The ‘Dark Ages’ | English Heritage

Source: The ‘Dark Ages’ | English Heritage

“In relation to the interpretation scheme at Tintagel Castle, the terms ‘post-Roman’ and ‘pre-Saxon’ are difficult, particularly in the context of Cornish history. More scholarly names such as ‘late Antiquity’, ‘migration period’ or ‘early Christian’ are all potentially problematic for the general public. ‘Early medieval’ or ‘early Middle Ages’ is perhaps the most suitable, but we have found that these terms are popularly associated with the period around 1066 and the Normans; potentially confusing at a site such as Tintagel which also has medieval buildings.

Our historian found Ken Dark’s 2004 paper  influential (Dark, K. 2004 ‘Back to the ‘Dark Ages’? Terminology and preconception in the archaeology of fifth- to seventh-century Celtic Britain’ Journal of Celtic Studies 4, 193-200). In this he sets out the alternatives and comes to the conclusion that it isn’t a particularly bad term to use, as it is widely understood by public and scholars alike. We discuss the terminology in more detail in the English Heritage guidebook, and we trust that our description of the high-status settlement and trading activities at this time helps to show visitors that these were richly complex times indeed.

With regards to the terminology on our Story of England pages, we acknowledge that the term ‘Dark Ages’ is not perfect and welcome suggestions for alternative descriptions, bearing in mind the difficulties we have with commonly used alternatives, as outlined above. The term must be short, generally valid for the period c.400 – 1066 and crucially, must be understandable to the wider public…”


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