The Anglo-Saxon Migration

The Evidence from Isotopes

For my dissertation for the Advanced Diploma in British Archaeology I reviewed the isotope evidence for the Anglo-Saxon migration. Was there really a migration or did the inhabitants of Britain simply adopt germanic culture?

I reviewed the evidence from three different sites – West Heslerton, Berinsfield and Eastbourne (with some additional information from Llandough). I am not a great fan of isotope studies. For oxygen isotope studies:

  • the margin of error is greater than the authors acknowledged
  • various processes (evaporation from ponds, cooking, brewing, stewing) can all affect the results
  • the values for eastern England are very similar to those from northern Europe and it is therefore difficult to distinguish between migrants and locals

All three sites also used strontium isotope studies but all noted that the local variation in strontium isotopes was greater than the regional variation. My conclusion was that these were therefore of little value.

There are conclusions that can be drawn from the oxygen isotope measurements. The remains with no grave goods were more likely to have the isotopic signature of a migrant. In other words the migrants appear to have been the 5th century equivalent of today’s migrants trying to cross the English Channel. They weren’t bringing with them germanic culture, that culture was already here.

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