|Early medieval communities around the North Sea: a 'maritime culture'?|
Deckers, P.; Tys, D. (2012). Early medieval communities around the North Sea: a 'maritime culture'?, in: Annaert, R. et al. (Ed.) The very beginning of Europe? Cultural and Social Dimensions of Early-Medieval Migration and Colonisation (5th-8th century). Archaeology in Contemporary Europe Conference Brussels, May 17-19 2011. Relicta Monografieën, 7: pp. 81-87
In: Annaert, R. et al. (Ed.) (2012). The very beginning of Europe? Cultural and Social Dimensions of Early-Medieval Migration and Colonisation (5th-8th century). Archaeology in Contemporary Europe Conference Brussels, May 17-19 2011. Relicta Monografieën, 7. Flanders Heritage Agency: Brussels. ISBN 978-90-7523-034-5. 275 pp.
In: Relicta Monografieën. VIOE: Brussel. ISSN 2030-9910; e-ISSN 2030-9929
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It stands without doubt that the populations around the Channel and North Sea coasts during the early Middle Ages were in close contact. This is reflected, amongst others, in the material record. Pottery, domestic architecture, metalwork and even funerary customs of the period all have features that recur along the coasts of both the Continent and England. Terms like 'Saxon' and 'Anglo- Frisian' are frequently used to describe these traditions. Thus, the study of these stylistic, typological, technical and other similarities is embedded in an explicitly ethnic discourse. In this paper, we contend that such ethnic affiliations are largely irrelevant as far as the later 6th to 8th centuries are concerned. It is argued that they are confusing at best and the remainders of an out-dated culture model at worst. Inspired by recent sociological studies (in the field of transnationalism, amongst others), an alternative model is developed to help understand the nature and intensity of contact across the North Sea. The mobile, maritime aspect of these societies is placed at the centre of this approach. In this way the concept of a 'North Sea culture', first proposed in the 1970s (e.g. Hallewas e.a. 1975), is revived. This 'culture' is characterized by an intensive interaction and exchange of goods and ideas, resulting in a highly diverse material culture with associations in various geographical regions (Loveluck and Tys 2006). Crucially, these associations need not be regarded as meaningful emic indicators of ethnic identity.In addition to exploring the problems with the approach currently prevailing and setting out the theoretical foundations of the alternative perspective, a few examples will be provided in this paper of how the material culture of communities around the North Sea may be examined in this light.