Professor David Hinton (photo: University of Southampton website)

Thursday night was the first of this year’s Department of History and Archaeology Research Seminars. This is the second year we have had a full list of visiting speakers and to kick off, we had Southampton’s Emeritus Professor David Hinton.  

Introducing Professor Hinton

I introduced David’s work by focusing on his well-known expertise as a researcher on medieval metalwork, revealed for example in publications on early medieval Southampton and other sites (see below), but also as the only medieval archaeologist to have successfully attempted to survey the entire period from the fifth to the fifteenth century not once, but twice.As a student I used David’s superb, clear, yet necessarily and usefully dense, Archaeology, Economy and Society: England from the Fifth to the Fifteenth Century as an undergraduate student at Sheffield in the early 1990s. It is still on my student’s reading lists for first and second year students studying medieval archaeology and still has pride of place on my bookshelve. David’s second synthesis, superbly titled Gold and Gilt, Pots and Pins: Possessions and People in Medieval Britain takes a similar chronological span but a wider geographical scope to include the whole of the island of Britain. This second book, as the title suggests, has a more detailed focus upon portable artefacts of all kinds to weave a story of changing social, political, economic and religious life over a millennium.

These remain the only attempts by a medieval archaeologist to produce detailed, adept synthesis over such a long chronological span. Those that harp on about the importance of interdisciplinary research and how medieval archaeologists are poor at integrating their research into broader narratives and debates in medieval studies (me included) are advised to shut their archaeo-orifices until they have attempted what David has attempted.

While I’m at it, I should plug the Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of Anglo-Saxon England. It has some odd gaps, weird lapses and a couple of blooper chapters, but it is a genuine first real volume dedicated to Anglo-Saxon archaeology. Sorry Sir David Wilson whose 1976 book was a bold attempt for its day and sorry Professor Karkov whose Anglo-Saxon England: Basic Readings is still worth a look as a collection and for its individual components (including David’s bit). However, both these and all others are surpassed in every sense by the Oxford Handbook. Hamerow, Hinton and Crawford’s book is a new first-stop shop for anyone interested in Anglo-Saxon archaeology.

Of course, there are a range of other studies that David has conducted that deserve attention, including his work at the eleventh-century chapel at Bradford on Avon published in the Archaeological Journal. However, this isn’t the place to survey his entire career, simply to make the point that we were lucky to have the opportunity to get a lecture from such a knowledgable and accomplished medieval archaeologist.

franks casket
Franks Casket: Source; Wikimedia Commons

The Lecture

The packed lecture theatre included History and Archaeology staff, postgraduates and undergraduates, and they were given a feast of information about craftworking and craftpeople, focusing on the work of smiths in early medieval Britain, from the fifth to the eleventh century. David reviewed previous work, including his own publications, that outlined the shifting skills and organisation of metalworking following the end of Roman rule, focusing on his expertise in Anglo-Saxon England.

Sword hilt piece with inlaid intertwining pattern
Sword hilt piece with inlaid intertwining pattern (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He opened with the Staffordshire Hoard, David explained how the find had re-ignited interest early medieval metalworking. His lecture then embarked on the evidence for craft activities following the end of Roman rule, through the period of kingdom formation and Christian conversion and ended upon the tenth and eleventh centuries.Along the way, David drew upon his work on the unique smith’s grave at Tattershall Thorpe and explored the portrayal of the smith in literature and art, focusing on Weland the Smith and his appearance on the eighth-century Franks Casket. Deftly drawing together a range of previous studies and his own research, this lecture shows the potential of artefact-focused studies that reveal aspects of society, economy and worldview in early England.  For my part, I like the way David was cautious about imposing a transhistorical view of the shaman-smith onto the archaeological record. Instead, what one gained from David’s perspective is a rapidly shifting set of social, economic and religious contexts within which smiths operated at a range of social scales and operating with different kinds of mobility. Still, the smith as a socially and physically ‘liminal’ character came through in the archaeology, informing how we understand artefacts, graves and settlement contexts, from Carlton Colville to Faversham. He returned to the Staffordshire hoard at the end of the lecture, reflecting on whether this might indeed have been a collection of smith’s metalwork awaiting recycling, although he refrained from drawing too categorical a conclusion about why the hoard was deposited and by whom.

Future Lectures

The rest of the seminar series will be on Wednesday nights, next up: Duncan Sayer and Sam Dickinson of UCLan talking about infant death. Check out of the full line-up here.