, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1Although I had planned to write about my trip to Scotland in this week’s Darkage-ology, I’m afraid the unexpectedly soon publication of my first major article has diverted my attention. The paper is published in The Antiquaries Journal.

2Feel free to take a look at the article here.

The paper is a reanalysis of a late fifth- or early sixth-century artefact assemblage discovered at Hardown Hill in Dorset during the First World War. The excavation was prompted by the finding of an iron spearhead by a boy hunting rabbits in the low mounds that characterise the flat-topped hill.

3The location of Hardown Hill (©Cambridge University Press 2014)

The objects, fifteen in total, were described in Wyatt Wingrave’s report of 1931 and reconsidered by Vera Evison in 1968. Despite finding no evidence of human remains, both scholars considered the objects to be grave-goods and so a funerary interpretation has stood ever since. I thought this was unconvincing, so I set out to reconsider the assemblage.

The publication of a new typo-chronological scheme (effectively a framework for dating artefacts) gave me the necessary tools to reclassify the objects. By taking precise measurements of the artefacts I was able to determine their class.

4An incredibly useful and relatively cheap volume.

Taken together, these data were then added to a correspondence analysis of 272 fifth- to seventh-century grave assemblages to determine where they fit within the seriation of dateable graves. It’s pretty complicated stuff, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the help of John Hines (my old supervisor) who kindly lent me the dataset of the aforementioned publication and helped me run the analysis.

The typological and chronological reanalysis of the artefacts confirmed a date-range of about AD 450 to AD 550, although a date within the latter part of the range is statistically more likely. In order to contextualise the finds, I compared the Hardown Hill assemblage to the available fifth- to seventh-century material in the county of Dorset. In doing so, it became apparent that the assemblage from Hardown Hill is fairly unique in post-Roman Dorset and more than double the size of the similarly important but neglected assemblage from Spetisbury Rings. The assemblage, then, is something of an enigma; relatively early in date, large in size and out of place in the local and national distributions of early Anglo-Saxon material culture.

The latter part of the paper is devoted to a discussion of whether the assemblage can be considered funerary or not. I argue that the balance of evidence (including contextual and environmental information) favours interpreting the artefacts not as grave-goods but instead as the contents of a hoard. I therefore conclude that it seems most likely that a community came into contact with the objects, in either an arranged or an unplanned manner, and it was decided to store them for safekeeping until their presumably planned, but not actioned, retrieval.

A 500 word summary of a 6,000 word article is tough, so if you want to know more I suggest you give the article a little read! I’ve attached the published summaries (in English, German and French) below.


Austin, M. 2014. ‘Rethinking Hardown Hill: Our Westernmost Early Anglo-Saxon Cemetery?’. Antiquaries Journal, 94. [FirstView].

Evison, V. I. 1968. ‘The Anglo-Saxon Finds from Hardown Hill’, Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeology Society, 90, 232-40.

Hines, J. and Bayliss, A. (eds) 2013. Anglo-Saxon Graves and Grave Goods of the 6th and 7th Centuries AD: A Chronological Framework, London: Society for Medieval Archaeology.

Wingrave, W 1931. ‘An Anglo-Saxon Burial on Hardown Hill’, Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeology Society, 53, 247-9.


This paper reassesses the early Anglo-Saxon assemblage from Hardown Hill, Dorset. Wingrave excavated the objects in 1916 but apart from his 1931 report, and Evison’s 1968 analysis, there has been little subsequent discussion. Despite a lack of human remains, the assemblage has been interpreted as representing an early Anglo-Saxon cemetery – our westernmost burial site by a considerable distance and one that pre-dates the historically attested seventh-century expansion of Wessex. The following typological reclassification and contextual analysis casts serious doubts on a funerary context. Instead, an alternative interpretation is presented that views the assemblage as a useful collection of metalwork, intended to be reforged and recycled, which was presumably deposited for safekeeping and never retrieved. Such a reinterpretation highlights the need for a critical reappraisal of material from older excavations. It also has implications for our understanding of post-Roman Dorset, and for the distribution of fifth- and sixth-century Anglo-Saxon material culture more broadly.


Cet article réexamine la construction anglo-saxonne très ancienne de Hardown Hill, dans le Dorset. Wingrave a mis au jour des objets en 1916 mais, hormis son rapport de 1931 et l’analyse d’Evison en 1968, il y a eu peu de discussions ultérieures. Malgré l’absence de restes humains, cette construction a été interprétée comme étant un ancien cimetière anglo-saxonne, notre site de funérailles de très loin le plus occidental, qui date d’avant à l’expansion du Wessex du VIIe siècle attestée par des sources historiques. La reclassification typologique et l’analyse textuelle suivantes jettent de sérieux doutes sur le contexte funéraire. Au lieu de cela, l’interprétation présentée considère que cette construction est une collection utile d’objets en métal, dans le but de les recycler en les forgeant à nouveau, probablement déposés pour les conserver mais jamais récupérés. Cette nouvelle interprétation souligne la nécessité de réévaluer d’un il critique les objets trouvés dans des fouilles plus anciennes. En outre, elle influence notre compréhension du Dorset post-romain et de la répartition de la culture matérielle anglo-saxonne des Ve et VIe siècles de manière générale.


In dieser Abhandlung werden die angelsächsischen Funde von Hardown Hill, Dorset, neu bewertet. Wingrave brachte die Gegenstände 1916 zutage, aber außer seinem Bericht von 1931 und Evisons Analyse von 1968 wurde dieses Thema in der Folge nur wenig behandelt. Trotz des Fehlens menschlicher Überreste wurde der Fundplatz als ein frühes angelsächsisches Gräberfeld interpretiert, und zwar nicht nur die bei weitem westlichste Grabstätte, sondern auch als eine, die der historisch belegten Erweiterung von Wessex im 7. Jahrhundert zeitlich vorangeht. Die nachfolgende typologische Neuklassifizierung und Kontextanalyse stellt jedoch einen Begräbniskontext stark in Zweifel. Stattdessen wird eine alternative Interpretation präsentiert, wonach die Funde als eine nützliche Sammlung von Metallteilen anzusehen ist, die später neu gestaltet oder recycelt werden sollten und die wahrscheinlich zur sicheren Verwahrung hier aufbewahrt, aber nie geborgen wurden. Eine derartige Neuinterpretation verweist auf die Notwendigkeit einer kritischen Neubewertung des Materials aus älteren Ausgrabungen. Des Weiteren hat dies Auswirkungen auf unser Verständnis von Dorset in nachrömischer Zeit und von der Verbreitung der angelsächsischen Sachkultur des 5. und 6. Jahrhunderts ganz allgemein.