The Demise of Antiquity: Europe and the Mediterranean in the First Millennium AD
Annual Review of Anthropology
Vol. 18: 227-244 (Volume publication date October 1989)
Klavs Randsborg
In lieu of an abstract, the publisher reproduces the first page of the article. (Link)

Letters to My Tutor…

My dearest Simone,

This is another article that leaves me wondering what the editing process may have been like.  For instance the final section is labeled “Conclusions,” but it introduces a complex subject, symbolic representations, that hadn’t been covered earlier in the article and didn’t seem to sum up or touch on the overall themes of the article in a conclusory way.

Of more note, is the lack of clarity as to which parts of the author’s discussion were based on archaeological evidence.  In the introduction Radsborg writes that “new archaeological data … is drastically changing our picture of the period and of the world …”  I didn’t come away with any clear ideas of how this was so from the body of the review.  For example, Radsborg notes that archaeology has greatly increased the understanding of rural settlements during the first millennium, but the discussion that follows doesn’t clearly delineate which bits of information, such as the fact that the farms were quite large and as many as 20 of them could make up a single settlement, came specifically from archaeological data, were bolstered by archaeological data, or came mostly from historical sources.  A previous article I read on Norse archaeology that covered some of the same time period, made mention of specific dig sites in the body of the review.  It was nice to be able to google the names of these sites for further information on what was found there and how it added to or challenged the existing history.  Names of dig sites would have been helpful for this review.  I imagine that looking at the references would answer my questions, but it’s nice to have a bit firmer toe-holds in the body of the review.  The author does such a great job of providing toe-holds for exploring the causes of the fall of the Roman empire and factors that were important in the rise of modern Europe that I wondered whether useful toe-holds were removed during editing.

The review on Norse archaeology and this current review both emphasized the value of the knowledge gained from medieval archaeology. The Norse review noted that medieval archaeology was often thought of “as an expensive way to find out what we already know.”  Reading both reviews, I was generally left with a positive view of the types of people who do medieval archeology in that they seem to be the sorts who question whether we really know what we think we know or  whether we are missing important bits of information that we hadn’t even considered that we were missing; they also seemed to heavily promote interdisciplinary efforts that highlight differing angles. Radsborg writes that he enjoys discussions of the fall of Rome that include both internal and external causes for the fall.  He says it doesn’t matter so much whether the theories are right or wrong seeing that the discussion that comes from including multiple angles is so much richer.

It’s possible what I saw as a lack of toe-holds in parts of the review was a strategy seeing that Radsborg has written a book covering the same material … show ‘em that you got skills, but leave them wanting more …  The First Millennium AD in Europe and the Mediterranean: An Archaeological Essay.

Ever yours,