Bruce Eagles has spent more than 50 years studying and analysing the early medieval archaeology of Wessex – the area of south-central England. This book brings together a number of papers he has published on this subject, in some cases significantly revising and updating them in light of more recent work. Cumulatively, they present an important thesis on the ways in which a region of England developed from late Roman to Anglo-Saxon times. Gone are simplistic models of a ‘Germanic’ takeover of a Roman province. Instead, we have a nuanced picture of transition in which society, economy, and institutions evolved over time.
Using archaeological, historical, linguistic, and toponymic sources, Eagles deftly tackles detailed case-studies and larger historical questions, but never drifts far from an essential focus on people, whether in their uses of material culture, inhabitation of landscape, or expressions of power. ‘Anglo-Saxon’ ethnicity, as expressed in the objects of this period, is revealed to be a choice: as much a response to unpredictable times as an innate identity. This is a deeply human story that is both recognisable and convincing.
This review appeared in CA 345.