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Durham University

Department of Archaeology


Publication details for Professor Sarah Semple

Semple, S (2007). Defining the OE Hearg: a preliminary archaeological and topographic examination of hearg place names and their hinterlands. Early Medieval Europe 15(4): 364-385.

Author(s) from Durham


This paper focuses upon the OE term hearg. This linguistic element survives within a handful of rare surviving place-names in the English landscape and has, in the past, been considered, to refer to a place of pre-Christian cultic activity specifically a temple of some kind. Despite a century of archaeological excavation and recording, little evidence has come to light of structures that might fulfill this role with the exception of structure D2, sited within the unique early medieval ceremonial complex at Yeavering, Northumberland.

This paper, by means of a new methodological approach directed at three case studies, seeks to establish the archaeological profile of hearg locations and their immediate environs and serves to introduce new and ongoing research by the author into cult and landscape in early medieval Britain. The argument put forward here is that hearg locations represent sites of long-lived cultic practice spanning the late prehistoric to historic periods, with activity reaching a zenith not in the fifth to seventh centuries AD, but in the late Iron Age to Romano-British eras. The established view that hearg place-names indicate the locations of Anglo-Saxon �temple� sites is questioned and the concept of places defined by long-lived, localised cult practice is put forward.