Peter S. Wells


On his book Barbarians to Angels: The Dark Ages Reconsidered (now in paperback

Cover Interview of October 28, 2009

A close-up

A browsing reader might find the chapters on craft production and trade most revealing.  The archaeology shows us that even small communities during the so-called Dark Ages belonged to complex and extensive networks through which goods, technology, and ideas flowed.  Craft products ranged from everyday utilitarian items such as the pottery that people used to prepare and eat their meals, to spectacular brooches and belt buckles of silver and gold, with inlay of brilliant red garnet.

The archaeological evidence enables us to identify the places where such things were made, the locations from which the raw materials were obtained, and to say how widely such products were distributed in society.  Small trade centers all over Europe were actively engaged in both local and long-distance commerce.  For example, the wind-swept cliffs of Tintagel on the coast of Cornwall was the site of a commercial center that imported large quantities of fine pottery from northern Africa.  The island of Helgö near Stockholm in Sweden was home to a trade center that acquired goods from as far off as India.

These are just a few examples of the surprises that await us in examining the archaeological evidence from this period in Europe’s early history.