In the Land of Giants: Journeys Through the Dark Ages
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The five centuries between the end of Roman Britain (410) and the death of Alfred the Great (899) have left few voices save a handful of chroniclers, but Britain's ‘Dark Ages' can still be explored through their material remnants: buildings, books, metalwork, and, above all, landscapes.
Max Adams explores Britain's lost early medieval past by walking its paths and exploring its lasting imprint on valley, hill and field. From York to Whitby, from London to Sutton Hoo, from Edinburgh to Anglesey and from Hadrian's Wall to Loch Tay, each of his ten walk narratives form both free-standing chapters and parts of a wider portrait of a Britain of fort and fyrd, crypt and crannog, church and causeway, holy well and memorial stone.
Part travelogue, part expert reconstruction, In the Land of Giants offers a beautifully written insight into the lives of peasants, drengs, ceorls, thanes, monks and kings during an enigmatic but richly exciting period of our island's history.
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Immediately recognisable, as Colm and I walked across to see it, as another skeuomorphic wooden stake inscribed in stone. This was more than coincidence; it hinted at a local tradition of wood and stone cross-carving, and the striking similarity between the two representations very likely meant that they were contemporary, if not the product of the same sculptor. Plotting the outlines of the cemetery, skull house and ruined walls with the laser theodolite, Sarah (co-opted more or less willingly.
One of these records the founding saint’s name, Ernán; another appears to show a monk kneeling at the feet of a warrior, perhaps imploring a Viking for mercy or being carried off into slavery. Eight gaming boards were also found here: evidently the monks relieved the boredom of long winter evenings on the island by enjoying a game of Nine Men’s Morris, or merels, whose origins can be traced at least as far back as imperial Rome. The relationship between St Blane’s foundation and that on.
(the model was a group of twelve contiguous townships, honoured as much by the exception as in the observance) it collected renders and services. Over the centuries, and particularly after the reintroduction of coinage in the late seventh century, these renders in kind and service—a tax on agricultural produce, woodland rights, labour and military service—were increasingly commuted to rents; often landholdings were divided by inheritance, forfeit or alienation to the church. The foregoing.
Been a suspicion among scholars that it had earlier been a British foundation; Bede knew it by its Brythonic name, Mailros. There are sufficient signs of Romano-British Christianity in the Borders—Latin memorial stones, aligned cemeteries and ‘Eccles’ place names—to suggest that a Roman episcopal church maintained itself here long enough to be absorbed into Oswald’s Irish mission. That a native foundation like Mailros should survive close to Iron Age and Roman forts and a military road on a key.
Settlements might just as well be that of the Iron Age. Even radiocarbon dating is unreliable for these centuries and, unless you are in the peaty bogs of Ireland, wood rarely survives to be dated by its tree rings. The fifth century existed all right—we just can’t see it. It is like the Dark Matter which fills our universe but can’t be seen or measured. The record falls silent, even if echoes and rumours of echoes are heard across the Channel and in the courts of Byzantium, Arles and Ravenna.