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Recognizing and Moving on from a Failed Paradigm: The Case of Agricultural Landscapes in Anglo-Saxon England c. AD 400–800

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A central preoccupation for archaeologists is how and why material culture changes. One of the most intractable examples of this problem can be found between AD 400 and 800 in the enigmatic transformation of sub-Roman into Anglo-Saxon England. That example lies at the heart of this review, explored through the case of the agricultural economy. Although the ideas critically examined below relate specifically to early medieval England, they represent themes of universal interest: the role of migration in the transformation of material culture, politics, and economy in a post-imperial world, the significance of ‘‘core’’ and ‘‘periphery’’ in evolving polities, ethnogenesis as a strategy in kingdom building, property rights as a lens for investigating cultural change, and the relationship between hierarchical political structures and collective forms of governance. The first part of my argument proposes a structured response to paradigmatic stalemate by identifying and testing each underlying assumption, premise, and interpretative framework. The recognition of any fallacies, false premises, and flawed arguments might assist with an overall evaluation of the continuing utility of a discourse—whether it has life in it yet, or should be set aside. In either case, the recognition of its structure should enable arguments to be developed that do not lead into a disciplinary cul-de-sac, prevented by the orthodoxy from exploring new avenues for research. In the second part of the review, I deliberately adopt a starting point outside the limits of the current discourse. Freed from the confines of the conventional consensus, I experiment with an alternative ‘‘bottom-up’’ approach to change in early medieval England that contrasts with conventional ‘‘top-down’’ arguments. I focus in particular on how rights over agricultural property—especially collective rights—and the forms of governance implied by them may assist in illuminating the roles of tradition and transformation in effecting cultural change.



Anglo-Saxon, Landscape, Agriculture, Migration, Property rights, Governance

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Journal of Archaeological Research

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Springer Science and Business Media LLC