Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Clues to Medieval Archaeology vigour:

A few tantalising pieces of evidence for why Manchester came to dominate North-West England in the industrial age, an event long regarded as something of a mystery, have been pieced together as a result of recent archaeological and historical work in the city.

Traditionally Manchester was thought to have developed only from about 1750, having been a very minor settlement in the Middle Ages – far less important than established towns nearby such as, for example, Preston. The recent work, however, suggests that Manchester was already one of the region’s principal centres by the mid-16th century, and may have flourished commercially for centuries before that.

Two archaeology excavations have now produced evidence suggesting a wealthy and vigorous city in the later Middle Ages. Discoveries in Hangman’s Ditch, the city’s early medieval boundary, include 14th and 15th century gold pins, imported pottery, a rare decorated sword scabbard, and vast quantities of leatherwork – apparently the discarded contents of an entire leathershop. The collection resembles those found from major cities such as London.

Meanwhile, investigations in the moat at Denton Old Hall in Tameside, dating from the 16th century, have produced the timber, rubble, metalwork and objects of an earlier building that had been demolished to make room for a grand new home in the fashionable style of the period – another indicator of prosperity in the region.

The discoveries, by the University of Manchester Archaeological Unit (UMAU), build on the work of archaeologist Mike Morris, whose analysis of tax returns and similar documents of the period produced the first indications of Manchester’s medieval vitality, and were published in the book Medieval Manchester in 1983. More recent analysis of the city’s street pattern by UMAU have suggested the possibility that the town had a large planned market in the 13th century, similar to that known for Preston.

According to John Walker, Director of UMAU, the social conditions of late medieval Manchester led naturally to the entrepreneurship of the industrial age. The absence of guilds, strong local lords or a powerful church allowed an unrestricted, socially mobile community to flourish, turning to craftwork and industry in an area of poor land. The view that Manchester was an insignificant place owed partly to the absence of information about the medieval town, as many of the town’s official documents were burned while temporarily stored in London during the Great Fire of the 17th century.

For more interesting topics related to archaeology, visit archaeology excavations.

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