Words and Things:
Food, Archaeology, and Texts
in Anglo-Saxon England

Trial-version database © 2007
Created by Allen J. Frantzen
Designed and programmed
by Chris Grubbs

Words & Things
WORDS AND THINGS is a database that coordinates archaeological and textual evidence concerning food in England from c. 500-1100 A.D.

The trial version introduces 15 objects involved in the production, preparation, and storing of food. For each object you will find detailed archaeological information, including Anglo-Saxon sites where the object has been found, contexts in which the object survived, and probable dates for the object and its context; for some objects, sites in Denmark and other Viking cultures are included. The archaeological entries are accompanied by quotations from Old English texts that refer to the object. Texts are given in Old English and in translation, along with information about the date and provenance and bibliographical references.

You can search each of the test entries shown both as an object and as a word. You will be able to refine your search according to various criteria, but don't expect precise matches between textual and archaeological details.

For details on the project, please see below.


WORDS AND THINGS is intended to help scholars use the food culture of Anglo-Saxon England connect material culture and textual culture. The project aims to help archaeologists, historians, and literary scholars make more effective use of the evidence their disciplines have uncovered about daily life in Anglo-Saxon England and some of its contact cultures. The project focuses on objects and words rather than on high-status objects (e.g., helmets, swords, crosses) in order to help you approach everyday life and ordinary things.

The 15 objects selected for the trial phase of the project range from those that are well-attested, including hearths and querns, to objects of which few Anglo-Saxon examples survive, including fish hooks. The most common term for each object is situated in the corpus of Old English by means of quotations from texts in which the object is mentioned.

Using the database

  1. Once you select an object from the table of 15, you will be taken to an overview page that provides information about the object and an image of the object. From the overview page you can then carry search both the archaeological and the textual evidence for this object or go back to review all objects and choose another.
  2. If you begin with the object search, you will be given the opportunity to narrow the search by century and country. Be aware that, in the trial version, you may find no results if you narrow the search. Initially you should simply click on "search" and see all the available evidence. You will be taken through a number of examples of the object and will find information about each of these examples. a map will show where the object has been found. You can mark examples of special interest and the system will save these search results for you.
  3. If you begin with the text search, you can survey a number of Old English texts that refer to the object. Again, you can save pertinent search results.
  4. After doing either the text or the object search or both, you can review the records you marked by going to the marked entries page to review text and object records of particular interest to you.
  5. You can also proceed to the matches page. Here you will be able to view a summary statement about any object in the context of a summary statement about any text. You can mix or match objects and texts as you wish and by doing so consider possible points of connection and correspondence. In the trial version these comentaries are fullest for the best-documented examples; for some the commentary has yet to be written.

Read more about the matches below.

Evaluating the data

In order to create these text-object matches, entries of both kinds have been rated. You can see the rating in the comment field, the last field for each object and text. Points were given for evidence that helps connect the object or text about the object to food and food-related processes.

The rating system for TEXTS is as follows:

  • 1 point for being food-object specific (i.e., the text mentions object) (every text scores 1 point)
  • 1 point for being food-use or food-process specific (e.g., directions for use of food, handling, treating food material, etc; the text connects the object to a process)
  • 1 point for being food-handler specific (i.e., mentioning a person who uses the object or interacts with or acts on the object)
  • 1 point for being date or place specific (provenance of manuscript)
  • 1 point for having a known author or translator

The rating system for OBJECTS is as follows:

  • 1 point food relevance (every object scores 1 point)
  • 1 point for being food-process specific (e.g., the object gives evidence of use, wear, food residue, or associated by context with another food object or with food space,. e.g., other object, hearth, etc.)
  • 1 point for information about the object's location within the named site (grave, pit, floor, etc.)
  • 1 point for information about the phase or period of the object how precisely dated is the object
  • 1 image of this object (is there a visual record, a photograph or drawing?)

In addition to weighting the value of both kinds of records, these criteria offer guidelines to the maximum evidentiary value of a given object. What kind of spoon would tell us the most about Anglo-Saxon food culture? What kind of text would reveal the most about food objects and their social contexts?