Guide In the Land of Giants: Journeys Through the Dark Ages

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Tea, Books and Other Parts of Life

NOOK Book. A cultural exploration of the Dark Age landscapes of Britain that poses a significant question: Is the modern world simply the realization of our ancient past?

In The Land of Giants: Journeys Through Dark Age Britain by Max Adams | Piccadilly Bookshop

Max Adams is the author of In the Land of Giants as well as a number of other books published in Britain. A university professor, Max lives in the northeast of England. See All Customer Reviews. Shop Books.

In The Land Of Giants: Journeys Through Dark Age Britain by Max Adams

Read an excerpt of this book! Add to Wishlist. USD Sign in to Purchase Instantly. Overview A cultural exploration of the Dark Age landscapes of Britain that poses a significant question: Is the modern world simply the realization of our ancient past? The five centuries between the end of Roman Britain and the death of Alfred the Great have left few voices save a handful of chroniclers, but Britain's "Dark Ages" can still be explored through their material remnants: architecture, books, metalwork, and, above all, landscapes.


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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 walking narratives form free-standing chapters as well as parts of a wider portrait of a Britain of fort and fyrd, crypt and crannog, church and causeway, holy well and memorial stone. Show More. Average Review. Write a Review. As for Aesica , or Great Chesters as it is called these days, its outline survives as part of a farm whose builders scavenged much of its stone; but an altar stands close to the south entrance and on it offerings of coins have been left none of them worth nicking: they are all pennies or twopence pieces, with the odd five-pence piece glinting silver.

I doubted if the gods of the Wall would bother listening to such paltry pleas for their favours.

It had promised much when we left the house at 6. The sky might have been made of locally sourced lead sheets and even the magnificent view from the Whin Sill was more imagined than experienced as we trudged up and down, in and out, barely bothering to count off the milecastles and turrets. The film-strip of the Wall was beginning to look like a repeat. Looking south, the uncompromising slick grey eel of the military road rationalised our eastward trend. Sometimes the line of the vallum stood out even in this dismal light; beyond both, hidden by the next ridge, lay the Stanegate and the famous fort at Vindolanda where hundreds of writing tablets, dating to the first and second centuries AD, excavated in a decades-long campaign from the early s, have cast a fascinating light on the lives of Roman squaddies of the decades before the Wall was conceived.

Would that we had their equivalent for the centuries after Rome. It set me thinking about the dilation of historical time. The tablets, written in ink in cursive script on folded wooden sheaves the size of postcards, record the mundane—party invitations, purchases, fort business. The mundane is, naturally, what we would most like to know about those distant epochs whose narrative is a fragmented, compressed, skewed and otherwise barely legible account of battles, royal succession and the march of ecclesiastical progress.

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The only equivalents of the Vindolanda tablets from the Dark Ages were retrieved from the preserving conditions of a bog in County Antrim early in the twentieth century: the Springmount tablets, texts cut with a metal stylus into wax set in yew wood sheaves bound together by a leather thong looped through holes. When such detail emerges from the historical or archaeological record, it intensifies our gaze.

Without Bede, who allows us to look at events from the seventh century decade by decade, sometimes year by year, we would know very little about the rise of the great kingdoms, of the conversion of their kings. His own chronology was constructed from monastic annals which recorded interesting or important events in the margins of Easter calculations; and from lists of kings, so that he was able to draw events together under what are called regnal years. Such and such an event occurred in the seventh year of the reign of this or that king. When his evidence was contradictory, he became vague or fudged a compromise.

We should be grateful, though: Bede was a master scholar of time: he wrote a book on it, adopted the AD form of dating and towers over his contemporaries as a true historian. Archaeologists are usually delighted if they can pin events down to within a half century. In this period pottery is found rarely and when it does turn up it is not diagnostic even of a century, let alone a decade.

In the Land of Giants

Roman coins stopped flowing to Britain at the end of the fourth century and it is not until the end of the seventh that they reappear; even then, not enough of them are found in the right contexts to help us with the major questions: how long was a site occupied? When did a settlement burn down?

Which saint founded a church? As it happens, radiocarbon dating for the first millennium is also poorly refined: no fault of the scientists, it is just that the amount of atmospheric carbon absorbed by living things fluctuates, and in these centuries so much so that any sort of precision is difficult to achieve.

A Journey Through the Dark Ages

In Ireland, whose bogs provide anaerobic conditions, dendrochronology occasionally comes to the rescue. The tide mill at Nendrum monastery in County Down, for example, was built in the year , dated precisely by the timber used in its construction.

In some of our towns—London and York, for example—wood also survives in deeply stratified deposits, and can be dated. In most cases, however, while archaeology is very good at describing sequences of events—sometimes in stunning detail—those sequences often hang suspended, drifting between the generations.