The Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex is usually assumed to have originated around its later capital, Winchester. In fact, its origins lie in the Upper Thames Valley, with the emergence of a people referred to by Bede as the Gewisse, who, by the end of the 7th century, had come to be known as the West Saxons. Yet the process by which Anglo-Saxon kingdoms formed following the collapse of Roman authority in Britain in the early 5th century remains obscure. While written sources for this period are practically non-existent, archaeological evidence for the 5th and 6th centuries is constantly increasing and has enormous potential to illuminate the process by which supra-local communities formed, providing the basis of numerous small kingdoms by the 7th century.
This project focuses on one such kingdom, that of the West Saxons. A pilot project to digitally map archaeological data, including metal-detector finds, was carried out on a stretch of the river Thames between Wallingford and Lechlade (Hamerow, Ferguson and Naylor 2013). By extending this mapping and comparing the results with place-names and other evidence, we aim to understand how a ‘Saxon’ identity formed in the region, the British contribution to that identity, and the extent to which Roman patterns of settlement provided the framework for the early Saxon polity.