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Archaeologia Cantiana - Vol. 126   2006 page 422 - Book Reviews - continued

Gold And Gilt, Pots And Pins, Possessions And People In Medieval Britain, by David A. Hinton. 452 pp., 8pp. colour plates and numerous halftones, Oxford University Press, 2005. Hardback £30. ISBN-10: 0-19-926453-8.

David Hinton’s aim here, as stated in his Introduction, is ‘to examine some of the ways in which people in medieval Britain presented themselves’, explaining their behaviour by considering ‘the reasons for people’s decisions to acquire, display, conceal, and discard some of the things that were important to them’. This is no small task within the boundaries of a book whose scope stretches from the fourth to the early sixteenth century.
   This book is a part of Oxford’s Medieval history and archaeology series, volumes intended to ‘bring together archaeological, historical, and visual methods to offer new approaches to aspects of medieval society, economy and material culture.’ He writes as Professor of Archaeology at Southampton, but presumably with the intention of encouraging interdisciplinary dialogue. As a historian reading the book, the reviewer was at all points aware that the underlying question here is an archaeologist’s question – just how much can we learn about behaviour from extant material culture? But there is also commitment to interdisciplinarity, for instance in the widening of perspective offered by the visual and formal connections between different media. Decorative schemes are traced moving between different forms – the stag, for instance, ‘viewed askance’ as an image from Sutton Hoo onwards, ‘until rehabilitated by the popularity of Bestiaries after the tenth century’ [103]; Beowulf and Bede are brought into play to shed light on burial practices and necklace patterns. Documentary sources are also occasionally used – a rise in taxation based on the value of goods from the twelfth century creates a different context for objects, in a society where ‘everybody became inured to having their possessions regularly assessed by their neighbours’ and objects therefore placed individuals socially.
   There are some striking insights of this kind, but they do not structure the narrative. The vast majority of the text is given over to the sheer weight of archaeological detail. As a result, familiar sites such as Sutton Hoo can be understood in the light of lesser-known excavations, and readers with a specific local interest, for example in Kentish practice, are able to contextualise their concerns. They might be justly proud that the Anglo-Saxon Disc brooch on the front cover, which surely sells the book in a way that no review ever could, is from Wingham. But they will also learn that the story of Kentish origins is complex: ‘no grave in Kent has objects that are all exclusively ‘Jutish’; it is as though some items were accepted and others rejected, as were things from Francia and other parts of the continent, creating an identity that was specific to east Kent itself’.

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