Testing Transhumance: Anglo-Saxon Swine Pastures and Seasonal Grazing in the Surrey Weald

This is my first peer-reviewed journal article to be published, in volume 99 of the Surrey Archaeological Collections (for 2016). I should add straight away that it is not my work alone; the genesis and basis of the piece must be attributed to the late Dennis Turner. I have taken on a number of incomplete article drafts he left in order to correct and complete them for publication – this is the first of up to four such articles that I hope will see the light of day in this way. Please click on this link to go through to a downloadable version of the article on my Academia profile.

Here’s a slightly abridged version of the article abstract (it turns out I really dislike writing abstracts, so if you get the sense that the following paragraph isn’t the most arresting advertisement for the article proper, that’s why):

‘It is commonly stated that the main pre-Norman Conquest use of the Weald was for transhumance – the grazing of certain pastures, to and from which livestock were moved over substantial distances at the beginning and end of a defined season. Often suggested to have been a phenomenon with prehistoric roots, in several ways transhumance seems to have been most important as a socio-economic institution in the earlier medieval centuries. Integral to such conjectures are those Wealden landholdings often known as denns, which are understood to have functioned as seasonal pastures for pigs or swine – the terms are interchangeable – at a considerable geographical remove from the associated estate centres. While there is ample evidence that, at the time they emerge into documented history, many of these holdings were being used as swine pastures, the contemporary direct testimony for seasonal usage is slight at best, while the inherent problems surrounding any possible transhumance of swine appear great. Altogether, these call into question the validity of previous conjectures. By looking at a broader range of material, textual and landscape evidence, it can be demonstrated that the denns of Surrey did indeed operate as part of a seasonal grazing regime involving movement of swine into and out of the Weald. Further, there are hints that the regime involved some swine remaining in the Weald after the majority had been driven back to the estate centres, implying the benefit of year-round settlement at the wood pastures for the swineherds.’

I picked this one to work up first, despite my near-total lack of knowledge on the topic, as on first impressions it was closest to being complete. Subsequently, I found that there was a lot more to do to tighten up the evidential base and the arguments founded upon it, so I increased the scope and size of the article to make it a more thoroughgoing discussion of the issues Dennis had in his sights. There’s so much more that could be written about the evidence for early grazing in the Weald, and early medieval pig farming more generally, but, alas, it’s not going to be me who does this. Each would merit a PhD thesis – I’d be happy to help anyone interested to write their proposal!

Next up – regional distinctiveness and the formation of the shire of Surrey…

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