The Viking Great Army and its Legacy: Plotting Settlement Shift Using Metal-Detected Finds

By Dave Haldenby and Dr. Julian D. Richards / 09.22.2016
Haldenby – Independent Researcher and Volunteer at Hull and East Riding Museum
Richards – Professor of Archaeology, University of York

Originally published in Internet Archaeology as Haldenby, D. and Richards, J.D. (2016) The Viking Great Army and its Legacy: plotting settlement shift using metal-detected finds, Internet Archaeology 42.


Investigation of the Anglian and Anglo-Scandinavian settlement at Burrow House Farm, Cottam, East Yorkshire from 1993-95 was a pioneering collaboration between archaeologists and metal-detectorists, and led to the identification of a new form of Anglo-Scandinavian farmstead. It was also one of the first investigations ever undertaken of a ‘productive site’, so-called because of the large quantities of early medieval metalwork recovered by metal-detecting. The project provided an important demonstration of the effects of the reorganisation of land ownership following the Scandinavian settlement of Northumbria. Excavation demonstrated that the abandonment of an Anglian ‘Butterwick-type’ enclosure in the late 9th century was closely followed by the construction of the new Anglo-Scandinavian farmstead some 100m to the north, reinforced by the pattern seen in the horizontal stratigraphy of dated metalwork derived from metal-detecting (Richards 1999a; 2001a).

Silver-alloy coins of Eanred, c.820-830 CE

Subsequently, metal-detecting has continued at the site, almost doubling the quantity of artefacts. This has led to further breakthroughs in the interpretation of the chronological and spatial development of the settlement, as well as some substantial revisions to the typology and dating of early medieval artefacts, with important implications for the chronology of the period. It allows some significant new conclusions to be drawn about settlement development at Cottam, identifying the changing function of the settlements, as well as their location:

  1. There are two phases of Anglian activity, with a transition from an 8th/9th-century estate centre to a 9th-century market, echoing the similar transitions being recorded in Scandinavia at sites such as Tissø. This is the first time such a configuration has been identified in England, and it throws important new light on the nature of ‘productive sites’.
  2. There are also two phases of Viking activity, with an initial phase of looting, probably linked to activity by the Viking Great Army, before the establishment of the Anglo-Scandinavian farmstead. This captures the moment of a critical transition in Viking behaviour in England, from raiding to settlement activity. It is also the first time that the activity of a Viking raiding party has been identified at a rural site.

In addition, our project demonstrates that the detailed plotting of surface finds collected with a metal-detector has now been raised to a major technique of historical investigation, and has much greater potential than has hitherto been realised.

One of the initial publications of the Cottam project (Richards 2001a) was itself an early experiment in data publication, with a linked interpretation and archive. The development of e-media now allows an increasingly sophisticated presentation of data, including new means of visualisation. Here the use of Internet Archaeology shows the full potential of the new procedures. An interactive map allows others to examine our hypotheses, and to interrogate the data for themselves. In addition, the revised finds database, along with new photographs of many of the early medieval artefacts, are hosted by the Archaeology Data Service (Haldenby and Richards 2016).


During the late 9th and early 10th centuries AD the English landscape was transformed. In the aftermath of invasion by a Viking army in AD 866, there was significant disruption of traditional patterns of landholding (Richards 2004). This was a new and much larger force than earlier Viking raiding parties, and comprised several warbands, each under their own leaders. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle describes it as the Great Army, or micel here (Whitelock 1961), and it appears to have been intent on territorial conquest, as well as the acquisition of portable wealth, including slaves, in addition to silver and gold. From AD 876-886 military victory against each of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of East Anglia, Mercia and Northumbria was followed by land seizures by the leaders of the Great Army. The ongoing break-up of former royal and ecclesiastical rural estates and their transfer to private ownership was accelerated and a new settlement pattern emerged, underpinning the landscape of nucleated villages reflected by 1086 in the Domesday Book. By that stage many of the settlements in eastern and northern England had been given names that reflect Scandinavian influence and, irrespective of when these names were first used, significant changes in land ownership and settlement naming must have followed from the territorial partitions of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms (Richards 2004, 49-77).

In Northumbria the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that in AD 876 the land was seized by a section of the Great Army that had returned north under their leader Halfdan, whose followers famously ‘proceeded to plough and support themselves’ (Whitelock 1961, 48). In the chalk uplands of the Yorkshire Wolds, which by Domesday had one of the densest distributions of Scandinavian-influenced place names, this change can be seen archaeologically. From the mid/late 7th to mid/late 9th centuries (during the ‘Middle Saxon’ or in this region ‘Anglian’ period), the Wolds had a non-nucleated settlement pattern. The undulating landscape was transected by north-south droveways extending up from the Vale of Pickering to the north to rich grazing pastures on the Wolds, where there were farmsteads every few miles (Richards 2013; Wrathmell 2012a; 2012b). These are characterised by clusters of sub-rectangular enclosures that have been observed from aerial photography and geophysical survey and named ‘Butterwick-type’ after the site in Ryedale (North Yorkshire), which was one of the first examples to be identified (Stoertz 1997, 55-9; Wrathmell 2012b, 106-13). Although Everson and Stocker (2012) have suggested that these were temporary summer grazing sites the bulk of the evidence, including a wide range of craft activities and the animal bone assemblages, supports the interpretation that there was permanent all year round occupation (Wrathmell 2012c). Several examples have now been excavated, generally where they have been discovered by metal-detector users, as in this region they are often characterised by rich assemblages of copper-alloy dress accessories and coins, which has led to them being termed ‘productive sites’ (Pestell and Ulmschneider 2003; Richards et al. 2009). The quantities of metal artefacts, especially coins, pins and strap-ends, found at these sites are exceptional compared to the numbers from other periods, and although it is still debated whether they functioned as periodic markets, local tax collection centres, or manufacturing centres (or combinations of all of these and more), it is clear that economic transactions form a significant part of the activities represented by the finds. Similar metal-rich sites have also been identified in Scandinavia, but here they are often interpreted in terms of a transition from cultic places, to trading sites, to proto-towns (Jørgensen 2010; Skre 2010; Fabech and Näsman 2013; Carver 2015). Excavated ‘productive sites’ in the Yorkshire Wolds now include Cottam (Richards 1999a), Cowlam (Richards 2013) and Burdale (Richards and Roskams 2012; 2013a; 2013b). These Butterwick-type enclosures also represent the Middle Saxon phase as revealed by geophysics at Wharram Percy (Wrathmell 2012b), although the guardianship status of Wharram, which prevents metal-detecting, means that it is not ‘productive’ in the same sense (Richards 1999b). From the mid-9th century, however, these enclosures were abandoned and replaced by new forms of settlement that evolved into nucleated villages with planned layouts (Wrathmell 2012d).

These sweeping changes in land ownership were accompanied by transformations in personal dress, which are also reflected at the ‘productive sites’. Scandinavian decorative ornament in Borre and Jellinge styles appeared on mass-produced dress accessories, albeit not in the same numbers as Anglian forms, and there were also new Anglo-Scandinavian styles (Kershaw 2012; 2013) and artefact types, such as Norse bells (Schoenfelder and Richards 2011). There were major economic changes as well and the Northumbrian monetary economy, represented by the copper-alloy low denomination styca coinage, was replaced or at least supplemented by silver bullion transactions determined by weight.

Previous Work

Cottam B, East Yorkshire (NGR 49754667), was one of the first productive sites to be examined by controlled metal-detecting and by archaeological methods. Excavation from 1993-5 revealed that a concentration of Anglian finds recorded by metal-detector users coincided with a Butterwick-type enclosure. It also provided the first archaeological glimpse of Halfdan’s land partition, as the Anglian enclosure was abandoned in the late 9th century and replaced by a new form of Anglo-Scandinavian farmstead, some 100m to the north, with droveways and rectangular paddocks sitting behind a grand earthen rampart and timber gateway. The interpretation that there had been a horizontal shift in settlement focus was further reinforced by the distribution of the datable metalwork recovered through metal-detecting, and by the concentration of Anglo-Scandinavian Torksey-ware pottery logged in field-walking in 1993 (Richards 1999a, 9-15).

The artefact assemblage from Cottam B was first published by the lead detectorist in a series of papers in the Yorkshire Archaeological Journal (Haldenby 1990; 1992; 1994). The excavations were published in the Archaeological Journal (Richards 1999a) and via an early experiment in e-publication in Internet Archaeology (Richards 2001a). The associated digital archive was deposited with the Archaeology Data Service (ADS), including a full catalogue of the known finds, with basic photographs of many of the objects (Richards 2001b). The fine dating provided by the settlement break in the late 9th century also allowed new observations about artefact typology (Haldenby and Richards 2009) and the Anglo-Scandinavian bullion economy (Haldenby and Kershaw 2014).

Further metal-detecting in the Cottam area also led to the investigation of a smaller productive site at Cottam A where the Anglo-Saxon farmers had watered their livestock in the pond left by a Romano-British farmstead, and of a second Butterwick-type enclosure and productive site on the other side of the dry valley at Cowlam. Both these excavations, and some overall conclusions about the wider Anglo-Saxon landscape and estate, were published in the Archaeological Journal (Richards 2013), with the digital archives again made available via the ADS (Richards 2011a; 2011b). Meanwhile Haldenby and Richards (2010) considered the wider implications of the project and other metal-detected sites for the study of ploughzone finds, demonstrating that there is little horizontal movement of artefacts in the ploughsoil. Richards also incorporated the site-based studies in a wider analysis of the national distribution of early medieval metalwork, as catalogued by the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) and Early Medieval Coinage (EMC) databases, in the Viking and Anglo-Saxon Landscape and Economy (VASLE) project (Richards et al. 2009).

However, the excavation at Cottam B had only investigated a fraction of the site and, with ongoing disturbance of the buried features by modern agriculture, controlled detecting has continued to the present day, with logging of the position of all finds. This has led to a doubling in the number of known finds, and a refinement of the horizontal chronology of the site. Although still broadly supporting the initial interpretation of an Anglian site replaced by an Anglo-Scandinavian farmstead to the north, the new finds and refinement of the artefact typology allow us to define additional stages in the settlement development, as well as to draw some fresh interpretations about artefacts and coins that have wider implications for society and economy at this transitional moment between Anglo-Saxon and Viking England. These results are presented here, alongside the full database and a new photographic archive held by the ADS (Haldenby and Richards 2016). It is only with the close study and plotting of the metal-detected artefacts and their contextualisation through excavation that we are able to draw these conclusions, so the project further emphasises the tremendous potential of collaboration between archaeologists and metal-detector users and the fine dating resolution that can result from the plotting of finds.


The current project has produced a complete catalogue of the geo-referenced early medieval metal finds recovered up until June 2015. This includes all those finds logged by Haldenby and by other detector users working with him, or known to him, as well as key finds recovered during fieldwork by the University of York. The majority of the metal-detected finds were plotted by pacing in relation to the modern field boundary and gate, which has been demonstrated to yield reasonably precise results, at least as accurate as hand-held GPS machines. Finds were then plotted on a hand-drawn plan and the coordinates were later converted to Ordnance Survey grid references. Initially, hones and some iron finds such as knives were not plotted but are included in the database for the sake of completeness. The catalogue also includes significant finds recovered during the 1993 field-walking, and pottery collected by Haldenby and others during two further episodes of field-walking (2010 and 2014), with each sherd similarly plotted against the Ordnance Survey grid. Also included are all excavated small finds (metal, lithics and worked bone and antler objects recovered during the two seasons of excavation in 1993 and 1995), but not the bulk finds of pottery and animal bone. The chronological range of the finds runs from the Bronze Age to the post-medieval period, but it is the early medieval period that is the focus here. For the early medieval finds, the new database supersedes the catalogue provided in earlier publications (Richards 1999a; 2001a) and the digital archive (Richards 2001b) and the opportunity has been taken to refine the descriptions of artefacts and definition of types, as well as to correct errors in the original list. In total there are 1082 artefacts in the new catalogue, 891 of which have coordinates. Of the total number of finds, 903 were recovered by Haldenby and other metal-detector users during metal-detecting or field-walking, while the remaining 179 were recovered during excavation or field-walking undertaken by the University of York.

A complete photographic record has also been produced for the majority of the early medieval non-ferrous finds and is searchable as part of the new ADS archive that accompanies this article (Haldenby and Richards 2016). In the next section we will discuss some of the main features of the distribution of objects and possible interpretations. We anticipate, however, that it may be possible to discern further patterning, especially as our understanding of artefact chronology is further refined, and the full dataset is provided so that future researchers may not only test our interpretations but also draw new conclusions.


Of the 1082 catalogued objects 5% are Neolithic or Bronze Age; 12% are Iron Age or Romano-British; 79% are early medieval, incorporating Anglian and Anglo-Scandinavian finds; just 1% are medieval, and the remaining 3% cannot be assigned to a period (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Graph showing all finds by period

Figure 2: Distribution of all catalogued finds with spatial coordinates

This clearly reinforces our impression of the extent of early medieval activity at Cottam B, compared with other periods. The proportion of Romano-British finds may well be under-represented as the database does not include any Romano-British pottery picked up during field-walking in 1989 and 1993. However, the Iron Age/Romano-British and medieval finds are still little more than a typical background scatter that might be expected in most fields in this region. Nonetheless, the patterning observable in the overall distribution of all those finds with geospatial coordinates (Figure 2) largely reflects the concentrations of early medieval finds, considered below, with a cluster of Romano-British finds towards the northern limit of the distribution.

Figure 3: Distribution of Bronze Age finds


Figure 4 (left): Bronze Age gold bead (118) © Hull and East Riding Museum, Hull Museums / Figure 5 (right): Sandstone phallus (65), probably Bronze Age

Although the number of Bronze Age finds is relatively small, it is worth highlighting the distribution as it may relate to activity on the site (Figure 3). The crop-mark evidence indicates a number of Bronze Age barrows in the area, and a sherd of Bronze Age pottery found during the excavation (Richards 1999a, 15), a gold bead (Figure 4), and a possible Bronze Age sandstone phallus (Figure 5) found close by, may relate to a ploughed-out cremation burial (Richards 1999a, 89). The circular ditch which, from the magnetometer survey plot, appears to abut the north-west corner of the enclosure could well be the ring ditch of this ploughed-out barrow. While it is impossible to determine if this was still an extant landscape feature in the 8th or 9th centuries AD, the juxtaposition of the two crop-mark features seems to be more than coincidence. A simple prosaic explanation that it provided some degree of shelter against the prevailing wind is possible, but the re-use of prehistoric features during the Anglo-Saxon period is now well attested (Williams 1997; Crewe 2012; Semple 2013). There are also examples of Anglo-Saxon execution sites re-using earlier barrows (Reynolds 2009) and given the evidence for a skull being fixed to a scaffold pole at Cottam in the 9th century (Richards 1999a, 93) it seems quite possible that the residual Bronze Age mound was used as an execution site.

Figure 6: Graph showing all early medieval finds, excluding pottery, with absolute number of each category

It is the early medieval finds themselves, however, that provide the focus for this article. Taking just the 851 early medieval finds, including those that could be designated specifically as Anglian or Anglo-Scandinavian, there are 20 artefact types for which there are five or more examples, with the largest categories being pins (183), hones (95), knives (86) strap-ends (71), and stycas (66) (Figure 6). There are also some significant individual finds that have been made since previous publications of the artefacts, including an iron stylus (Figure 7). This class of object was once thought to be exclusive to monastic sites, but examples have subsequently been found at other ‘high-status’ sites (Pestell 2004, 40-8; Blair 2005, 210). Its identification at Cottam B extends this distribution further, and perhaps reinforces the suggestion that the site was used for the collection of dues or taxes, legal proceedings, or at least some function that would require a written record. Other new finds include one arm from a pair of tweezers of an unusual type, presumably of 9th-century date (Figure 8), and a miniature lead amulet in the shape of an axehead, probably Anglo-Scandinavian (Figure 9).


Figure 7 (left): Iron stylus (328) © Hull and East Riding Museum, Hull Museums / Figure 8 (right): One arm of copper-alloy tweezers (252) © Hull and East Riding Museum, Hull Museums / Figure 9 (center): Miniature lead axehead amulet (481) © Hull and East Riding Museum, Hull Museums

As already identified during the initial metal-detector survey, there are two clear concentrations of early medieval metalwork at Cottam B, and this distribution has been reinforced by the additional finds (Figure 10). The split between the two groups runs approximately along the 466800 northing and throughout this article this has been used to distinguish between a northern and a southern finds assemblage. The southern concentration coincides with the Butterwick enclosure, seen in the crop marks and geophysical survey (Richards 1999a, 9-10). The northern concentration was revealed through excavation to focus on an Anglo-Scandinavian farmstead, observed in the geophysical survey, but not generally visible in the crop-mark plot as the features were, on the whole, too shallow to affect crop growth (Richards 1999a, 94).

Figure 10: Distribution of all Early Medieval finds, excluding pottery and lithics

The 8th-Century Anglian Settlement

Up to the point of the excavation the metal-detector survey focused more on the area around the Anglian enclosure in the southern area, and it is notable that (with the exception of one pecked silver sceat which we associate with Viking activity and which has therefore been omitted from the map) all the 8th-century finds are exclusively associated with this enclosure (Figure 11). This is clearly when and where the Anglian settlement at Cottam B began.

Figure 11: Distribution of 8th-century finds

The 9th-Century Anglian Settlement

Figure 12: Distribution of 9th-century finds

In recent years, and with the aim of better understanding the Anglo-Scandinavian phase, an equivalent amount of detecting has been undertaken in the northern area, along with two further episodes of field-walking in 2010 and 2014. As a result both areas can now be seen to have substantial and similar assemblages of 9th-century non-ferrous dress accessories: each pin and strap-end type is well represented (Figure 12). The numbers of stycas in the northern area has also increased to 18, fewer than in the southern area, although it is now recognised that the number of coin finds there, related to the enclosure, is raised slightly by the presence of a small hoard, comprising at least two silver-alloy coins of Eanred (Figure 13a-b) found stuck together, and quite likely others found close by. The silver issues of Eanred are from early in his reign, probably 820-30, and one such styca from the northern area, together with significant numbers of Anglo-Saxon dress accessories, suggest activity there from early in the 9th century until the arrival of the Vikings. The pottery found in the northern area during the 1995 excavation (Richards 1999a, 58-9), together with the sandstone hones and iron knives, which are indistinguishable from those in the south, support the notion of concurrent activity in the northern and southern areas for much of the 9th century.

Figure 13: Silver-alloy coins of Eanred, c. AD 820-30 (164/165) © Hull and East Riding Museum, Hull Museums

During the 1993 excavation, evidence for reorganisation of the Anglian settlement in the first half of the 9th century was identified in the form of reconstruction of the timber buildings on new alignments (Richards 1999a, 34). The evidence detailed above, much of which has emerged since this excavation, suggests the opening up of the new zone of activity to the north around the time of, and perhaps connected to, the reorganisation in the Anglian enclosure, despite the lack of Anglian habitation features in the new area. If this was not an expanded habitation area then other possibilities include an industrial zone, which might explain the large quantities of fuel ash found during excavation; a market or trading area; or the use of the north for rubbish disposal. While it is also possible that these finds were deposited during the subsequent Viking activity (and that was once considered the likely interpretation for the few stycas found in the 1995 excavation of the Anglo-Scandinavian farmstead), that explanation is now felt to be unlikely given the wide range of finds, which include everyday objects.

The 1993 excavation led us to conclude that the Anglian habitation in the south ended in the late 9th century (Richards 1999a, 34-40) and there is now good reason to suppose that, whatever the nature of the activity in the north, this ended at the same time. All excavated Anglian sites in the region, including Burdale, West Heslerton and Wharram Percy, appear to have been abandoned or reorganised at this point (Richards and Roskams 2012; Powlesland 1998; Wrathmell 2012d), and the artefact assemblages from metal-detected sites indicate a similar pattern (Haldenby and Richards in prep.). It seems reasonable to connect this with the arrival of a section of the Viking Great Army and Halfdan’s settlement of Northumbria.

Revising 9th Century Artefact Typologies

Figure 14: Strap-end with silver wire inlay (43) © Hull and East Riding Museum, Hull Museums

Within the first five years of fieldwork at Cottam B the two concentrations of finds were identified and the spatial differentiation of artefacts of differing date allowed the origins of the site to be associated with the southern area, and its demise with the northern area (Haldenby 1992). It was also deduced that the four disc-headed pins found up to that point were likely to be later types since they were all found in the north. Furthermore, the fact that most strap-end types (namely Thomas Class A (Thomas 2003), which account for over 60% of Anglian and Anglo-Scandinavian strap-ends), are found in the north was felt to be evidence for the development of these strap-ends largely in the 9th century. The restricted range of decoration – mainly ring-and-dot – on what were previously described as ‘simple’ pins (now termed ‘collared’) originally allowed only a broad 8th/9th-century dating.

Figure 15: Strap-end with geometric design (466) © Hull and East Riding Museum, Hull Museums

A number of observations about the typology of the strap-ends were offered in the excavation report (Richards 1999a, 12-15). At that stage strap-ends with silver wire inlay (Figure 14) and those with geometric design (Figure 15) mostly came from the south and it was proposed that these were likely to be early types; with larger numbers of finds this no longer seems to be the case. In contrast, the recovery of two strap-ends with multiple animal head decoration (Figures 16-17) from the northern area was believed to support a previous suggestion that these are Anglo-Scandinavian (Haldenby 1998), made on the basis of close decorative parallels with a strap-end from the Viking grave at Knock y Doonee on the Isle of Man, and a strap-distributor from Västergötland in Sweden (Bersu and Wilson 1966, plate 18c). The subsequent recognition of another example from the northern area (Figure 18) gives additional support to this dating.


Figure 16 (left): Strap-end with multiple animal head decoration (21) © Hull and East Riding Museum, Hull Museums / Figure 17 (right): Strap-end with multiple animal head decoration (75) © Hull and East Riding Museum, Hull Museums

A decade later the much expanded pin corpus was partially categorised according to the following three groups: faceted; biconical together with globular; and discs (Figure 19) (Haldenby and Richards 2009). Proportions of these were calculated for the two concentrations, along with three other 9th-century Anglian sites in the region which, in common with the southern area at Cottam, showed little evidence of Anglo-Scandinavian occupation. In the northern area the relatively low proportions of faceted pins observed was felt to indicate that these went out of use at the start of the Anglo-Scandinavian era, replaced by pins with disc-heads, on the basis of their presence as a relatively high proportion. A globular-headed form with rising curved faces was also felt to be a late contemporary of the disc-headed pins since the three examples then known all came from the northern area.


Figure 18 (left): Strap-end with multiple animal head decoration (141) / Figure 19 (right): Collared pins: polyhedral (9); biconical (102); globular (27); globular with rising, curved faces (405); plate head (485) © Hull and East Riding Museum, Hull Museums

The pin classification was subsequently developed independently, taking into account additional pin finds (Haldenby 2012). This involved the separation of the biconical type from globular-headed forms, which can be readily distinguished unless they are poorly formed, worn through use, or subsequently corroded. Classification is also aided by the observation that, on average, globular forms have head diameters 10-15% smaller than biconical forms. As part of this further work on pins the term ‘collared’ was proposed for all 9th-century pins, describing the feature usually found directly beneath the head, and largely absent from earlier 8th-century and later 10th-century forms. Other new terms were also introduced (Haldenby 2012), principally ‘polyhedral’ replaced ‘facets’ and ‘plate’ took the place of ‘disc’ since, although the latter are all flat, they do vary in shape. All of the main ‘collared’ pin types have now been categorised and their respective proportions in the northern area, where the Anglian and Anglo-Scandinavian assemblages are now recognised as being mixed together, have been compared with those from the southern area and other 9th-century Anglian comparator sites (Figure 20).

Figure 20: Graph showing main pin types at Cottam and comparator sites

In the northern area not only is the previously recognised decline in polyhedral pins still apparent but also that in the biconical forms, each supplanted by: plate heads (now thirteen); those with rising curved faces (now five); and a continuation of globular forms during the transition to the Anglo-Scandinavian period. Therefore, the conclusions reached about the chronology of these pins in 2009 still hold good despite the substantial growth in Anglian finds from the northern area indicating that the assemblage from there can no longer be seen as representing a small number of Anglian finds acquired and transported to the site by the Vikings.

Dating of collared pins more narrowly than the 8th/9th centuries had not previously been demonstrated. However, a largely 9th-century date was proposed for these pins (Haldenby 2012) on the basis of a number of factors. Firstly, they are distinct from both 8th-century and 10th-century pin forms in terms of the eponymous collar commonly seen beneath a small range of specific head forms of reduced size along with plainer, ungilded decoration; secondly, they are abundant on Anglian sites across Northumbria in similar proportions to stycas and strap-ends, suggesting a shared chronology; and finally, 8th-century pins, but not collared pins or strap-ends, are present at Shakenoak (Oxfordshire), which terminates before the end of the 8th century (Brodribb et al. 1973). At Cottam the presence of the full range of collared pin types on the post-800 northern area provides further support for this 9th-century dating.

The Anglo-Scandinavian Settlement

The 1993-95 excavations revealed a new form of Anglo-Scandinavian settlement, with a gated entranceway and rectangular enclosures which, it was believed, replaced the Anglian settlement to the south in the last quarter of the 9th century, following Halfdan’s land seizure. The intensified metal-detector survey of the northern area has not only revealed the further area of Anglian activity discussed above, but has also greatly increased the number of Anglo-Scandinavian finds. Their spatial differentiation now suggests two distinct phases of Viking Age activity.

Phase One: Viking Activity

The additional Anglo-Scandinavian finds are spread over a wide area, encompassing and extending somewhat beyond both Anglian areas of activity, but the majority were found in the northern area (Figure 21). They are largely bullion-related finds such as weights and silver melts, but also include some imported dress accessories.

Figure 21: Distribution of early Anglo-Scandinavian finds

The seventeen weights are all of lead and the first eight, found around 25 years ago, were not recognised as weights, or plotted, although it was noted that they were found in the northern area. The nine weights found in more recent times were plotted and all come from near the periphery of the northern part of this distribution. The weights were recently published, where it was noted that they contribute ‘important new evidence for the existence and use of Scandinavian weighing systems in Viking-Age England’ (Haldenby and Kershaw 2014, 106). Most of the weights conform to the Scandinavian light øre; weight unit of 24.42g, being multiple or sub-units of this, with just one being related to the heavier Scandinavian ‘Dublin’ øre; unit of 26.6g.


Figure 22 (left): Balance beam fragment from northern area (284) © Hull and East Riding Museum, Hull Museums / Figure 23 (right): Balance beam fragment from southern area (125)

Despite having been found 400m to the west, along the east-west trackway, three additional Viking weights have been included in the database, in view of their proximity to Cottam B. As a result of additional detecting a further eleven weights have now been recovered from this western area, although there are no other associated Anglo-Scandinavian finds and they must represent a specific and separate loss. They are similar in form and patina to those from the northern area, but comprise roughly equal numbers of the heavy and light weight standards.


Figure 24 (left): Arabic dirham fragment, c. AD 928-9 (317) © Hull and East Riding Museum, Hull Museums / Figure 25 (center): Silver sceat of Eadberht (314) with possible ‘peck’ mark © Hull and East Riding Museum, Hull Museums / Figure 26 (right): Silver melts (432, 471, 782) © Hull and East Riding Museum, Hull Museums

Further bullion-related finds include fragments of two balance beams, one from the northern area (Figure 22), the other from the south (Figure 23). A fragment of an Arabic silver coin, or dirham (Figure 24), may also have originated as bullion, although its late date, AD 928-9 (with arrival on site no earlier than the mid 930s), probably discounts a link with the other bullion-related finds that are thought to have been in use in the late 9th century. A silver sceat of Eadbert, c. 750 (Figure 25), perhaps obtained by the Vikings, even maybe at Cottam, is a good candidate for a piece of silver bullion, partly given its juxtaposition to the weights, well away from the other 8th-century coins in the Anglian occupation area to the south, but even more tellingly because of the presence of a deep test ‘peck’ mark, unique on such a coin, but characteristic of Viking silver testing of broad flan coinage. A large amorphous piece of silver melt has also been found, with one lobe characteristically hacked off, similar to many Viking ingots (Figure 26 – top left). A smaller piece of silver melt (Figure 26 – bottom right) similar to the latter, and a piece of beaten silver sheet (Figure 26 – top right) are also likely pieces of bullion, although neither is of classic Viking ingot form. Given the propensity of the Vikings for cutting up elaborate Anglian metalwork, sometimes for embedding in lead weights to personalise them (Blackburn 2011, 240), it is likely that what is believed to be an Anglian book mount fragment, roughly chopped along one edge, is another early Viking Age find possibly linked to the bullion economy (Figure 27). A further two crudely broken fragments of elaborately decorated 8th-century metalwork (Figures 28-29) may also have passed through Viking hands.


Figure 27 (left): Possible book mount fragment (98) / Figure 28 (center): 8th-century metalwork, crudely broken (63) / Figure 29 (right): 8th-century metalwork, crudely broken (217) © Hull and East Riding Museum, Hull Museums

The broad distribution of these bullion-related finds is shared by four quite distinct dress accessories, each of which has continental or Scandinavian parallels. They comprise two Borre-style strap-ends with moulded interlace (Figures 30-31), one silvered and with ring-chain ornament, and each decorated on the reverse with a peripheral groove (whereas Anglo-Saxon examples have plain reverses); part of an ansate brooch with a flaring trilobite terminal (Figure 32); and a broad ribbed strap-end with ring-and-dot decoration (Figure 33). Each of these types of dress accessory had come into use by the mid- to late 9th century, with a strap-end with interlace from Fishergate, York (Rogers 1993, 1351-2), and ansate brooches and ribbed strap-ends from Kaupang, Norway (Skre 2011, 71, 76). Furthermore, in addition to a pair of bullion-related finds just two Anglo-Scandinavian dress accessories were found on the nearby Anglian site at Cowlam: a Norse bell and a ribbed strap-end with ring-and-dot decoration (Richards 2011b; 2013). These dress accessories are small in number but their rarity, and the fact each type is known from other 9th-century sites, gives added significance to the very different distribution they share with the bullion finds, compared to what is seen as the later, second phase, Viking material discussed below.


Figure 30 (left): Borre-style strap-end (478) © Hull and East Riding Museum, Hull Museums / Figure 31 (right): Borre-style strap-end (378) © Hull and East Riding Museum, Hull Museums

It is also notable that three out of the four dress accessories from this first Viking phase are broken, including both strap-ends with interlace. This is mirrored among the large assemblage of 133 Anglo-Saxon strap-ends found at the site of the winter camp of the Viking Great Army at Torksey, Lincolnshire, which appear to have been collected as scrap metal to be melted down (Hadley and Richards 2016b). The bullion finds and the dress accessories can all be seen as imports, perhaps the exchange system paraphernalia and accoutrements of an invading Viking force, the dispersed nature of the finds suggesting it was not at this stage intent upon establishing a focused settlement. Rather, the distribution is perhaps more consistent with a transitory presence, as also seen at the winter camps (Hadley and Richards 2016a; 2016b), by a faction of the Viking Great Army sometime in the mid 870s, engaged in stripping items of value from the former Anglian settlement.


Figure 32 (left): Ansate brooch fragment, with trilobite terminal (84) © Hull and East Riding Museum, Hull Museums / Figure 33 (right): Broad-ribbed strap-end with ring-and-dot decoration (84a)

The date of abandonment of the Anglian enclosure was always underpinned by a roughly broken fragment of a silver penny of Aethelberht of Wessex, 858 to c. 862/4 (Figure 34), found in the upper fill of a pit that also contained a human skull (Richards 1999a, 36). Single broad Anglo-Saxon pennies are very rarely provenanced in Northumbria, with only seven examples from the Wolds in total, although over twenty are known from Torksey (Abramson in prep; Hadley and Richards 2016b). The initial tentative suggestion (Pirie 1999) that it represented long-distance trade, following the decline of the styca, was always at odds with the insular nature of the other Anglian finds. In the context of the other hack metalwork this example can now be plausibly explained as having been brought to Cottam by a member of the mobile Viking army, presumably from previous activity in southern England. The coin and other bullion finds, not least the silver melt and the test-pecked sceat, perhaps obtained by dint of having been a 9th-century heirloom, along with the ‘hacked’ book mount, are particularly suggestive of Viking activity. A fragment of a silver penny of Burgred of Mercia (852-74) recently discovered at Yapham in the East Riding of Yorkshire has also been interpreted as having been brought north as a result of activity associated with the Viking Great Army (Griffiths 2015, 53). In the early 10th-century Viking cemetery at Cumwhitton (Cumbria) a styca of Eanred (810-41) was found in Grave 5, and is also interpreted as a curated object (Paterson et al. 2014, 113, 154). At Cottam two iron spearheads (Figures 35-36) are unusual finds for a settlement and may also relate to a visit by a part of the Great Army. The socket of one is silvered and inlaid with silver wire, and is of a type frequently found in Scandinavia (e.g. Roesdahl 1982, 136-7; Williams et al. 2013, 106-11). It is not possible to say how long this phase of activity lasted but, as with the winter camps, our refined chronology may be allowing us to capture a group of material that was deposited in no more than a single event within a year, possibly around the seizure of York in 866-7 or subsequent years, or as a result of the land partition in 876.


Figure 34 (left): Silver penny of Aethelberht of Wessex (621) © Hull and East Riding Museum, Hull Museums / Figure 35 (right): Iron spearhead (138)

Figure 36: Iron spearhead (868) (X-ray plate showing silvering) © Hull and East Riding Museum, Hull Museums

Phase Two: Anglo-Scandinavian Settlement

In the second phase of Anglo-Scandinavian activity the finds area occupies a fraction of that of the first phase and is denser than this and broadly coterminous with the northern spread of Anglian finds. The great majority of later Anglo-Scandinavian finds come from within or immediately around the area of the Anglo-Scandinavian farmstead with its imposing gated entrance, identified in the 1995 excavation, which is now thought to represent this second, ‘Anglo-Scandinavian’ settlement phase (Figure 37).

Figure 37: Distribution of late Anglo-Scandinavian finds

As noted above, the arrival of the Vikings and their early activity on site could well be related to the demise of the Anglian settlement and could then have merged into the Anglo-Scandinavian settlement phase, so that the complete transition may have been quite rapid, sometime in the mid-870s. As with Anglian finds and those from the transitory Viking phase, many more relating to the Anglo-Scandinavian farmstead are now available for study. However, as is seen elsewhere, their numbers do not approach 9th-century Anglian finds numbers but, compared to these, they are more varied in type and are not dominated by pins, strap-ends or coins. Numbers of plate head pins, one of the main surviving collared pin forms, are quite high but they may not have remained in fashion for long, soon fading from use as was the case with the other pin forms and the strap-ends. The demise of these dress accessories in the late 9th century is borne out by the predominately 10th-century site of Coppergate as this produced relatively few identifiable collared pins and no Thomas class A strap-ends (Mainman and Rogers 2000, 2568-70, 2576-83).


Figure 38 (left): Norse bell (25) © Hull and East Riding Museum, Hull Museums / Figure 39 (center): Norse bell (180) © Hull and East Riding Museum, Hull Museums / Figure 40 (right): Norse bell (401) © Hull and East Riding Museum, Hull Museums

The finds from the Anglo-Scandinavian farmstead and the northern Anglian finds are interspersed and some generic forms, such as knives and sandstone hones, and some copper-alloy finds, such as a needle, cannot be assigned to one or other phase at this stage. The hooked tags are also found in similar numbers in southern and northern areas and some of those from the north may be Anglo-Scandinavian dress accessories, since the type is also found on other 10th-century sites such as Coppergate (Mainman and Rogers 2000, 2576) and Stamford Bridge (Haldenby and Richards in prep.).

Figure 41: Lead disc brooch (473) © Hull and East Riding Museum, Hull Museums

Figure 42: Lead disc brooch (253/347) © Hull and East Riding Museum, Hull Museums

Figure 43: Disc brooch (18) with Jellinge-style decoration

Figure 44: Strap guide (468) © Hull and East Riding Museum, Hull Museums

Many finds are recognisably Anglo-Scandinavian and these are often dress accessories of new form and decorative style, found mainly in the northern area. Among these are the thirteen plate head pins and the five pins with rising curved faces. The three Norse bells (Figures 38-40) have been studied (Schoenfelder and Richards 2011) and since several dozen are known from the Danelaw but none from Scandinavia; they are thought to be colonial Viking innovations, of likely decorative use. The two lead disc brooches (Figures 41-42) are similarly thought to be of local inspiration and manufacture, several coming from Coppergate (Mainman and Rogers 2000, 2571-4). However, the three strap-ends with multiple animal heads are found in Scandinavia and other 9th-century English sites (Haldenby and Richards in prep). Only the Jellinge design on the copper-alloy disc brooch is a recognisably Viking art style from this period (Figure 43). The strap guide (Figure 44) is included owing to the presence of parallels from Coppergate (Mainman and Rogers 2000, 2568); also to be included are three buckles, two with zoomorphic protruding leading edge (Figures 45-47); the five lead spindle-whorls (Figure 48a-e) and the two rings in sheet copper-alloy with ring-and-dot decoration (Figures 49-50). A number of similar lead spindle-whorls are known from the Viking winter camp at Torksey (Hadley and Richards 2016a; 2016b). The schist honestones, along with the Torksey-ware sherds, are also thought to belong to this second Anglo-Scandinavian settlement phase.

Figure 45: Buckle with zoomorphic decoration (73)


Figure 46 (left): Buckle with zoomorphic decoration (101) © Hull and East Riding Museum, Hull Museums / Figure 47 (right): Buckle with zoomorphic decoration (553) © Hull and East Riding Museum, Hull Museums

Compared to the Anglian finds, much plainer decoration is seen on much of this new material, the Trewhiddle style no longer being abundant, seemingly replaced by ring-and-dot or pellets and lines, such as those on the lead disc brooches, or by animal heads, as seen at the terminals of many Anglian strap-ends, but here simply repeated along the length of the strap-end. Vestiges of inlay on one of the buckles appear to represent a late example of Trewhiddle decoration. The Jellinge-style brooch stands out as an elaborately ornamented piece, and may well not be of local manufacture, a similar example having been found during the High Street excavations in Dublin (Ó’Ríordáin 1971, fig. 21c).

Figure 48: Lead spindle-whorls (17, 28, 33, 93, 94) © Hull and East Riding Museum, Hull Museums

Figure 49: Copper alloy ring with ring-and-dot decoration (245) © Hull and East Riding Museum, Hull Museums

Figure 50: Copper alloy ring with ring-and-dot decoration (646) © Hull and East Riding Museum, Hull Museums

The increased use of ring-and-dot ornament at Cottam B in the Anglo-Scandinavian period is illustrated by the fact that 38 finds from the northern area display ring-and-dot ornament or an abbreviated version, comprising either drilled dots or raised pellets. This contrasts with the southern area where there are only 11 objects with ring-and-dot (Figures 51-52). (Pins with polyhedral heads are excluded from the calculations since they are present in the northern and southern areas, and they are believed to be earlier.) The extension of ring-and-dot decoration from these pins to other forms of metalwork possibly occurred because it was easier to create than the more elaborate animal ornament. It seems to be a distinctive feature of the hybrid Anglo-Scandinavian culture in the region, although the increase in popularity of ring-and-dot ornament in the 10th century has also been observed elsewhere, such as at the settlement at Yarnton (Allen and Dodd 2004, 280).

Figure 51: Graph showing incidence of ring-and-dot decoration

Figure 52: Distribution of finds with ring-and-dot decoration, excluding pins

The only definite late 10th-century find remains the half-coin of Aethelred (AD c. 1000) (Figure 53) found several years ago, and there is an absence of later 10th/11th-century decorative styles or dress accessories, such as pins with lozenge-shaped heads and ‘D’-shaped buckles with stylised animal heads biting the pin bar ends. Hence the conclusion remains that the settlement was abandoned around the second quarter of the 10th century, with the transfer of subsequent settlement to the sites of the medieval villages of Cowlam and Cottam (Richards 2013).

Figure 53: Half-coin of Aethelred (387)


The valuable contribution of controlled metal-detector survey, with the plotting of all finds, has been raised to a new level by this study. The relatively small-scale 1993-5 excavations, in conjunction with field-walking, plotting of metal-detected finds, and geophysics, have demonstrated settlement shift from the Anglian to Anglo-Scandinavian period, revealing a new form of Anglo-Scandinavian farmstead, and changes in economy. They have also helped us to start to refine the typologies of a number of early medieval artefact types.

A further two decades of detecting have now doubled the number of finds, and while they support our earlier broad conclusions, they also lead to some significant advances in our understanding of the Anglian to Anglo-Scandinavian settlement transition.

Firstly, with over 390 early medieval non-ferrous metallic finds now logged the amount of material recovered at Cottam B and on other such Middle Saxon ‘productive’ sites seems remarkable, compared to other periods. This is a widespread phenomenon that has been much debated (Ulmschneider 2000; Pestell and Ulmschneider 2003; Naylor 2004; Hutcheson 2006). When one considers, however, that the site may have been occupied for two centuries then the average rate of loss may have been one or two items a year, which seems more acceptable. Loosely secured dress pins, and strap-ends that were generally stitched to leather belts, may have been regular losses and their low value may have meant that such rates of casual loss were acceptable (Haldenby and Richards 2010, 1154). Similarly the large number of lost stycas attest to a fully monetised economy in which most people carried coins of relatively low value, and which were used in day-to-day transactions. The fact that coins were regularly changing hands does support the view that productive sites were places where economic activity took place, either as markets, for at least some of the time, or as local tax collection centres, or that they were simply places where transactions were regularly taking place between residents or with itinerant traders.

Secondly, it has now become clear that the metal-detecting evidence indicates two broad phases of Anglian activity, with an initial 8th-century focus on the settlement enclosure, and a 9th-century expansion of activity alongside the trackway northwards, in the area that later saw the development of the Anglo-Scandinavian farmstead. Although we have considered that this expansion may have been associated with metal-working, we have limited evidence for that, and there is also a full range of 9th-century finds from the new area, including stycas, pins and strap-ends. We therefore conclude that the expansion may have been caused by the development of a dedicated periodic market area, north of the settlement enclosure. We propose that this 9th-century change in activity coincides with the rebuilding of new timber structures within the enclosure, witnessed in the 1993 excavation (Richards 1999a, 34). This suggests, more broadly, that many ‘productive sites’ may have begun as settlement enclosures, and taken on more functions as they evolved, whereas others, such as South Newbald, have no settlement evidence, and must have been dedicated market sites (Leahy 2000, 77).

Thirdly, one of the most important discoveries to come out of the further plotting and refinement of dating of late 9th and 10th-century artefacts is that there are two stages of Viking activity at Cottam B. We still believe that in the late 9th century the Anglian enclosure was replaced by an Anglo-Scandinavian farmstead a little further north. However, we now believe that there was an initial phase of transformation of the site, which not only saw the abandonment of the Anglian enclosure, but also saw the melting down and weighing out of bullion metals over a large area. This phase was probably very short-lived and it is tempting to associate it with that part of the Great Army operating in Northumbria under Halfdan after the seizure of York. Although it is on a much smaller scale, as might be expected on a small-scale rural site, the activity is comparable to that seen on the winter camps at Torksey in 872-3, and the riverine site north of York, which has already been associated with Halfdan’s move towards the Tyne in 874-5 (Williams 2015). It therefore seems appropriate to term this a ‘Viking’ phase, in the full sense of the word. Maybe it was the Anglian market trading or the tax collection activities that attracted the Vikings to Cottam, but whatever the cause it appears to have led to a complete change in the fortunes of the settlement. Unlike the Torksey or the north of York temporary Viking camps, at Cottam the Vikings returned, or maybe even stayed – it is impossible to say which – and built their own farmstead, on top of the Anglian market area. Given the hybrid culture that develops in this new farmstead, which we still believe was only occupied for a couple of generations at most, we term this a phase of ‘Anglo-Scandinavian’ settlement. Although the precise date of its foundation is impossible to determine it should certainly be seen in the context, if not the year, of Halfdan’s land partition.

Finally, the further plotting of finds, combined with our understanding of the horizontal stratigraphy of the settlement, has allowed some new conclusions to be drawn regarding artefact chronology. In particular it indicates a 9th-century date for the main strap-end series (Thomas Class A) whereas the spatial differentiation of one form of strap-end (Thomas Class B4) suggests an Anglo-Scandinavian date for this type. Similarly ‘collared’ pins, tentatively assigned an 8th-9th century date, can now be seen to be largely 9th century, while the distribution of the collared pin with plate heads indicates that they emerged, or at least flourished, around the time of the demise of the Anglian settlement. On the other hand, chip-carved and gilt metalwork has largely been dated to the 8th century on stylistic grounds alone. The fact that seven examples are found in the southern area provides rare stratigraphic support for the view that they do not continue into the 9th century. Strong support is also provided for the Anglo-Scandinavian dating of ‘Norse’ bells by the three examples from the northern area. The more tentative Anglo-Scandinavian date of other artefact types, including the strap guide, and copper sheet rings with ring-and-dot decoration, is similarly supported. They are also found in the northern area at Cottam B, and on other Viking Age sites. In addition, the chronology at Cottam suggests that while ring-and-dot ornament was popular on dress pins of the Anglian period, during the late 9th and 10th centuries its usage was extended to a much broader range of artefact types. This may be in part because it was straightforward to execute on mass-produced dress accessories, but it can also be seen as a hybrid Anglo-Scandinavian cultural marker. Our full dataset is made available alongside this article so that others may be able to refine these typologies further.


In summary, metal-detecting at Cottam B since 1999 has doubled the number of finds and allows some important new conclusions to be drawn. Our research has demonstrated that there are two phases of Anglian activity, including an 8th/9th-century settlement and a 9th-century market area. This is the first time such a configuration has been identified, and it throws important new light on the nature of ‘productive sites’ and their development from settlements. These results contrast with those from southern England, which show transitions in the 8th-9th centuries but from one kind of lordly centre to another at sites such as Yarnton (Hey 2004).

It has also become clear that there are two phases of Viking activity, and the finds present a vivid picture of Viking takeover with an initial phase of looting probably related to a faction of the Great Army, most likely in the late 860s, before the establishment of the Anglo-Scandinavian farmstead in the 870s. Such fine dating is exceptional, other than at the historically attested winter camps. It demonstrates the value of detailed plotting of surface finds recovered by metal-detecting and its place as a legitimate technique of archaeological investigation and as a major research tool for the writing of history. Archaeological mapping has a long tradition going back to the Ordnance Survey, but with the spatial techniques employed at Cottam we are entering a new era of mapping of surface finds. Finally, the degree of chronological resolution derived from the horizontal stratigraphy at Cottam B also allows refinements of the typology and dating of early medieval artefacts with important implications for our chronology of the period. The detailed strap-end and pin typologies presented here can now be applied to a range of other sites, allowing a reassessment of their dating, particularly in relation to the transition from Anglo-Saxon to Anglo-Scandinavian England.


Dave Haldenby wishes to thank his fellow detectorists Steve Foster, David Hirst, Roy Doughty, and Chris Hannard; Paula Gentil, Keeper of Archaeology at Hull Museums, for access to artefacts; Patrick Ottaway for reporting on the ironwork and Tony Austin on the pottery; Kevin Leahy and Paula Gentil for encouragement; and Jeff Lyons for undertaking the photo-editing. Julian Richards thanks Helen Goodchild for assistance with the GIS mapping, and Tony Abramson, John Blair, Martin Carver, Dawn Hadley, and Nicky Milner for comments on an earlier draft of this article. The production of the digital archive and publication were generously supported by the Department of Archaeology at the University of York. All photographs of objects in Hull Museum are copyright Hull and East Riding Museum, Hull Museums.


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Originally published in Internet Archaeology as Haldenby, D. and Richards, J.D. (2016) The Viking Great Army and its Legacy: plotting settlement shift using metal-detected finds, Internet Archaeology 42.

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