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‘Clumsy and Illogical’? Reconsidering the West Kirby HogbackThis paper presents a fresh reading of a significant early medieval recumbent stone monument from West Kirby, Merseyside (formerly Cheshire). Rather than being a single-phased hogback, later subject to damage, it is argued that West Kirby 4 might have been carved in successive phases, possibly by different hands. It is suggested that the carvers had different abilities and/or adapted their work in response to the time pressures of a funeral or a shift in the location or function of the stone. While a single explanation for the character of the West Kirby monument remains elusive, the article proposes that, rather than ‘clumsy and illogical’, the stone was more likely a coherent but experimental, distinctive and asymmetrical, multi-phased and/or multi-authored creation. Through a review of the monument’s historiography and a detailed reappraisal of the details and parallels of its form, ornament and material composition, the paper reconsiders the commemorative significance of this recumbent stone monument for the locality, region and understanding of Viking Age sculpture across the British Isles. As a result, West Kirby’s importance as an ecclesiastical locale in the Viking Age is reappraised.
Hogbacks: the Materiality of Solid SpacesThe hogbacks of northern England and southern Scotland have long been seen as a distinctive category of tenth- and early eleventh-century early medieval stone monument resulting from Hiberno-Norse influence and settlement. This chapter reviews previous research and suggests a new foundation for their interpretation, arguing that hogbacks were an effective commemorative media because of the mnemonics of their materiality. Specifically, I focus upon the skeuomorphic allusions inherent in the ornamentation and form of hogbacks. Combined with their solidity and lithic weight, hogbacks cited a multi-scalar network of architectural material cultures and buildings already established within Britain and Ireland prior to, as well as during, the Viking Age. Rather than exclusive translations of secular halls into stone as often portrayed in both popular and scholarly research (e.g. Stocker 2000; Eriksen 2013), hogbacks cited a complex network of buildings (including secular halls but potentially also churches) and small-scale architectures (from biers and coffins to caskets and reliquaries) which were distilled into a solid lithic architectural form in various fashions. In this regard, hogbacks operated as elite commemorative monuments because their form connected to this shared elite network of architectural ‘things’ and implied the presence of the dead as inhabiting, or at least accessible through, the monument. Endbeasts and other themes of conflict were apotropaic in this context. The monstrous, sometimes ursine, beasts threaten to engulf some hogbacks – although sometimes they are demonstrably curtailed by their binding and muzzling. The emphasis upon bound beasts reveals the significance of sealing and fixing the tomb in place through its hogback design.
Landmarks for the dead: exploring Anglo-Saxon mortuary geographiesTo move forward with a robust framework for understanding early medieval mortuary geographies, scholars must escape the romantic dichotomy of regarding the early medieval dead as either confined to the dead pagan ‘communities’ situated on the periphery and borders of the living world, or safely bounded within churchyards under Christian pastoral care. While there is widespread recognition of the variability in early medieval burial sites and their spatial components, only a handful of studies have considered them as places of memory within complex and evolving historic landscapes, despite evidence for rich overlapping and changing burial terrains across the period. This chapter offers a new introduction and framework for just such an approach to early medieval mortuary geography.
Vlog to death: Project Eliseg's video-bloggingProject Eliseg involved three field seasons (2010–12) of survey and excavation at the multi-period mortuary and commemorative monument known as the Pillar of Eliseg, near Llangollen, Denbighshire, Wales. Each season incorporated an evolving range of media and public engagement activities, with digital media employed to disseminate ongoing work both globally and locally, including to those unable to access the site during the excavation seasons. One of the key strategies employed via digital media in seasons 2 and 3 was a daily video-blog (hereafter: vlog). This article presents and appraises the rationale, design, content and reception of the Project Eliseg vlog revealing key lessons in the use of digital media in archaeological fieldwork, particularly for those engaged with the archaeology of death, burial and commemoration.