Early Medieval Leffinge-Wilskerke, Flanders
The development of the medieval settlement pattern and landscape in coastal Flanders, Belgium, AD 400-1500: the Leffinge pilot project (Jan 2002-ongoing)
Project Directors: Chris Loveluck, University of Nottingham, and Dries Tys, Free University of Brussels (VUB)
Director of geophysical surveys: Kristian Strutt, University of Southampton
This project has the primary aim of beginning the evaluation of archaeological evidence for the development of the medieval rural settlement hierarchy in the coastal plain of West Flanders. It builds on the work of Frans Verhaeghe in the 1970s, and topographical survey by Dries Tys.
Integrated archaeological survey has focussed on a suspected site of medieval rural settlement at Wilskerke ‘Haerdepollemswal, near Leffinge, close to Osotende. Survey at Haerdepollemswal covered a surface area of 4.5 hectares, and included the partial remains of a D-shaped enclosure or ring dyke, surviving in a field boundary. Three hectares were under the plough and 1.5 hectares under pasture. Occasional finds of pottery dating from the early to later Middle Ages had been encountered during ploughing in recent years. The methodology of the pilot project involved the integration and superimposition of four archaeological survey techniques: geophysical survey (both magnetometry and resistivity), geochemical survey (minor element analysis by X-ray fluorescence). Micro-topographical survey, and grid-based fieldwalking, all geo-referenced and superimposed on the same grid.
Image: Grid-based surface collection at Wilskerke-Haerdepollemswal in October 2002, over 3 hectares of the suspected settlement area that was subjected to modern deep-ploughing of the clay soil.
Pottery sherds dating from the 3rd to 17th centuries were discovered, without any chronological hiatus in discard within this 1,400 period (Photo: C. Loveluck).
Results have shown that Haerdepollemswal represents a permanently occupied settlement, from the 4th century to the 16th century, without any break in occupation.
The geophysical surveys identified ditches and banks associated with the enclosure. The minor element analyses (by P. Clogg, University of Durham) identified different zones of activity within the enclosure: middens and refuse areas (from phosphate and manganese distributions), as well as the site of at least one rectangular building (from the calcium distribution). 25,000 sherds of pottery were recovered, reflecting a very stable use of settlement space, initially around a a now silted-up tidal channel in the early Middle Ages. The research was funded principally by the British Academy and the University of Southampton.
Image: Schematic interpretation of the enclosed settlement features at Wilskerke-Haerdepollemswal (Kris Strutt, APSS for Loveluck and Tys).
Image: Minor element analysis of phosphate concentrations over the 4.5-hectare area of Wilskerke-Haerdepollemswal, with the results of the resistivity survey superimposed on top. The phosphate concentrations seem to have picked out refuse and activity areas within the enclosed area, and refuse that accumulated in the ditches of the enclosed area (P. Clogg, University of Durham, for Loveluck and Tys).
Further work is anticipated on other early medieval settlement foci in the Flanders coastal plain in coming years, linking up with settlement research projects on the Pleistocene sand, further inland, e.g. the Snellegem Carolingian estate centre project (Harvard University, Goethe University Frankfurt, VUB), West Flanders.
The line of part of the bank and ditch of the enclosed settlement at Wilskerke-Haerdepollemswal, preserved in the line of the modern field boundary and trackway (Photo: Chris Loveluck).
Publications on project to date
Loveluck, C.P. and Tys, D., 2006: ‘Coastal societies, exchange and identity along the Channel and southern North Sea shores of Europe, AD 600-1000’, in Journal of Maritime Archaeology 1, 140-169.