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Early Medieval

AD410 to 1066

Dark Ages 

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The fifth to seventh centuries was a time of changes. The most significant of these was the adoption of Christianity, which was introduced from the Mediterranean and France and, particularly, from Wales. The early Christian foundations in Cornwall were, like those in Wales, not simply isolated churches, but actual settlements. They were called lanns and consisted of an enclosure which defined a consecrated area. Within the enclosure were probably houses, a cemetery and a chapel.

Between the fifth century and the Norman conquest of 1066 rounds fell out of use. Few settlements from this period of transition have been excavated and we know little about how this development took place. Analysis of the medieval names of many Cornish farms implies that some medieval hamlets were built on the site of former rounds; in other cases a round would be abandoned and a new hamlet established close by.

What is certain is that by the tenth century the typical Cornish medieval settlement, a hamlet consisting of unenclosed groups of rectangular houses, had developed. Against a changing political background, affected by contact with different people, influenced by a new religion, it is perhaps not surprising that the population gradually moved away from the old system which had been in place in one form or another since the later Iron Age. Crop failure and plague may have accelerated the degeneration of that old system. Enclosure, once a symbol of status and certainty, was now a symbol of the past.

Of course we do not know to what extent occupation was continuous at each site. Some new settlements may have been established long after a nearby enclosure had been abandoned. Elsewhere enclosures may have been deliberately abandoned in favour of setting up a new settlement nearby.

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