marycatelli (marycatelli) wrote,

Barbarians To Angels

Barbarians To Angels: The Dark Ages Reconsidered by Peter S. Wells.

The Dark Ages -- not the entire Middle Ages that used to be called the Dark Ages, just the era that gets called the Dark Ages now -- as viewed by the eye of archeology.

Let us say that it looks kinda different to them.

For one thing, all the stories about invading barbarian hordes are -- overstated.  Archaeological evidence does not point to many people moving during the time.  The artifacts in locations said to be invaded, like England, did not change, and the skeletons' teeth can apparently be analyzed and find the people born where they were buried.  In Eastern Europe, you have some migration; the Huns and the like did move in from Asia, and their practices of shaping the skull make it easy to identify.  And many of the stories told of migrations that ended up in lands look to be myths of origin to explain (and justify) the position of kings and nobles.

There appears to be a whole Europe-wide practice of regal burial.  The sorts of grave goods that are found in royal graves are remarkably uniform in nature -- and rich.  (By the way, did you know why Napoleon chose the bee as his symbol?  In one of the first scientific archaeological digs, during the reign of Louis XIV, they dug up the grave of Childeric, one of the earliest kings, and they found a lot of golden and garnet bees in it.)

The cities were seldom abandoned or even declined.  True, the people gave up building monumental stone buildings after the Roman manner, but they thrived.  A lot of them still do.  It used to be thought that the Saxons lived in a different spot, near where the Romans had but not on it, in what is now London, but construction keeps on turning up new sites and it looks like the Dark Ages London sits where the Roman London sat.

Plus there were a lot of agricultural innovations.  The moldboard plow was a vast improvement on the Roman scratch plow, and they invented crop rotation.  Which meant that the skeletons we find prove to rather tall and healthy.

The graves of craftsmen and other loose things tell us more about trade and crafts.  Like the grave of a master smith, buried with his tools.  It included molds for fancy brooches, and a polishing stone for silver -- and interesting, all of his tools look like he could have carried them on his travels.  And the lost bronze brooches, or glass beads, or (in some locations) great clay pots for importing wine from the Mediterranean, point to a thriving trade.

Plenty of changes, of course.  Art underwent many a metamorphisis.  And the advent of Christinity produced many -- interesting finds.  The practice of throwing swords into rivers lasted for quite a bit.  And the graves at first still contained grave goods, though that trailed off later.

Fascinating book.
Tags: history reviews: medieval, secondary source, world-building: economics, world-building: food, world-building: geography, world-building: royalty, world-building: social classes, world-building: technology

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