1st Edition

Formative Britain An Archaeology of Britain, Fifth to Eleventh Century AD

By Martin Carver Copyright 2019
    766 Pages 313 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    766 Pages 313 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Formative Britain presents an account of the peoples occupying the island of Britain between 400 and 1100 AD, whose ideas continue to set the political agenda today. Forty years of new archaeological research has laid bare a hive of diverse and disputatious communities of Picts, Scots, Welsh, Cumbrian and Cornish Britons, Northumbrians, Angles and Saxons, who expressed their views of this world and the next in a thousand sites and monuments.

    This highly illustrated volume is the first book that attempts to describe the experience of all levels of society over the whole island using archaeology alone. The story is drawn from the clothes, faces and biology of men and women, the images that survive in their poetry, the places they lived, the work they did, the ingenious celebrations of their graves and burial grounds, their decorated stone monuments and their diverse messages.

    This ground-breaking account is aimed at students and archaeological researchers at all levels in the academic and commercial sectors. It will also inform relevant stakeholders and general readers alike of how the islands of Britain developed in the early medieval period. Many of the ideas forged in Britain’s formative years underpin those of today as the UK seeks to find a consensus programme for its future.


    List of figures

    List of abbreviations

    Picture credits


    Chapter 1 Inheritance: landscapes and predecessors

    Chapter 2: Looking for personhood: physique and adornment

    Chapter 3: Working from home: settlement and economies

    Chapter 4 Addressing eternity: cemeteries as ritual places

    Chapter 5 Monumentality: sculpture, churches and illuminated books

    Chapter 6: Materiality of words: myths and records

    Chapter 7 Narratives – reflections - legacies




    Martin Carver was an army officer for 15 years, a freelance commercial archaeologist for 13 years and Professor of Archaeology at the University of York for 22 years, retiring in 2008. From 2002 until 2012 he was editor of the global archaeology journal Antiquity. He has researched post-Roman towns in Britain, France, Italy and Algeria and excavated large sites of the first millennium AD at Sutton Hoo (Suffolk) and Portmahomack (north-east Scotland). He has produced numerous articles, lectures and broadcasts on the peoples of early Britain, and his latest books are Sutton Hoo: Encounters with Early England, Portmahomack: Monastery of the Picts and Archaeological Investigation (for Routledge).



    "…it is a pleasure to enjoy an extended synthesis produced by a deep thinker who has done so much to frame the ways in which students (writ large) of the early medieval period think about their material." – Chris Fowler, Antiquity

    "The range of location and example is extraordinary, with excellent referencing and a comprehensive bibliography. As a teaching aid, it should be welcomed; as a student’s introduction to the fast-changing perceptions and understandings of this well-named ‘formative’ period in Britain’s history, it will be a valued primer…Formative Britain is a great achievement." – Brian Ayers, The Journal of the Historical Association

    "This is a magnificent book that truly does justice to the study of post-Roman Britain. It celebrates the enormous wealth of information at the archaeologist’s (and historian’s) disposal beyond those written texts which have long determined the narrative of this epoch…There is so much to admire in Carver’s thesis. This is a vivid narrative which has largely evaded the shadow of the canon".  Richard Hodges, Medieval Archaeology