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Research

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Shapwick Project, Somerset. A Rural Landscape Explored

A research project of the Department of Archaeology.

Background

The Shapwick Project was an intensive dissection of a community and its landscape; a study of the archaeology, history and topography of a single parish in Somerset. Co-directed by Professor Chris Gerrard with Professor Mick Aston, the fieldwork took place 1989-99, with specialist reports and writing up continuing until 2005. The Project was established specifically to the formation and development of nucleated settlements between the 8th and the 13th centuries; one of the most intriguing puzzles in the English landscape. Simply put, how and when did the rural settlements we see today come into existence in the first place? Later the project extended more widely to trace the prehistoric and Roman ‘underlay’ and post-medieval archaeology and attempted a series of detailed reconstructions of Shapwick right through to the present day. Our focus became the ‘experience’ of an English village community over the past 1,000 years and how it has changed, from dwellings and gardens to pottery, dress accessories and food on the table. The results are published in two volumes: Interpreting the English village. Landscape and community at Shapwick, Somerset (Windgather Press, 2013) and The Shapwick Project, Somerset. A Rural Landscape Explored (Society for Medieval Archaeology, 2007).

The Shapwick Project proved to be significant in several ways. First, for the variety of sources it employed, including historical documentation, cartographic sources, standing buildings, archaeology and the historical ecology of hedgerows and woodland, together with the results of excavation and small finds study. Our approach might broadly be called ‘landscape archaeology’ because we aimed to look beyond the single archaeological monument or any particular excavation to consider the wider geography and a greater chronological depth. Second, for the intensity of the work. We put Shapwick under the microscope to create an in-depth portrait of a specific geographical area and its community; few European communities have been subjected to attention at quite this level of detail. Third, because during the Middle Ages Shapwick was part of the very considerable estate of the Benedictine abbey at Glastonbury, we took the opportunity to examine in detail how one part of a monastic estate functioned. Finally, and somewhat unusually for an academic project at that time, we actively invited involvement and aimed to provide a place for anyone who wished to participate. These were the early days of what is now a significant movement in community archaeology. Different aspects of the project were funded by English Heritage, the universities of Bristol, Durham and Winchester, AHRC, the Maltwood Fund, Somerset County Council, Bristol Naturalists’ Society, Europa CAI-CONSID and Society for Medieval Archaeology.

Published Results

Books: authored

  • Aston, M A & Gerrard, C M (2013). Interpreting the English village. Landscape and community at Shapwick, Somerset. Windgather Press.
  • Gerrard, C.M. & Aston, M.A. (2007). The Shapwick Project, Somerset. A Rural Landscape Explored. Leeds: Society for Medieval Archaeology.

Essays in edited volumes

  • Gerrard, C. M. (2008). Adventures in a post-medieval landscape: a rural case study from Shapwick, England. In Constructing post-medieval archaeology in Italy: a new agenda. Gelichi, S & Librenti, M Florence: Edizioni All'Insegna del Giglio. 75-96.
  • Gerrard, C.M. (2007). Not all archaeology is rubbish: the elusive life histories of three artefacts from Shapwick, Somerset. In People and Places. Essays in Honour of Mick Aston. Costen, M. Oxford: Oxbow. 166-180.

Staff

From the Department of Archaeology