Books : reviews

Mick Aston, Chris Gerrard.
Interpreting the English Village: landscape and community at Shapwick, Somerset.
Windgather Press. 2013

Interpreting the English Village is an original and approachable account of how archaeology can tell the story of the English village, based on the Shapwick Project. Shapwick lies in the middle of Somerset, near the important monastic centre of Glastonbury; the abbey owned the manor there for 800 years from the 8th to the 16th centuries and its abbots and officials had great influence on the lives of Shapwick’s peasants. It is possible that Abbot Dunstan, one of the great reformers of tenth century monasticism directed the planning of the village.

The Shapwick Project, led by Mick Aston and Chris Gerrard, investigated the development and history of an English parish and village over a ten thousand year period. This was a truly multi-disciplinary project. Not only were a battery of archaeological and historical techniques undertaken – such as field walking, test-pitting, archaeological excavation, aerial reconnaissance, documentary research and cartographic analysis – but numerous other techniques such as building analysis, dendrochronological dating and soil analysis were carried out on a large scale.

The result is a fascinating and revealing study about how the community lived and prospered in Shapwick from prehisrory to the eighteenth century. The past is brought vividly to life by short fictional explorations of Shapwick’s characters and key events at the beginning of most chapters, and text-boxes elucidate re-occurring themes and techniques. In addition we learn how a group of enthusiastic and dedicated volunteers and scholars unravelled this story. As such there is much ro inspire and enthuse others who might want to embark on similar projects.