Roman and early-medieval long-distance transport routes as an indication for the potential of large-scale multi-proxy approaches

(The Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands, Amersfoort, The Netherlands)

Keywords: Long-distance transport, Roman period, Early Middle Ages, multiple proxies, daily-life goods

The transition from the Roman period to the Early Middle Ages in many parts of northwestern Europe coincided with a clear economic decline and strongly decreasing population numbers. In many regions, socio-economic conditions changed considerably (e.g. the collapse of markets, surplus-distribution networks) and existing trade routes collapsed. To what extent long-distance transport routes changed from Roman to early-medieval periods is generally unknown. Only few historical sources are available for this transition period, and the archaeological record is complex. Moreover, traditional research on the long-distance exchanges of goods mainly has been focused on the spatial analyses of archaeologically recognisable goods such as jewellery and religious artefacts. Although greatly improving our understanding of long-distance trade, these endeavours in themselves probably do not represent the full spectrum of common exchange networks and transport routes.
In this contribution we present a newly-developed high-resolution reconstruction of first-millennium long-distance transport routes in the Netherlands. By integrating multiple large-scale heritage datasets, for the first time we were able to develop detailed spatiotemporal frameworks regarding long-distance transport based on quantitative data. Using a transdisciplinary approach we modelled changes in the long-distance transport of oak (a common good) for each individual Roman and early-medieval period. By combing the provenance of exogenous timbers with data on modelled first-millennium route networks in GIS we were able to reconstruct: (1) Roman and early-medieval trade networks in structural timbers, (2) changes in long-distance transport, and (3) model core sections (i.e. frequent-travel zones) within the modelled route networks. To validate these reconstructed patterns, the findings were compared with import patterns of other daily-life commodities: pottery and stone household goods. The presented results underline the importance and potential of large-scale transdisciplinary research approaches in archaeological studies, but equally demonstrate the necessity of data validation through comparisons.

Relevance conference / Relevance session:
This contribution shows the potential of data integration for the reconstruction of past transport networks, which were crucial for past urban development.

By applying the presented approach, for the first time a quantitative approach towards reconstructing the spatial and chronological boundary conditions of transport networks was possible.


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