8.3.1 Understanding the early medieval economy

As discussed above (see Rural and agrarian settlement), the early medieval economy in the study area which became dominated by agrarian production and a tribute economy, becoming increasingly monetised and urbanised by the end of the period. Understanding economic changes over time requires a detailed chronology of settlement and infrastructure, which is still to be established in the study area (see Territorial organisation). The focus of excavation and historical source material on centres of power (secular and religious) means we can see most clearly the places where wealth was accrued and displayed, and less clearly the places where food and labour were sourced. Food processing and supply sites for these putative estate centres are gradually being identified at settlements such as the Grassmarket and Burdiehouse (SESARF 8.2.6 Food Production). Less well understood is the sourcing of peat, timber and other resources needed for the development of early burghs (eg Mills and Crone 2012).

It is not until the 12th century that a royal mint was established in Edinburgh, and even then, it took time for the Scottish economy to be monetized (SESARF 8.3.3 Coinage). It is similar in the 12th century when we have the first clear evidence for the establishment of burghs, markets and towns. Yet there is evidence for long-distance trade and even the circulation of coins in the SESARF region throughout the early medieval period. The evidence from stray finds is beginning to extend the origins of these economic changes into the early medieval period, but there is no denying that the 12th century marks a period of rapid and revolutionary economic watershed in the study area.