On 26 August 2020, the culmination of a year of planning resulted in a successful and far-reaching conference session exploring boundaries, frontiers and borderlands acros Europe. Co-organised by Liam Delaney, Astrid Tummuscheit, Howard Williams and Frauke Witte, this was session 245 at the 26th (virtual) annual meeting of the European Association for Archaeologists (#s245, #EAA2020virtual) explored Establishing Boundaries: Linear Earthworks, Frontiers and Borderlands in Early Medieval Europe.

Ironic and sad though it is that this topic, at a conference with the special theme of Networking, takes place whilst the UK is leaving the EU, archaeologists continue, and archaeology continues, to operate in dialogue across Europe. The conference showed the ability of the Offa’s Dyke Collaboratory to address European, and indeed global, archaeological themes linked to frontiers and borderlands past and present, their history, archaeology and heritage.

The sesssion attracted a significant audience of c. 34 archaeologists. We really appreciate the EAA as a venue, but also for the positive, substantial and engaged audience and also the fabulous digital support! Thanks to all the speakers and remember that publication in the Offa’s Dyke Journal is open to any of those that presented and those who had planned to speak but circumstances prevented them. Likewise, the audience and others are welcome to pitch proposals for notes and articles.

ESTABLISHING BOUNDARIES: LINEAR EARTHWORKS, FRONTIERS AND BORDERLANDS IN EARLY MEDIEVAL EUROPE Theme: 2. From Limes to regions: the archaeology of borders, connections and roads

Organisers: Delaney, Liam (University of Chester) – Tummuscheit, Astrid (Archäologisches Landesamt Schleswig-Holstein) – Wil- liams, Howard (University of Chester) – Witte, Frauke (Museum Soenderjylland) In stark contrast to the sustained investigation of the Roman Empire’s frontier zones, early medieval linear earthworks (including those called ‘ramparts’, ‘dykes’ and ‘walls’) have been repeatedly marginalized in archaeological research. Even within investigations of early medieval territorial creation and organization, and further still for those earthworks of a monumental scale, such as Offa’s Dyke, Wat’s Dyke, Wansdyke and the Danevirke, their date, function and significance remain poorly understood. Yet these earth-works may have operated as the spines of early medieval frontiers and borderlands and their creation had ideological, political, social and economic dimensions. Their creation led, in some instances, to the establishment of the complex networks of surveillance and control, land divisions and territory formation which set the groundwork for the transformation of medieval communities and kingdoms. Even today, early medieval linear earthworks are deployed in political and cultural debates and discourses on migrations, ethnicity, frontiers and nationhood. This MERC sponsored session aims to promote new research on early medieval frontier landscapes, including monumental linears, their landscape settings, afterlives and legacies, including their heritage management and interpretation. The session organisers in-vite contributions to address themes relating to linear earthworks and medieval frontiers and borderlands including: (i) their relation to post-Roman territorial regions; (ii) how they were components of frontier networks; (iii) the dating and biographies of these linear works; (iv) the role they played in the emergence and collapse of communities and kingdoms, (v) their role in interactions between different societies; (vi) what elements of broader ideological, political, cultural and economic geographies in the early medieval peri-od they represent; (vi) their contemporary role in modern cultural identity; (vii) the impact of heritage conservation, management and interpretation on these features; (viii) how they are viewed in contemporary media and popular culture.


Williams, Howard (University of Chester)

Can we consider dykes as ‘deeds’: memorable and efficacious for their creation and placement more than their longevity of use? This paper presents a new framework for interpreting the mnemonics of dyke-building in early medieval Europe, focusing on the process of rampart construction, their appropriation of striking landmarks and ancient monuments, and strategies of place-naming. Together, this evidence contests dykes as exclusively royal projects whose ideological motives were focused on promoting the authority, prestige and fame their creators. Instead, I suggest that linear earthworks fostered and transformed social memories in other fashions. This approach is explored in relation to Offa’s Dyke, Wat’s Dyke and in relation to other smaller-scale linear earth-works in the Anglo-Welsh borderlands and elsewhere. As complex monuments built to transform landscapes and control movement through them, I present the case that linear monuments created a genealogical and legendary fame which transcended the martial, socio-political and territorial aspirations of individual rulers.


LINEAR EARTHWORKS IN SCANDINAVIA: AN OVERVIEW Witte, Frauke (Museum of Southern Jutland)

Before the linear barrier of the Danevirke was built at the foot of the Jutish peninsula, a large number of linear barriers functioned in Scandinavia. Most of them are earthworks and sea-barriers in Jutland, but in nowadays Sweden, a few earthen ramparts and stone walls and a number of sea barriers are known too. None are known in e.g. Norway, Finland and Iceland. The linear barriers in Jutland were built from the first and second centuries AD onwards. They typically consist of banks and palisades with ditches, and were mostly used as road blockers. The purpose of these early barriers are still mainly unresearched and only a few have been archeolog-ically investigated, therefore details of their building history and precise dating are often unknown. The majority are only registered because they can still be seen by eye or through aerial photography. A few were discovered by coincidence under excavations.

The purpose of the linear barriers in Denmark and Sweden can often be extracted from their geographical position: besides being ter-ritorial marks for different tribes and military fortification (sea-barriers), they were road barriers facing either south or north across the most important road through Jutland, the ancient military road (Hærvejen). Only a few might have been territorial boundaries. We assume that the tradition of building these linear barriers in southern Scandinavia finally lead to the Danevirke and might have been brought to England by the Angles when migrating. This paper will show the distribution and type of the Scandinavian barriers and try to discuss who their builders might have been.  



Steingraber, Aubrey (University of York)

For 800 years, the Anglo-Scottish border has been an influential division between England and Scotland. Although periods of con-quest during the late medieval period shifted control of large territories in the region, the borderline established in the thirteenth century has been a surprisingly stable linear administrative division. So, how did the borderline survive? The creation and maintenance of a contested borderline is a performative process directly connected to socio-political power structures stretching across the border. These processes of border-making in the region are often explored by historians, but the materiality of these same processes has not yet been explored in significant detail by archaeologists. This presentation explores the role that landscape played in the negotiation of a medieval border in the developing Anglo-Scottish borderland by investigating the landscape context of sites used throughout the late medieval period as traditional meeting places. These were places where cross-border crime would be tried and important negotiations would be conferred. This presentation highlights a few case studies from a larger project representing the first systematic evaluation of these sites through the late medieval period, a period when the Wars of Independence solidified conceptions of national differences between the English and the Scots. Using a combination of evidence from documentary sources, historical maps, remote sensing data, and quantitative spatial analysis, the presentation pieces together the history and materiality of these places which were directly embedded, both physically and symbolically, into the development of a linear medieval borderline. In combination, these analyses reveal new insights into the role that memory, display, and movement played in the power dynamics which created and maintained the late medieval Anglo-Scottish border.



Witte, Frauke (Museum Sønderjylland) – Tummuscheit, Astrid (Archäoligisches Landesamt Schleswig Hol- stein) The Danevirke is a more than 30 km long system of earthworks, palisades and stone walls in what is now northern Germany. It was built in several phases across the narrowest section of the Jutland Peninsula in the Danish-German borderland. Together with the trading site of Hedeby, the Danevirke was inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in June 2018. 2010-2014 the State Archaeological Department of Schleswig-Holstein in Germany and the Museum Sønderjylland – Arkæologi Ha-derslev in Denmark carried out transnational excavations at the monument. These have led to important new findings, which include i.a. the discovery of the site of a gateway, where major transport routes converged for at least 500 years. Furthermore, C14-dates indicate that the origins of the Danevirke date to before AD 500, making it more than 200 years older than previously thought. During the Early Middle Ages, the Danevirke was reinforced heavily: in the first half of the 8th century, a massive wooden palisade was built and in the second half of the 8th century, a stone wall was added. In the second half of the 11th century, a monumental brick wall was erected by the Danish king Valdemar the Great. The reuse in the 19th century Danish-Prussian war of 1864 and in World War II included, the Danevirke was in use for at least 1500 years functioning as a territorial marker and boundary.

A project is currently ongoing, which aims to publish the results of the 2010−2014 excavations. The paper will outline results and current working hypotheses mainly concerning the Danevirke´s chronology, which will enable us to relate the sites history to specif-ic historical situations and developments, such as i.a. the emergence of the Danish kingdom.



Vervust, Soetkin (VUB – Vrije Universiteit Brussel) – Kinnaird, Tim (University of St Andrews) Water management is a key element in the history of Coastal Flanders. Nowadays, hundreds of kilometres of manmade dikes and channels characterise the region’s landscape and contribute to its unique historical value. This is a fairly recent development: for most of the early medieval period the Flemish coastal plain was an unembanked tidal marshland, with small settlements concen-trated on higher ground. A major transition in landscape and society occurred in the 9th-11th centuries, when all over the North Sea area people started to transform the tidal plain through a progressive process of systematic embankment. This is believed to have developed in three stages, from the creation of small ring dikes (9th-10th centuries), over dikes alongside tidal channels (10th-11th centuries), to dikes parallel to artificial drainage channels and the coast (starting in the 12th-13th centuries and continuing up until today). However, absolute dating evidence to complement and improve this relative chronological framework is still largely lacking. Most conventional dating techniques (e.g. references in medieval texts, retrogressive analysis, archaeological excavation with artefact-based dating or radiocarbon dating) have particular shortcomings, limiting their usefulness for dating these types of earthworks. Instead, the project presented here used an innovative optically-stimulated luminescence profiling and dating (OSL-PD) method to establish a set of absolute dates for a number of dikes that presumably represent different stages in the embankment process. This allows a more confident interpretation of the construction, use and modification of these earthworks based on the soil within them, and helps us better understand the long-term evolution, fundamental characteristics and historic importance of the Flemish coastal landscape, which is facing challenging transformations in an era of climate change and sea level rise.



Liam Delaney (University of Chester) The enigmatic Offa’s Dyke has long been understood as a demonstration of the power of the Mercian state in the long 8th century. Rarely have previous studies involved anything more than the visual observations of the earthwork. With such a huge linear monu-ment, surveys from a ground-level perspective cannot possibly contextualise its total breadth of the monument. The shortcomings in the quality of data on the Dyke has led to uncertainties and debate over its route, extent and placement of it in the landscape. With the application of lidar and other digital technologies, my ongoing doctoral research is providing a fresh understanding of the nature and original extent of Offa’s Dyke’s route by employing an empirical dataset.

My digital dataset for Offa’s Dyke not only is identifying hitherto unknown sections of the monument, it is providing the foundation for new investigations of the nature of the frontier in the 8th century, but also it will assist investigations of the relationship be-tween patterns in landscape use (such as re-use of existing monuments, or natural features like rivers) and possible intentionality in the Dyke’s placement that landscape. This paper presents interim results, shedding fresh perspectives utilising digital heritage tools and data sources to examine and re-evaluate evidence of the nature of the dyke and the wider Mercian frontier.



Belford, Paul (Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust)

Offa’s Dyke is the UK’s longest linear earthwork, stretching for over 120km through the borderland between England and Wales. Recent scientific dating evidence has confirmed its association with King Offa of Mercia, and therefore its construction in the late-eighth century. It delineated the western edge of Offa’s kingdom in opposition to the Welsh polities, and also had a symbolic func-tion articulating Offa’s power both at home and abroad. Its role as an administrative boundary – if it ever was such a thing – was short-lived; the modern border between England and Wales was fixed in the 1530s and is not generally contiguous with the Dyke. Nevertheless ‘Offa’s Dyke’ is widely used as a shorthand for the border, and the earthwork itself has helped create a space in both English and Welsh imaginations which is neither one nor the other but has its own identity as the ‘Anglo-Welsh borderland’. This paper will look at the later biography of Offa’s Dyke, and its role in constructing medieval and post-medieval administrative divisions, before considering more deeply the presence of the Dyke in the early modern imagination. In particular it will explore the way the Dyke is situated in discourse around modern cultural identities, and how contemporary understanding of identity is framed through archaeology and heritage. Public awareness and support is essential for the long-term conservation of the monument, and the role of archaeology in engaging with a variety of non-specialist audiences is critical. The paper explores how archaeological research can interact meaningfully with contemporary discourse around identity and belonging in a border landscape.



Roxby-Mackey, Melanie (University of Birmingham) – Mackey, Ian (Worcestershire Archives and Archaeology Service)

Borders are back, but did they ever go away? The forces driving our increasingly inter-connected, globalised world have, it seems, failed to eradicate our millennia-old instinct to build and destroy barriers between ‘us’ and ‘the other’. Contemporary border scholar-ship is, not unreasonably, primarily concerned with the here and now, but how can we hope to understand our modern world without framing our discussions within the context of our collective past? Should we, in fact, be considering the possibility that we are not as unique in the twenty-first century as we imagine? If so, what role can early medieval liminal landscapes play in these discussions? Within the context of the UK at least, the answer is quite a significant one.

Increasingly, English origin myths are bound up with King Alfred and the primacy of the Kingdom of Wessex. These are powerful nationalist narratives easily perpetuated in support of populist agendas, but what is their basis? History is written by the victors, whether they be in Wessex, or post-Brexit Britain. But what of evidence from the landscape? Ambitious leaders monumentalise borders whether they are Trump in the US, or Offa in eighth-century Mercia. Meanwhile, populations living in these liminal spaces leave their responses to these events in myriad ways, along the Anglo-Welsh border 1,200 years ago, today’s border in Ireland, or that between the US and Mexico.

By adopting an interdisciplinary framework derived from landscape archaeology, border studies, linguistics and psychology it is pos-sible to say something of both the early medieval Anglo-Welsh border and our contemporary world. The evidence speaks to us of complex, multi-vocal environments subject to both spatial and temporal change at a range of scales. Ultimately, it suggests that in multi-generational terms at least, borders change, but it is our enduring curiosity about each other that prevails.