I am pleased to announce this month sees the publication in the 172nd volume of the Archaeological Journal: the annual publication of the Royal Archaeological Institute. This is my third edited volume and the third with reviews edited by Kate Waddington.

The volume is uploaded onto the RAI’s website and is accessible to members here. The print volume is being distributed to RAI members and subscribing libraries.

AJ 171 COVER 1


A Bayesian Radiocarbon Chronology of the Early Neolithic of Yorkshire and Humbersider: SEREN GRIFFITHS

Golden Biographies: The Production, Curation, Fragmentation and Deposition of the Amorican-Type Rolled-Gold Bead-Like Ornaments found at Pendleton, Lancashire: DAVID BARROWCLOUGH

The Biography of a Settlement: An Analysis of Middle Iron Age Deposits and Houses at Howe, Orkney: KATE WADDINGTON

Two Roman Britains: DAVID BREEZE

The Wirral Brooch: The Form, Distribution and Role of a Regional Romano-British Brooch Type: FRANCES MCINTOSH

Technologies of Appearance: Hair Behaviour in  Early Medieval Europe: STEVEN P. ASHBY

A Post-Roman Sequence at Carlisle Cathedral: MIKE MCCARTHY

Stonemasons’ Drawings on Building Fabric: Diversity, Form and Function: ROSE HARRIS ADAMSON

Gateways to Power: The Castles of Ranulf III of Chester and Llywelyn the Great of Gwynedd: RACHEL SWALLOW

Crossing the Threshold: Negotiating Space in the Vernacular Houses of the Isle of Lewis: CATRIONA MACKIE

An Assemblage of Collegiate Ceramics: Mid-Nineteenth Century Dining at Trinity Hall, Cambridge: CRAIG CESSFORD

Two Exhumations and an Attempted Theft: The Posthumous Biography of St Cuthbert in the Nineteenth Century and its Historicist Narratives: ROBERT MCCOMBE

Book Reviews 


Zoo Death

Posted: September 1, 2014 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,


Zoo death

 In a previous blog I made the claim that zoos are (with some notable exceptions) death-denying heritage environments. Like many National Trust, Cadw and English Heritage properties, memorials are kept to a minimum and controlled, so as not to over-run the space.

As Cornelius Holtorf has discussed, they project the image of animals as somehow timeless and outside of history, without death. Admittedly there are human memorials in some zoos and there are also some selected memorials to unique animals – usually primates and elephants –  but most animals come and go without a memorial.

However, I have noticed a striking couple of exceptions at Chester Zoo that might reveal something about the overall theme.

1) A rare instance of a dead animal displayed at the zoo is the skull forming the backdrop to a habitat for living  mongeese.

2) Another is the use of giant tortoise shells (obviously not real of course) to serve as a play feature and photo opportunity.

Why these only? I want to hazard a guess that this skull represents a grisly dimension of desert life, but plays well with children who in ‘Mongeese Mania’ can charge down tunnels to peek out at the mongeese in their habitat. Likewise, the ‘darkness’ of the empty tortoise shells is alleviated by the ability for them to serve as a focus of play activities and photographs of kids and adults within and upon the shells.

Whatever people think of these animal traces, these are a hit with the mongeese and kids!


Tortoise shell


Bishop Yeatman-Biggs’ effigy tomb, set in the open-air ruins of St Michael’s cathedral church, Coventry

This entry relates to my earlier blog about effigy tombs in cathedrals and another about Coventry Cathedral. It concerns the amazing survival of the effigy tomb of the excitingly named Bishop Huyshe Wolcott Yeatman-Biggs (1845-1922).

IMG_6865IMG_6823Situated within the ruins of St Michael’s cathedral church Coventry, this is a striking example of an early 20th-century bronze effigy tomb with an inherent textual and material biography to it for all to see, charting its passage from its construction to the present day. This was the only tomb to survive nearly intact following the cathedral’s bombing in 1940 and so its significance speaks of its original subject, the bombing and the aftermath of the ruin as a symbol of Coventry’s identity and a powerful memorial environment.

IMG_6836IMG_6891This kind of episcopal effigy tomb – in stone or metal – is the last-gasp of a long tradition of tombs depicting life-size supine bodies posed in prayer which began in the Middle Ages and has been transformed and adapted for over 700 years. In other words, it is a hyper-conservative piece of medievalism. To use a bipedal carnivorous dinosaur analogy (and why not?), this Coventry Cathedral effigy tomb might be regarded as the Tyrannosaurus Rex of effigy tombs in two senses. First, it is among the youngest in the material record and is devastatingly honed to its task (although the hands are well-proportioned: in that regard the T-Rex analogy doesn’t really work…). Second, like a big meat-eating dinosaur, it has proved to be remarkably efficient and tenacious: German bombing failed to destroy it, so perhaps only a future asteroid will dispatch it once and for all…

IMG_6889IMG_6872So this is a memorial dinosaur that refused to become extinct and it endures to the present.

The form is strikingly realistic, with books, his staff, episcopal robes and the symbol of the church itself in his hands, all denoting his rank as a bishop. There are three texts, the original in Latin set into the bronze, the second is smaller and inscribed in italic English text, and the third is in large Roman capitals and again in English and inscribed into the stone base. Together they tell the story of a monument constructed to commemorate the first Bishop (Yeatman-Biggs) of the restored episcopal see of Coventry established at St Michael’s church, its damage by the bombing of 1940 and its restoration in 1951.

IMG_6885IMG_6824Of course this monument was never designed for an open-air setting, and its materiality is also fascinating. Of particular interest to my PhD student – Ruth Nugent - is the traces of haptic engagement with the monument by visitors – the fingers, parts of the mitre and face (including the prominent swastika motif that subsequent becomes incongruous given the fate of the cathedral), the church in his hands and tops of the toes of his shoes. Also of interest are the areas where the water collects after rain – given a striking sense of a monument exposed to unexpected elements.

In summary, this is an effigy tomb with its commemorative significance has accrued and is written onto it with texts and wear: a true dinosaur in its retrospective form and its tenaciousness against all adversities.


Ruth and other visitors exploring the wear on the monument


IMG_20140828_131019This coming month sees exciting new developments with the Archaeological Journal – the annual publication of the Royal Archaeological Institute. 

  1. Volume 171 for 2014 is due for publication online via the RAI’s website and distributed to members in print: this will be my third edited volume.
  2. Volume 172 for 2015 will be the first edition of the Archaeological Journal to be published online and in print with Routledge,
  3. Volume 172 will appear online in two parts in January and July ahead of print distribution in Sept 2015,
  4. I renew my call for papers for copy for volume 172 part ii: see here for details.
  5. I have received new postcards to promote the Journal from Routledge and I have proudly displayed two of them on my new office door.

Volume 172 is promising to be a very exciting volume with a rich range of multi-period and period-specific contributions relating to the archaeology of the British Isles.

Farewell gifts for Dr Keith McLay from the Department of History and Archaeology

Farewell gifts for Dr Keith McLay from the Department of History and Archaeology

This is an brief entry written to express both sadness and congratulations at the departure from his role as Head of History and Archaeology at the University of Chester (aka my boss) of historian Dr Keith McLay. The department gathered together on Thursday evening to give speeches, present gifts, consume alcohol and gorge on good food in Keith’s honour. The speeches paid due attention to Keith’s academic qualities, his dedicated and long-term of service to the University of Chester (since 2001) as well as his undoubtedly exhausting stint as Head of Department since 2007.

The six speeches eloquently summed up the many dimensions of Keith’s phenomenal contribution. I have never before experienced such an efficient and supportive Head of Department and long may his legacy remain! Keith has helped me in innumerable ways in my job, first as Senior Lecturer and subsequently as Professor of Archaeology, and he has offered unswerving support for the archaeological and heritage teaching and research in our Department.

Keith is starting his new job as Dean of Arts and Humanities at Canterbury Christ Church University. I hope they realise how lucky they are to get Keith. I wish him all the very best in this role and for the future.


St Cuthbert’s body in St Mary’s Lindisfarne


Processing through the south aisle

The post-mortem biography of St Cuthbert’s corpse and its successive contexts is long and complex and ongoing. It began before his death, with his life (death needs a life usually, but not always). It then continued with the first translation of his corpse and ran on  through the journeys of his corpse until it reached Durham. Subsequently, the biography trundled forward through the embellishment and adaptation of his shrine and the repeated exhumation of his remains. Now his corpse cannot be exhumed any more (although you never know….) art fills a gap, allowing us to imagine not just his life, but his death and the journeys and translations of his relics.


Coffin and its bearers

The journeying of Cuthbert’s corpse is commemorated in a fascinating corporeal sculpture in elm wood by Fenwick Lawson. It was installed in, and subsequently dominates, the space of the south aisle of St Mary’s church, Lindisfarne.

Entitled ‘The Journey’, the sculpture depicts a narrow coffin with the body of St Cuthbert oddly raised above the edges of the coffin being borne by six monks frozen as if in movement. The focus is upon the monks and the coffin, but the corpse is clearly present, if difficult to see by anyone under 6 foot in height.

Representing something of the broader passion for hyper-real imagery to (over) emphasise the historicity as well as the corporeality of Cuthbert, this sculpture invokes imaginings of his post-mortem wanderings to his final resting place at Durham, the ceremony and the solemnity of that journey. It is a very rare example of an historic corpse depicted in translation in modern art.

IMG_8203IMG_8215This is interesting for archaeologists because, despite our repeated interest in mortuary remains, we rarely depict corpses in translation like Fenwick Lawson has done with St Cuthbert. Corpses are usually on a pyre or in a grave, not moving towards their destinations.

So the millennium-long obsession with Cuthbert’s cadaver, coffin and associated relics, thus finds a particularly striking form in this sculpture. It is but one of the ways in which Cuthbert is materialised in the church, opposite on the north wall is a replica of the images upon St Cuthbert’s coffin. Yet perhaps more than such replicas, Cuthbert’s identity and corporeality are powerfullyconveyed in the sculpture.

IMG_8205A further fascinating dimension of this sculpture is how it has been replicated in bronze for Millennium Place, Durham. I first encountered this sculpture in 2010 whilst visiting Durham University for the Theoretical Archaeology Group annual conference.  Viewed on a snowy evening before Christmas, it looked forlorn and lonely, still trudging towards a safe haven, casting imaginings of not only a corpse on its journey to a grave and shrine, but of a soul on its journey to Salvation.


Durham’s Cuthbert in the snow of mid-December 2010

As intriguing as the biography of Cuthbert’s human remains and other relics, and somewhat ironic in actual fact, is that the bronze version is now thought to be inadequately situated in  Durham’s cityscape. There are plans to move it closer to Durham Cathedral.

So, just like his corpse, the sculpture has a biography in store for it, divided between two media – wood and bronze – and two locales intimately bound to the story of St Cuthbert: Lindisfarne and Durham.


The ruins of St Michael’s from the surviving tower


The ruins from the approach to the new cathedral

The night of 14th November 1940 was cloudless and moonlit: perfect for air attack. By 5am, Coventry’s cathedral church of St Michael sustained irreparable damage from incendiary bombs dropped by a Luftwaffe night-raid on the city. Over 600 people were dead and the city lay in tatters.

The destruction of the cathedral, and of Coventry’s historic core, was a significant moment in Britain’s civilian experience of the conflict with Nazi Germany and a devastating blow for the city. After the war, what happened to Coventry pales against the many other air attacks and mass slaughters across Europe, but it spoke directly of the civilian losses of that terrible conflict.

I am interested in how the church, once cleared, consolidated and retained as a roofless ruin adjacent to the new cathedral church built in its stead and facing into it, continued to accrue memories. Seemingly preserved in Pompeii-like freeze-frame, it is a complex multi-layered memoryscape.


View SE

In commemorating one night, one moment of destruction, the ruins of St Michael’s  make it a powerful place of conflict commemoration and peace memorialisation. The board within describes it as a ‘living icon of reconciliation and hope’. Yet I would suggest that this is gloss, for its commemorative messages are more nuanced and variegated. The official narrative of the site is sustained, but also questioned, by this memorial complexity.


The ruins under restoration

To state the obvious, this is an utterly different memorial space to the other cathedral churches that have been the focus of the Past in its Place project. The new cathedral church, as among the newest of Britain’s cathedrals and a completely bespoke architectural space, is also a contrast from the other cathedrals under our consideration. The one cannot be appreciated without the other, but for simplicity’s sake I will address that separately elsewhere.

So I have been thinking about how to characterise the memorials dimensions of the ruins of St Michael’s. The ruins are themselves a memorial to the c. 600 citizens of Coventry who died on that one night of bombing. They are the focus of an annual service to commemorate victims of the blitz. In this regard, the components are the ruins, but also the Perpendicular tower and spire that ‘miraculously’ escaped the fires, as well as the new cathedral whose southern front rises above the ruins on the northern side.

However, the ruins also contain many further individual memorial plaques and memorial components that relate to the overarching commemorative narrative, but in different ways. So what are the constituent elements of this space? How does it work as an asssemblage of memorial elements? Part of the problem is that part of the north aisle was closed to restoration, making it impossible for me to fully view it. I must go back. However, here are some preliminary observations.

Commemorating the Bombing 

The entire space and its components commemorate the bombing. Yet there are a series of memorials that directly or indirectly commemorate the act of the cathedral’s destruction and prefigure its rehabilitation.  Most striking of all is the cross made of burnt timbers. The original is now on display within the new Coventry Cathedral but a replica is installed beside the high altar. A cross of nails was also made and mounted on the altar.The Home Front memorial might be fitted into this category. There are also memorials to those who attempted to save the cathedral, notably Richard Howard – the Provost of the cathedral who was one of four on duty the night of the bombing.


The high altar


Commemorating Dick Howard

Commemorating Absent Spaces

A series of memorial plaques situated around the walls commemorate the guild chapels that are no longer present. As such, they serve to commemorate the cathedral as it was before the bombing.


Heritage board and guild memorial plaque

Surviving Fabric

Further traces of the lost past are explicitly displayed components of the ruined space. Immediately after the bombing, rubble was used to make a crude altar to serve for services, but this has spawned the raising of select ruins as memorials in themselves throughout the church space. These are treated as memorials in themselves.


Brought down to earth by the bombing



Fragments installed for commemoration


Mortuary Vestiges

There are medieval sarcophagi, post-medieval mural tablets and even the bronze effigy tomb of the first bishop of the newly re-established 20th-century cathedral. All these constitute vestiges of the cathedral’s commemorative environment when it was destroyed in 1940; traces of a lost – or partly lost – commemorative past so familiar from other cathedrals we have studied. Yet as damaged and destroyed, dislocated and reassembled monuments, these mortuary and commemorative features together serve to foreground the striking outdoors-ness of what should be a covered space.IMG_6921


A distinctive memorial to two 18th-century ladies



Guild chapel memorial and mural monument

Commemorating Restoration

There are a number of plaques commemorating restorations to the cathedral, including the rehanging of the bells to commemorate the cathedral’s silver jubilee in 1987. The restoration of the tower and spire, 1977-78 is also commemorated.


Commemorating restoration



Commemorating the Dead

While post-1940 memorials are rare, there are indications that old altars, benches and floor spaces continue to attract new memorials subsequent to the church’s abandonment for regular services and left in its ruinous state. One altar is the focus of informal memorials to those commemorated or buried elsewhere. Into this category comes again the memorial to Provost Dick Howard and his wife (above) but also the memorial to the bishop of Coventry in the immediate aftermath of the bombing.


Gorton memorial


Commemorating the dead – memorial benches


Cross added to the base of a damaged mural monument


Commemorating Peace and Reconciliation

A series of artworks have been installed to provoke contemplation on peace and human suffering during conflict. Epstein’s Ecce Homo might be interested in this category. There is also the statue called ‘Reconciliation’ and a plaque opened by the Queen Mother on the anniversary of the bombing, 14th November 1990.


Commemorating reconciliation


Commemorating reconciliation and the royal connection

Informal Commemoration

A final aspect of the commemorative programme is the informal commemoration of visitors who ascend the surviving tower of St Michael’s. Whether just to remember their visit and leave their mark, or some deeper significance, in this particular context these marks are destructive but also commemorative; they wouldn’t be able to leave a mark had the fire destroyed the tower too. In an informal and popular way, these graffiti celebrate the persistence of the church through its bombing.


The surviving tower of St Michael’s


Commemorating a visit in August 1972

Together these different categories of commemorative interweave in the complex ruined space of St Michael’s, offering a glimpse of many of the memorial themes we find in other cathedral spaces, but here coalescing in an open-air ruin to a specific and devastating moment in the history of the church and the city of Coventry.