Last week news broke that a unique silver bowl had been discovered by Leiden archaeologists during digs at Oegstgeest in the Netherlands. There isn’t too much to be said just yet, because the full findings at the site will need to be analysed. The initial story – online here – announces that the find is exciting because it hints at an elite with a wide international network.

This is all good for scholars who, not unfairly, want to place emphasis on the importance of trade in the Merovingian world for explaining major socio-economic and political developments. You might want to check out the recent survey by Richard Hodges for a (not-uncontentious) summary of the debate, before checking out Christopher Loveluck’s book on the archaeology of Northwest Europe and the work of Frans Theuws (who being professor had Leiden probably has a hand somewhere in dealing with the bowl). What we get from works such as theirs is a sense of the interconnectivity of communities in the early Middle Ages. Peasants were not unable to imagine the world beyond their fields (probably), because there was so much movement. Naysayers may still say that it is insignificant and positively backward compared to modern global networks or the more aesthetically pleasingly Roman Empire. The more people find artifacts such as the bowl, the more scholars will chip away at this image of a dark, inert period in European history.