So you may have detected that my account of the past couple weeks has turned somewhat grim. I must admit the differences between sites I’ve dug before and this one, not to mention the lack of certain comforts derived from living in a tent were really bringing me down. I’ve done some adjusting and I’m starting to come to terms with my surroundings, and I think I might just make it through until October (I’ll be dying to go home and visit my family in Chesapeake, Virginia by then). I’ll also be adjusting the interval in which I write posts given the inaccessibility of some of the resources I need to pull together decent pieces. You can expect new posts to come towards the end of the week or during the weekend, and I may take off a week or two every once and a while to help build up material.
That all being said, another week has passed and I’m pleased to announce that we’ve finally found another layer in our trench! This is a big deal, and very encouraging news for our trench; I think our sanity and collective workflow was dying with the unimpressive nature of the previous context.
Let’s review. Two weeks ago, we opened a trench towards the summit of the mountain that is the setting of our site. The trench was situated in a wooded area abutting what appeared to be a “rampart” from the early medieval settlement that is the focus of our efforts at Sainte-Candie. Our efforts to open that trench involved cutting trees, snipping roots, and, perhaps most importantly, clearing topsoil. Here in the woods, topsoil consists of a lot of organic material like fallen leaves, mold, and some eroded soil. Once we got through the layer of humified soil, we uncovered a layer of hard, rocky, compacted yellow silt. This soil was similar to what we found in the trench on the slopes of the mountain, but we were forced to excavate this soil with only our trowels, lest we miss any delicate features like postholes indicative of the ephemeral architecture of the early medieval period. Also, if you’d like an update of how many features we’d found in the previous context, the final count was fourteen. That means 14 individual drawings, 14 sets of elevations, 14 sets of photos.
A week and a half of only troweling through hard, rocky soil (that means no pickaxes and shovels) and constantly stopping to document a new feature and you can understand why we were starting to lose our nerve.
But then, after the tireless work of my team, including Nicolas, Neil, and Margot, we managed to find a new layer!
Not to mention, we found some cool pieces of a flint blade and projectile point.
The presence of these lithic artifacts was initially confusing, as they typically come from prehistoric contexts, not medieval ones. However, as I’ll discuss in a bit, the economic disposition of the people that lived at Sainte-Candie might have required reverting back to stone tool usage.
We can characterize the new layer as an accumulation of soft, darker colored soil lacking the rocks and gravel of the previous context. In addition, we also found the remnants of what appear to be the crumbled remains of an early medieval wall from a reoccupation period. What do we hope to find in this new layer? Perhaps artifacts and structural remains of the initial occupation of Sainte-Candie from any time as early as the 6th century AD.
What does all of this mean? I’ve thrown a lot of ideas out there and to bring them all together, I’ll need to take you back approximately 1700 years. During the early 4th century AD, certain events occured that set into motion the foundation of Medieval and ultimately modern Europe. The partitioning of the Roman Empire between East and West, and the state recognition of Christianity established the social, political, and cultural realities that would shape life in Western Europe. The partition and relocation of the imperial seat to Constantinople by Emperor Constantine reallocated administrative and economic attention to the Eastern portion of the Empire, eventually disabling the West to manage the crises of the later 4th and 5th centuries. These crises were highlighted by invasions of various “barbarian” groups and the destabilizing of the social, economic, and political institutions that were the hallmark of Roman rule. What was left was the ascendant Christian Church, whose expansionist and hierarchical administration stepped up to ensure the welfare of local communities in the former Empire from the 5th century through the 10th.
Enter Sainte-Candie. This site is a direct reflection of people’s reactions of the upheaval of the period. The lowland and valley sites were abandoned for the more strategically defensible “hilltop” sites. Communities sprung up and were administered from centrally located churches. These hilltop settlements went through multiple phases of occupation as control of the region oscillated between the Lombards, Goths, Franks, and Byzantines. What we’re uncovering in our multiple layers is the remnants of these people establishing homes and lives with the limited resources of an economically tight period over several centuries of history. And that, friends, is exciting.