Prof Chris Gosden explains what his research tells us about regional developments and variations in English settlement and landscape changes over time.
The English Landscapes and Identities project pulled together all the major digital sources for archaeology in England into a single database from which statistical and spatial analyses were undertaken. The project combines evidence on landscape features, such as track-ways, fields and settlements, with the distribution of certain artefact types (particularly metalwork). They looked at the period from 1500 BC when the first field systems and agricultural landscapes were set up to AD 1086 when the first reasonably detailed written account of the landscape was produced through the Domesday Book.We found marked regional variation, with the north and west of England having dispersed settlement and low levels of artifact use throughout our period of interest, whereas in the south and east larger settlements gradually developed within a denser overall population and higher levels of artifact use. Within these broad differences we also recognized smaller scale local variations in the growing and consumption of food, landscape layouts and so on, providing a multi-scalar impression of the landscape creating a kaleidoscope of similarity and difference. There was considerable continuity in landscape use in the south and east between the prehistoric and the Roman periods, but from the middle of the early medieval period onwards the landscape changed dramatically with the growth of nucleated villages, open fields and of private property. In the north and east more continuity is seen, with some sites being revisited over many centuries and even millennia maintaining a dispersed settlement pattern. The main outcomes of the project are a monograph authored by the team as a whole, an atlas combining the results of computer analysis and art work and a website, which has made the data publically available. The website can accessed at http://englaid.arch.ox.ac.uk
Chris Gosden is Professor of European Archaeology and Professorial Fellow at Keble College. He is Director of the Institute of Archaeology.