• Beowulf and archaeology: Megaliths imagined and encountered in early medieval Europe

      Williams, Howard; University of Chester (Oxford University Press, 2015-12-01)
      The dragon’s lair in the epic Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf has been widely interpreted to reflect engagement with Neolithic megalithic architecture. Embodying the poet’s sense of the past, the stone barrow (Old English: stānbeorh) of the dragon has been taken to reveal mythological and legendary attributions to megalithic monuments as the works of giants and haunts of dragons in the early medieval world. This chapter reconsiders this argument, showing how the dragon’s mound invoked a biography of successive pasts and significances as treasure hoard, monstrous dwelling, place of exile, theft, conflict and death. Only subsequently does the mound serve as the starting-point for the funeral of Beowulf involving his cremation ceremony and mound-raising nearby. The biography of the dragon’s barrow is a literary one, in which inherited prehistoric megaliths were counter-tombs, antithetical to contemporary stone architectures containing the bodies of kings, queens and the relics of saints.