CFP: Dykes Through Time: Rethinking Early Medieval Linear Earthworks

The 39th Theoretical Archaeology Group annual conference is taking place at Cardiff University, 18-20 December 2017. Details are here.

The following session has been accepted by the TAG Committee on behalf of the Offa’s Dyke Collaboratory. Interested in speaking? Submit your proposed titles and proposals  to the session organiser – Professor Howard Williams ( by 25th August 2017 with the following information:

Proposer(s) & Institution
Contact Email Address
Paper Title
Abstract (Max 200 words)


Dykes Through Time:

Rethinking Early Medieval Linear Earthworks

In stark contrast to Roman archaeology and despite their magnitude, linear earthworks have been marginalised in investigations of the Early Middle Ages (c. AD 400–1100). For example, among the 52 chapters in The Oxford Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Archaeology (Hamerow, Hinton and Crawford (eds), OUP, 2011), Offa’s Dyke is mentioned only twice, Wat’s Dyke once, while other significance linear earthworks such as East Wansdyke receive no mention. Not only have early medieval settlement, burial and material culture studies side-lined linear earthworks in recent decades, dykes are even peripheral among most recent investigations of early medieval territorial organisation, warfare and landscape.

With only a few notable exceptions, this constitutes a collective ‘forgetting’ of early historic linear earthworks as foci for archaeological and interdisciplinary early medieval research. This situation is paradoxical given the long-term ambitions to conserve and manage linear earthworks and the heritage success which constitutes the incorporation of one into a high-profile National Trail since the 1970s: the Offa’s Dyke Path. This is also an eerie academic silence given the recent high-profile political debates on migrations, ethnicity, frontiers and nationhood (from Devolution to Indyref and Brexit) into which early medieval dykes have been repeatedly mobilised.

This session aims to foster new approaches and investigations of early medieval linear earthworks, theorising their significance in the past and the present. The focus in particular is upon the temporalities and materialities of early medieval linear earthworks as monuments operating to perform a series of complex space-time landscape dynamics. Incorporating new perspectives on historical, archaeological, literary and place-name evidence, the session invites contributions to address one or more of the following themes relating to linear earthworks as boundaries, components of frontier zones, and elements of broader political and cultural geographies in the Early Middle Ages:

  • dating;
  • theorising beyond defence and display;
  • reinterpreting construction and materiality;
  • rethinking landscape contexts and dynamics;
  • evaluating life-histories from Prehistory to the present;
  • critiquing heritage conservation, management and interpretation;
  • uses and abuses in contemporary culture and politics.