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Title: Geoarchaeological and micromorphological approaches to the formation and biographies of early medieval towns in northwest Europe
Author: Wouters, Barbora
ISNI:       0000 0004 6353 1749
Awarding Body: University of Aberdeen and Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Current Institution: University of Aberdeen
Date of Award: 2016
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Even after decades of intensive research, the complex stratigraphy of many early medieval and Viking towns in continental Europe remains poorly understood and debate continues about crucial aspects such as their origins, the changes they underwent through time and, in some cases, their supposed 'decline'. By applying micromorphology, the study of undisturbed soils and sediments under the microscope, this dissertation creates a new set of geoarchaeological data to complement existing archaeological and written sources of information. Micromorphology is an effective method for the research of complex sites. This thesis explores how the technique can contribute to the study of (early) medieval towns, which generally present with two types of challenging stratigraphy: microstratified levels, and thick homogeneous units, sometimes termed "dark earths". Geoarchaeology, and micromorphology specifically, is underrepresented in urban studies of this period, particularly in the Low Countries and Scandinavia. Five case studies (Kaupang (Norway), Hedeby (Germany), Tongeren, Antwerpen and Lier (Belgium)) demonstrate how micromorphology, in combination with associated geoarchaeological methods such as textural analysis, µXRF elemental analysis and phytolith analysis of thin sections, can tackle questions that range from the basic understanding of stratigraphy, site formation processes and environmental context, to the identification of different activities. The results are grouped into seven themes, which together constitute a biographical interpretive framework: 1. Pre-town environments and predecessors 2. Town foundations - earliest evidence for settlement or built environment 3. Urban living: evolution of activities through time 4. The functions of buildings 5. Spatial organisation 6. Moving on - the youngest early medieval urban phases 7. Post-depositional transformations This framework made it possible to gain a deeper and more detailed understanding of the sites' evolution through time and their spatial organisation, and to mutually compare them without losing sight of their individual idiosyncrasies. By juxtaposing these results with existing debates on early medieval towns, certain historical narratives could be challenged or nuanced, such as the hypothesis of early medieval town formation on pristine sites, or the development of market squares before the High Medieval Period. The most important conclusions were that micromorphology, in combination with complementary geoarchaeological methods, is highly suited to the study of complex urban stratigraphy. It offers more detailed information about the temporal as well as spatial aspects of towns, and allows for a comparison that bypasses a generalising discourse of early medieval towns. It is also an ideal tool to gain an in-depth understanding of site stratigraphy, which can subsequently serve as a basis for targeted bulk sampling of other analyses in the framework of an interdisciplinary study. Thus, the method should ideally be included in the planning and assessment stage of the research of early medieval towns. Additionally, the application of this specific methodology has allowed the formulation of specific sampling recommendations regarding early medieval towns, and a step-by-step protocol has been developed to help implement them.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Fonds voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek ; Vlaanderen
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Cities and towns ; Archaeological geography ; Microstructure