The social organization of labor: Iron production and settlement at the Low Birker site
Brunton, Thomas F
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The organization of labor is an integral structuring principle for all human societies but has been little studied by archaeologists. This dissertation will help to remedy that situation through the study of the 10 th century AD iron production site and associated settlement at Low Birker, Cumbria, England. This research is based in practice theory which contends that everyday activities, human decision making and social structure are all interrelated. The organization and identity of laborers and crafters is related to broader themes of social organization, through the common archaeological focus on craft specialization. The types of medieval labor organization including communalism, slavery, feudal obligation and wage work are outlined. Some combination of these is usually present in any society but social, political and economic factors can preclude certain types of organization. The historical context of the Norse homelands, Britain and the study region (Cumbria) with an emphasis on socio-political organization and economics is summarized. At the time of the Norse settlement in Cumbria, Scandinavian kings were consolidating their power, while England and Scotland were already states. The kingdom of Cumbria was in the process of consolidation. Iron production technology highly skilled workers and is labor intensive. Iron is both a commodity and a prestige good. Possible symbolic and religious associations of iron may give high status to iron workers. Finally, the archaeology of iron mining and production in northern Europe is discussed, with an emphasis on Norway and Cumbria. Cumbria follows the common upland British pattern of small dispersed roundhouse settlement and the settlement system does not appear to be fully integrated with the state. Eskdale has a rugged landscape not suitable for intensive agriculture. The survey, excavations and data collected at the Low Birker site are described. There was intensive iron production at the site using Norse style furnaces, but the settlement was native British in character. The Low Birker iron production site was a nucleated workshop because it is independent, nucleated, large-scale labor based and used full time laborers. The British laborers were probably organized along communal lines with elements of feudal duties to the Norse overlords.