Repository logo

Beyond hierarchy: archaeology, common rights and social identity

Accepted version

Repository DOI



Change log



It is an archaeological commonplace that grazing across extensive pastures in many periods was shared, often over extended lengths of time, by kin-based communities who met there seasonally in large groups. Such explanations are richly implicit with models of social relations – there were large communities, they were made up of one or more kin groups, they shared pasture, and they had regular assemblies. How did that general framework of social structure and social relations work in practice, particularly at the level of the individual landholding? This paper explores the practical implications of a property rights approach to those questions, briefly illustrated in indicative examples drawn from the English fenlands across the longue durée. Its central contention is that the mutualities implied in the equitable, ‘horizontal’ governance of shared resources complemented and enriched ‘vertical’ hierarchies of power and status in complex societies of which they were both part.



common rights, property rights, collective governance, social relations

Journal Title

World Archaeology

Conference Name

Journal ISSN


Volume Title


Informa UK Limited
This paper is based on a paper given at the University of Glasgow in September 2015 at the annual conference of the European Association of Archaeologists. I am grateful to Mr Peter Herring and other participants for their helpful comments, as well as those of the anonymous referees. Figures 1 and 4 were drawn by Mrs Sarah Wroot.