Institute of Archaeology


Landscapes of Governance

New Project Launched: Assembly Sites of Wales




A three-year interdisciplinary research project bringing archaeology, place-names and written sources together in a national study of early medieval assembly sites.
Early medieval western Europe developed in the shadow of the classical Roman world. While substantial traces of the organizational capacity of the Roman Empire can still be seen in Britain, for example the Roman road network and Hadrians Wall, evidence for power and authority in the centuries following the Roman occupation is much more subtle. Arbitration, negotiation and dispute settlement were fundamental to the formation of kingdoms and ultimately the nation state of England, but the places where such activities occurred have never been comprehensively studied as archaeological sites, their names investigated only once in the last 80 years by the Scandinavian scholar O. S. Anderson.

Landscapes of Governance is a three-year interdisciplinary venture bringing archaeology, place-names and written sources together for the first time in a comprehensive national research project.

Assembly sites were important at many levels of early medieval society, royal, regional, local and urban, and they provided a means whereby royal and official prerogative met with local concerns. Place-names of assembly sites and their associated districts indicate varying origins, in some cases referring to pre-Christian gods, including Woden and Thor, while other terms relate to monuments of earlier ages, such as burial mounds and standing stones. Other meeting-places are named after seemingly mundane features such as crossroads, bridges and settlements.

Only a dozen or so English assembly sites have been investigated by detailed archaeological survey and excavation. Studying meeting-places and their surroundings can reveal much about their relationship to other social functions and places. Form, layout, accessibility and viewshed are among the attributes to be examined by the project.

The research will generate scholarly publications, a downloadable recording pack to facilitate and encourage local studies and a comprehensive web-based resource (The Online Anderson) to serve the widest possible range of users.