Eoferwic to Jorvik
a talk by Mark Whyman
@ Jorvik DIG centre, York
June 18th 2014
Emporium, Wics, Palisades & Cows?
This talk was part of York's Order & Chaos, Festival of Ideas, and so this lecture was meant to discuss the idea that Eoferwic/Jorvik was rather chaotic in layout and use of land as compared to later centuries of development. Quite a challenge.
So Mark cleverly turned it on it's head in that he set out to explain how the early settlement of Eoferwic/Jorvik had it's own logic and sense of order. After all, what makes no sense to us probably made perfect sense to a 8t/9th/10th century trader/farmer.
As a keen Viking fan (or possibly obsessive) what little I know about York is during its time as Jorvik and the northern capital of the Danelaw. So this talk was really fascinating as it helped me picture its earlier origins as the Anglo-Saxon trading centre Eoferwic before the Vikings came along.
Mark Whyman explained the origin of Eoferwic as a name - it does have a surprising link to Vikings but not in the way I realised. His theory is that Viking, the noun, originates from 'a-viking' the verb. In Anglo-Saxon that translates to 'A-Wicing' which means trading - so place-names with Wic in them refer to them as a centre or place of trading. Otherwise referred to as Emporia.
There is evidence for this in other place-names of English towns such as Ipswich which used to be known as Gipeswic. Archeological sites ave also provided physical evidence in the form of rich imported and exotic material and other high status good excavated at such sites proving that this place is where international/continental trades are made, not just local ones.
Mark introduced us to the evidence gatehred from the archeological work done at Fishergate which gathered settlement evidence of Eoferwic as an Emporium site. High value trade goods and some evidence of settlement was found within the large area and indeed they also found the edge extent of it where the finds peetered out. Yet there was on intriguing feature in that the faint marks of houses/structures seemed to be contained within a set of ruts/ditches.
Mark believes that these ditches were also the base for palisades thus creating a palisaded enclosed settlement. But why? Surely the tradable goods aren't that expensive? So he tried to see when and why other settlements might have been palisaded and he discovered that the most frequent use of palisaded enclosures in history lies within the keeping of livestock - these Anglo-Saxons were trading cattle!
The recorded type of animal bones found at Fishergate show that over 50% were cattle bones so as well as trading cattle they were also killing them to live off and maybe trade and preserve the meats/hides. Shows beef was a clear staple of the urban settlement.
Further excavations at George St. York and even in Coppergate revealed tansilising palisade like markings which could further hint at other palisaded enclosures within the same area. It may also explain why the settlement at Fishergate seemed to fade away from 980AD, they may simply have moved into these other palisaded enclosures.
This led Mark to believe that the claimed ground by these palisaded enclosures may have formed the first street routes in, around and between them. That maybe distinct groups of families, farmers, traders and even nationalities occuped each of the palisaded enclosures. An example of the cosmipolitan mix of peoples came from the discovery of Lincolnshire pottery found at Fishergate where as in Coppergate the pottery is Yorkware, made using the local clays which are distinctive from that used in Lincolnshire potter.
So there you have it folks - we owe the legacy of York to the Anglo-Saxons love of shopping and eating a good beef stake hehehe.
It was a very enlightening and enjoyable talk and when Mark explained the idea of palisades to keep cattle everyone in the audience including me went 'ooooooh that makes sense!'.
Part 2 of 2014 Year of the Viking Cont. will feature my attendance at a second talk at Jorvik Dig concerning Viking Age Town Planning. Will post it within the next couple of days.