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Deer, Land, Knives and Halls: Social Change in Early Medieval England

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 September 2010

Naomi Sykes*
Naomi Sykes, Department of Archaeology, University of Nottingham, Nottingham NG7 2RD, UK. E-mail:


It is well known that Anglo-Saxon England witnessed dramatic changes in landscape organization, economy and social structure but this paper aims to demonstrate how a more nuanced appreciation of these transformations can be gained by weaving together different (and superficially incompatible) strands of information. Here zooarchaeological data relating to the distribution and consumption of venison are combined with evidence from studies of weapons, landscape, Old English texts and anthropology. It is argued that, between the fifth and eleventh centuries, Anglo-Saxon society moved from being a culture centred on redistribution, in which the concept of cutting up and sharing permeated every facet of life, to one of closure and privatization, as the elite attempted to distance themselves from the lower classes.


Nous savons bien que l’Angleterre anglo-saxonne avait connu de frappants changements au niveau de l’organisation de son paysage, de son économie et de sa structure sociale, mais cette communication vise à montrer comment nous pouvons aboutir à une évaluation plus nuancée de ces transformations en entrelaçant différentes (et apparemment incompatibles) filières d’informations. Ici, des données zoo-archéologiques au sujet de la distribution et de la consommation de la venaison sont alliées à des indices tirés de l’étude des armes, du paysage, de textes en vieil anglais et de parallèles anthropologiques. On soutient que, entre le cinquième siècle et le onzième siècle, la société anglo-saxonne avait passé d’une culture axée sur la redistribution, dans laquelle le concept de la découpe et du partage imprégnait tous les aspects de la vie, à une culture de fermeture et de privatisation dans la mesure où l’élite essayait de se distancier des classes inférieures.


Es ist gut bekannt, daß das angelsächsische England von dramatischen Veränderungen der Landschafts-, Wirtschaft- und Sozialstruktur geprägt war. Diese Abhandlung hat zum Ziel zu zeigen, daß eine nuanziertere Einschätzung dieser Umgestaltungen erreicht werden kann, indem man verschiedene (und oberflächlich unvereinbare) Informationsquellen miteinander verbindet. In diesem Zusammenhang werden hier zooarchäologische Daten über die Verteilung und Konsumierung von Wildfleisch mit Studien von Waffen, Landschaft, altenglischen Schriften und Anthropologie kombiniert. Es wird argumentiert, daß zwischen dem fünften und elften Jahrhundert die angelsächsische Gesellschaft sich von einer Kultur distanzierte, die auf Aufteilung und gemeinsame Nutzung von Gütern in allen Lebensaspekten basierte, und sich stattdessen auf eine Gesellschaft zubewegte, die auf Abgrenzung und Privatisierung aufgebaut war und in der sich die Elite von den niedrigen Klassen distanzierte.

Copyright © The Society of Antiquaries of London 2010

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