The study of these metal fragments found at Eslington in the Aln valley has revealed that they were part of an early medieval pattern-welded sword (Collins & Turner, 2018). The sword and the context of the archaeological site show the presence of high-status inhumations and indicate that social changes were occurring in late sixth century CE Northumberland in connection to the emergence of new elites. These dynamics were previously undocumented in the early middle ages in the Bernicia region, which corresponds to what nowadays are the northern part of Northumberland and southern area of eastern Scotland. Image by Rob Collins; published in: Collins & Turner, 2018, 35, fig. 7.

The three (re)constructed buildings and early medieval Northumbria

The significance of the buildings (re)constructed in our Gyrwe’s farm can be fully appreciated only when the historical context of early medieval Northumbria is considered in all its complexity. The three (re)constructions from Thirlings, New Bewick and Yeavering, as well as the monastery of St Paul, all showcased in these Digital Collections, are highly representative of the most debated historical questions concerning Britain between the 5th and the 8th century CE.

Written and archaeological sources about this period indicate the presence on the island of numerous groups of people with different backgrounds, speaking different languages, and often in conflict between each other. At first sight, later sources like Bede could give the impression that Britain was devastated, occupied, and conquered by a cohesive ‘Anglo-Saxon’ population during the 5th century CE. However, recent research suggests a much more complex picture.

It seems that small groups of people that at some point were settled on the island gained control over increasingly large areas, and elaborated hegemonic narratives celebrating kinships of warrior-rulers connected to the continental regions around the North Sea to legitimise their power. New distinctive settlements, objects, and burials are evidenced in the archaeological record from the 6th century onwards. Most likely, they reflect practices, strategies, and social hallmarks of emerging elites that were struggling to gain control over local resources and trades.