Book Review of Anglo-Saxon England by Sally Crawford

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Many studies of England’s history concentrate on the Roman occupation and Viking attacks, with little information on the Anglo-Saxon period. This book uses archaeological evidence and written sources to reveal a distinct culture which was beginning to organise itself into towns, with the widespread trade of both local and more exotic goods.

Family, Home and Neighbourhood in Anglo-Saxon England

Anglo-Saxon neighbourhoods were very much centred around family life, with everyone familiar with the lives of their neighbours. In a society before the establishment of a formal police service, family ties and the thought of bringing a family into disrepute kept many people from committing a crime. Author Sally Crawford examines skeletal evidence from cemeteries which suggests that people tried to take care of sick children for long periods of time, and which also shows that, in a society where most people died before the age of forty, bonds between brothers and sisters could be more important than those between children and their parents or grandparents.

Occupations in Anglo-Saxon England

Again, Sally Crawford turns to skeletal evidence to shed light on the various tasks which were performed in order to keep Anglo-Saxon society functioning. On the whole, the skeletons which show the highest level of trauma are those which are also malnourished – which she believes shows that people at the poorer end of society were allocated the most manually challenging jobs, and these people may even have been slaves.

Anglo-Saxon pottery could be mass produced and woodworking was a key activity, with craftspeople turning out fine goods such as combs, pins and keys for discerning buyers.

Food and Drink in Anglo-Saxon England

In a milder and damper climate than England experiences today, the country experienced an abundance of crops and natural resources in Anglo-Saxon times. Each family tended to provide for its own needs through the allocation of a set piece of land, a hide, which was farmed throughout the year. However, this was a vulnerable society where a year of bad weather or blighted crops could cause hardship and even malnutrition.

Summary

This is an absorbing look at a period in time which is often given less attention than the periods which happened before and after it. The book is illustrated on every page with photographs and detailed drawings, which help bring the information to life. The detailed sketches of village life are particularly fine, with details of people, animals and even possessions shown.