate a sense of ‘Scandinavian-ness’, but within an Anglo-Saxon context (Lang 1984). Just as being ‘Viking’ could be manipulated for ‘strategies of legitimation and negotiation’, so too might the new hybridised identity (Richards 2002, 157). With only a new proclaimed identity, original ethnicity is unclear. (Richards 2000, 303).
The presence of Anglo-Scandinavian material culture is, therefore, no clear expression that those who used it ‘came from Scandinavia or would even have thought of themselves as Scandinavian’ (Richards 2016, 269). Richards and Haldenby are perhaps guilty of overly conflating Anglo-Scandinavian with the simple presence of Scandinavians. If they acknowledge the hybridity of culture at the later stage of occupation at Cottam B as ‘Anglo-Scandinavian (Hadley and Richards 2016), their twenty seven categories of items draw no real distinction between explicitly Anglo-Scandinavian items (eg. the Norse bells) and overtly Scandinavian items (group 5 strap ends) (Richards and Haldenby 2018, 337). Archaeological evidence thus points often less towards the scale of the ‘Viking’ settlement and more towards the hybrid result.
In conclusion, two contrasting interpretations of the archaeological record of the settlement of Scandinavians in Northumbria have been suggested. Notably, they build on broadly different kinds of evidence. A notion of ‘invisibility’ is remarkably persistent in regard to settlement archaeology and a simplistic understanding of burial evidence: this has been taken up recently by Blair. However, Blair is right to highlight the general lack of settlement evidence for the period, making absence of evidence not exclusive to the Scandinavians, and contrasting Sawyer’s outdated ‘minimalist’ viewpoint. However, even Blair’s argument of absence becomes unviable when integrated with a two-part evolution in the way we undertake and understand archaeology. The role of metal-detectorists and the PAS has been crucial in collecting and compiling a much broader pool of evidence than traditional excavations. This new evidence has pointed to a remarkably similarity at many sites, allowing Richards and Haldenby to suggest distinctive archaeological ‘footprints’ for both early raiding camps and later permanent settlement, and to identify Scandinavian presence at previously unknown sites. Furthermore, complications to the simple classifications of ethnicity based on material culture has led to criticism of the process of identifying evidence as ‘Viking’. Instead, the presentation of ethnic identity is understood to be a complex act of theatre and manipulation. In this light, an absence of ‘obviously’ Viking burials is less remarkable. However, we must not be content with this simple argument of absence versus clarity of archaeological ‘footprint’. Instead, we must begin to integrate the theory of the Post-Colonialist, and the notion of hybridity. A great deal of material evidence is not simply difficult to distinguish between cultural groups, but actively novel. Archaeology is poorly placed to pass judgement on the scale of the settlement, as these items might equally have been employed by Anglo-Saxons in order to project images of power or stability as by Scandinavian settlers. Although its impact might be deduced as widespread from the frequency and distribution of Anglo-Scandinavian artefacts, we cannot meaningfully distinguish the contexts in which these artefacts were used, and the original ethnicities of those who used them.
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