In the UK, it has been the hottest Hallowe’en on record and I have noticed this has turned mortuary archaeologists even spookier than ever!

Here’s my point: just because I have a blog about the archaeology of death, burial and commemoration in the human distant and recent past doesn’t mean I am going to push the boat out on Hallowe’en. On the contrary. For personal and professional reasons, I think it is a day when mortuary archaeologists and bioarchaeologists should continue as normal, or if they prefer, to take a break and shut up.

Ok, there are a raft of personal reasons that I personally dislike Hallowe’en.

First up, it has no pressing religious significance for me.

Second, I have five kids under 7 and sleep in our household is a precious resource. The kids’ evening meal, bath, bed-time stories and sleep are all the better for not being interrupted by other kids in costumes hanging on the bell begging for cheap sweets their parents can well afford to acquire for them, let alone the premature fireworks of those confused about the difference between Hallowe’en and Bonfire Night.

Third, Hallowe’en happens to be a family birthday, and I’d rather celebrate that than some meaningless pseudo-pagan, pseudo-Christian, over-commercialised event that means next to nothing to most UK people involved.

Fourth, people die all year round, and two year’s ago a work colleague died on this day: so out of respect for his family and for people who have lost friends and family on this day,I am reluctant to take this day out for the mindless appropriation of things mortuary and macabre.

Now for professional reasons. The very reason I research and write about death is to explore the diversity and changing ways by which human populations have disposed of, and commemorated, the dead.  Sometimes I do this seriously, sometimes I do this with humour. Death and the dead are there to be joked about as much as they deserve respect; indeed one could arguing that joking about mortality is one way of showing it the respect it deserves and to respect not only the dead, but those who acted to honour and respect the dead. Therefore, I accept that Hallowe’en provides one opportunity of connecting mortuary archaeology to contemporary celebrations and preoccupations: the day of the dead is celebrated today and variations of it have deep historical roots. Whether you really believe this is a time when spirits are abroad or you join the fun of it all (unlike me: the Scrooge of All Hallow’s Eve), whether you take a serious side of it all or a lighter view of spooks and graves, Hallowe’en is a great time for considered engagements with mortuary archaeology and mortality more generally.

However, is this really an excuse to populate social media and archaeological news with a festival of random mortuary archaeology stories, stories about archaeological sites only tangentially connected with Hallowe’en as celebrated today, and photographs of random skulls and gravestones taken largely out of their cultural contexts? I’m not convinced it is. This outpouring perhaps reminds us that death is understood in varied ways across cultures, but it might also be taken to appropriate and conflate past practices as banal reflections of a universal modern capitalist norm of ignoring mortality 364 days of the year and then mocking it for one day. Moreover, I think this doesn’t help mortuary archaeology to escape from criticisms that it is full of nerds who treat graves, cemeteries and human remains as anything other than counter-cultural appendages to personal identities. I think graves and skeletons remain our subjects of research, not our logos and best friends. At best, this makes us look a tiny bit sad . At worst, I fear it might mislead people about what mortuary archaeology is about.

If you enjoy Hallowe’en, enjoy it and ignore me! If you don’t, be a kill-joy like me and sulk. Either way, perhaps we need to think more carefully about how we deal with the macabre and whether Hallowe’en helps or hinders in communicating research into death and the dead in the human past.

At the moment, my feeling is that Hallowe’en is best left alone and treated – in archaeological media terms – as just another day of life and death in the news cycle. In short, the archaeology of death is for all year round, not just for Hallowe’en.

Now I’ve got that off my chest, I’m going to be a complete hypocrite now and write a post about grisly skulls from the Viking Age!

 

 

 

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Dr Ben Edwards (MMU) talking about photogrammetry in the West Kirby Museum

A Visit from Two Universities 

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The door to the West Kirby Museum displaying a view of Side A of the hogback stone

This week, I got an opportunity to visit St Bridget’s Church, West Kirby and the neighbouring West Kirby Museum. The small museum, open every Saturday, contains a range of artefacts revealing the medieval and modern history of West Kirby. St Bridget’s church, open most afternoons, is a lovely church, largely renovated in the 19th century, but containing a range of historic features and a large churchyard with diverse memorial types and a war memorial.

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Tobias at the West Kirby Museum

Both church and museum were opened especially to accommodate a special visit from Manchester Metropolitan University’s Dr Ben Edwards and Dr Seren Griffiths who brought their MA students to undertake photogrammetric survey of the Viking hogback stone in the church and some of the medieval stones in the museum.

Heritage Together

Ben and Seren have been modelling a range of prehistoric and historic sites in North Wales and you can read about their work here and they have a website dedicated to community engagement in this process here. 

Dr Patricia Murrieta-Flores and myself (both from the Dept of History and Archaeology, University of Chester) joined them (as did my son Tobias) to discuss the early medieval stone sculpture from the site.

The West Kirby Hogback

The West Kirby hogback stone is perhaps the best known of this collection, being one of only two from the Wirral, and perhaps evidence of Hiberno-Norse contacts and possibly settlement in this area (combined with place-name, historical and archaeological evidence). The monument is located in St Bridget’s church and a replica has recently been made for the Museum of Liverpool.

The hogback stone bears heavy damage on its top surface and there has been speculation that it has lost both of its ends. The decoration consists of three bands; wheel and bar ornament on side A’s top, skeuomorphic shingle-roof tegulae in the middle and plaitwork beneath.

Side B, rarely photographed, is very different and has a similar but shallower decorative arrangement. The tegulae, for example, are incised rather than carved in relief.

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The ‘classic’ view of the monument: Side A

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Side B: showing a similar arrangement but contrasting detail and quality of execution compared to Side A

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View of the hogback from above, showing the extensive damage to the top-side

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Detail of the end of the hogback

A New View of the Hogback

At the Istanbul EAA I presented a paper addressing the West Kirby hogback stone and how it might be viewed as a multi-stage, incomplete, rushed and/or ‘failed’ monument; see my blog on this subject. I am currently writing up this argument, based on multiple visits to the monument and benefitting from discussions with Meggen Gondek, Joanne Kirton, Victoria Whitworth and other members of the Runes Network, when we visited West Kirby in 2013.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the visit for me was to air my views with the local people so familiar with the monument, who confirmed that they had already identified the issues I had observed regarding the monument. The input of Seren, Paty and Ben was also valuable.

Patricia and I plan to utilise the laser scans of the monument, generously provided by Liverpool Museums, to write up a new study of the West Kirby hogback stone and its hitherto under-investigated and under-theorised asymmetries and distinctive features.

Beyond the Hogback

Yet the hogback is but one of the tenth-century stones from West Kirby. Like Neston and St John’s Chester, West Kirby has a series of early medieval stone fragments, some seemingly from low wheel-crosses that may have served as high-status grave-markers. There is also one further fragment that might be part of a second hogback monument. They might be summarised with information taken from Richard Bailey’s volume IX of the Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture as follows:

West Kirby 1 – cross-shaft – 10th century

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West Kirby 1

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West Kirby 1

West Kirby 2 – fragmentary cross-head 10th century

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West Kirby 2

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West Kirby 2

West Kirby 3 – fragmentary cross-head 10th century

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West Kirby 3

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West Kirby 3

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West Kirby 3

West Kirby 5 – fragment of recumbent slab or hogback – 10th century

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West Kirby 5

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West Kirby 5

West Kirby 6 – cross – 11th century

 

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West Kirby 6

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An ‘infant’s coffin’ at West Kirby Museum

Future Directions

There remains more work to be done to characterise, interpret and communicate to the public the fascinating collection of sculpture at the West Kirby Museum and St Bridget’s church, not only the hogback, nor indeed not only the early medieval stones, but also the later medieval stonework too. For while the museum is fresh, up-to-date and the sculpture is now effectively displayed and communicated through a smart  website, there remains key dimensions of this sculpture that escape attention in the current display.

These concerns chime with those of my PhD student – Joanne Kirton - who is currently writing up her doctoral thesis investigating how we can enrich our understanding of assemblages of Viking Age sculpture like that at West Kirby. Moreover, Joanne has been working with St John’s Chester to redisplay their Viking Age stones. In both regards, Joanne’s research is going to make a valuable contribution to the ongoing interpretation of the significance of these stones in the Viking Age, and their subsequent use, reuse and display today.

Ben and Seren kindly offered to share with us and the museum their photogrammetry results. Furthermore, we hope to be in discussion with them, and with our contacts and friends at West Kirby, regarding the potential of our work to enhance their appreciation and display of the monuments both at the site and online.

IMG_0607I know, I know, more photographs of warning signs; and the same ones as I previously discussed for Dinefwr Castle. These signs are part of the heritage experience but also will be among the most prominent and lasting historic traces of our fascination with ruins and their dangers in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Furthermore, it also strikes me that the consistency with which they pepper Dolforwyn Castle affords more of a corporate identity to the ruins than any of the Cadw heritage boards achieve. I feel comforted to see them and what’s more they are fully bilingual and transgender; the sexless figures fall screaming inaudible expletives in both Welsh and English.IMG_0608

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I also include a photograph of a child, outrageously contravening the recommended safety advice and crawling all over the castle walls without proper supervision; shame on his father and his lax approach to parental supervision.

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A further thought. Perhaps these are just a bit too dull and repetitive. Aren’t Cadw missing a trick here? I do wonder whether, if combined, and with suitably updated and daring additions, and with a carefully crafted dance soundtrack, the health and safety signs might be transformed into a racy and provocative new dance that one day might sweep the nightclubs of Wales like a deadly virus.

“The Cadw twerk”: maybe Nicki Minaj or Miley Cyrus can be persuaded to feature the moves in a video and thus popularise Cadw’s medieval castles to an entirely new demographic. There is certainly plenty of stonework for Miley to lick.

I’m sure this suggestion has been regularly considered by Cadw heritage managers, but if not, you heard it here first!

 

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View from the round tower west over the south range and keep – the rock-cut ditch dividing the bailey can be seen running left to right

Dolforwyn Castle, Abermule, Montgomeryshire, sits on the very furthest southern extent of convenient day trips with kids. Recently, I had my first visit and it was a memorable one. One might be forgiven for missing the signposts from the A483 but do not be put off by the low-key advertising and steep climb.

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View from the round tower west over the north range and the d-shaped tower and well

There is a small carpark and despite the incline, it is a relatively even walk up to the hill-top. The castle site has received excavations by Lawrence Butler reported in Archaeologia Cambrensis for 1990 although the environs of the castle have received limited investigation.

The castle was fortified by Llywelyn ap Gruffudd in 1273 and a small town grew on the ridge to the castle’s west. It was built against Gwynedd’s rivals in Powys and Roger Mortimer’s base at Montgomery.  Taken in 1277 as part of Edward I’s invasion of Wales, it was given to the Mortimers who repaired and improved it but it lay ruinous by the end of the 14th century.

The castle consists of a significant enterprise in itself: the levelling of the hill-top to allow for a regular design. The rectangular curtain wall linked together three components: a rectangular keep to the west, a round tower to the east, and a D-shaped tower to the north. The principal ranges of buildings were on the northern side.

Excavations revealed evidence of the siege of the castle which was surrendered when water ran out, namely stone balls thrown from siege weaponry.

An interesting feature is the N-S rock-cut ditch running through the castle that may have offered some kind of internal spatial division between east and west.

Another interesting feature is the stone pillar that supported the central hearth in the hall in the north-east quadrant of the castle.

However, the most striking feature is however the well dug over 6 m into the bedrock and retained a section of its vaulted cover. The well was possibly as part of the English improvements to ensure the castle had a reliable water supply.

The heritage boards are worthy of note; the first one encounters by the western entrance is particularly memorable, with a vivid bird’s eye view of the English siege of the castle in 1277 and the others offer reconstructed external views and cut-away views of the castle at its height.

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Looking east over the northern range from the d-shaped tower

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The monumental pillar that supported the hall’s central fireplace in the north range

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The d-shaped tower on the northern side of the curtain wall

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The round tower at the castle’s eastern end

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The rock-cut ditch to the castle’s west, originally linking it to the fledgling Welsh town

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View over the northern range looking east

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The curtain wall to the north

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The fabulous well with vaulted roof

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The intriguing rock-cut ditch dividing the bailey in two

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Looking out over the landscape to the south

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The steep angle to the car park illustrates clearly the defensible nature of the hill-top

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Heritage board explaining the close proximity of Dolforwyn to rivals to the east

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Explaining the appearance of the castle in the late 13th century

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A superb cut-away view of the castle

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The artist’s impression of the western approach to the castle under siege

Ruth Nugent, new editorial assistant for the Archaeological Journal

The workload in producing two Archaeological Journals in one year to bring the schedule of the journal into line with other major national journals has been gruelling. In addition, the transition to our new publishing partner – Routledge – has involved a heavier workload in itself: the editing of a large chunk of a third volume in the same year that vols 170 and 171 have been produced.

Vol. 172 for 2015, the first to come out with Routledge, will be published in two online installments. Part 1 will be online for Dec 2014!

This heavy work load has meant that I very much valued the appointment of an editorial assistant at the start of 2014 to help with identifying and chasing anonymous referees and to provide a second pair of eyes to scrutinise resubmissions and first proofs of submissions. My editorial assistant – Anna Mackenzie – has made a valuable contribution and has just completed her role halfway through production of vol. 172.

At relatively short notice, I am relieved and delighted to announce my new editorial assistant for vol. 172 part 2 will be Ruth Nugent. Ruth is my doctoral student exploring death and memory in English cathedrals as part of the Speaking with the Dead strand of the Past in its Place project. Ruth has previously completed an MPhil exploring early Anglo-Saxon mortuary practice under my supervision.

Ruth is an eminently qualified and reliable individual who will be helping me over the next 6-9 months in ensuring vol. 172 of the Archaeological Journal reaches the highest possible standards in terms of the quality of content, style and presentation.

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After six days, the Speaking with the Dead exhibition at Chester Cathedral has closed. After Sunday services this afternoon, my second daughter and I spent an hour removing the posters, zap-stands and artefacts and comments sheets.

The Exhibition’s Progress

Having set up the exhibit on Tuesday morning, I visited again on Tuesday afternoon when I also took a tower tour. Then I visited on Wednesday and Friday, and for a time today (Sunday). Each time, I took the opportunity to attend the exhibition myself to talk to visitors about our displays and our project. However, for most of the time the exhibition was not accompanied by personnel and it was designed to be effective without my attendance. Indeed, when I was present, I felt I unwittingly interfered with visitors freedom to move around the displays and examine the artefacts on display. Furthermore, it was only when I wasn’t present that visitors added comments.

Thanks

Having been run at Exeter Cathedral and St Alban’s Cathedral, it was a privilege to bring the exhibit to Chester. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Dean and Chapter of Chester Cathedral for agreeing for the exhibition to take place, and to the the staff and volunteers at Chester Cathedral for their help and support during the week. I am extremely grateful also to the Corporate Communications and the Facilities departments of the University of Chester for their help and support, and my project team for designing the posters and helping me set up the exhibition.

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I tried to provoke a reaction with a ‘mortuary selfie’, but given this was a very late 19th-century effigy, no-one seems to have objected…

Reflections

I have learned a great deal from staging this short exhibition regarding what works and what doesn’t work in exhibitions. These include:

  1. I think we provided way too much text and way too many themes to be readily digestible in a small exhibition. However, as I alluded to in a previous blog, I don’t think this is a problem: we only anticipated most visitors to dip into selected elements of the display and use it as a platform from which to explore each cathedral’s memorials themselves and with new attention to their locations, details and relationships.
  2. The comments section worked well but I clearly failed to provide enough pens as the ones I left went astray, preventing others from adding their thoughts. I was fascinated by the range of comments, from jokes, to critical comments, from those using it like a visitor book to comment on the entire cathedral, to those wishing to use the opportunity of paper and pen to leave a memorial message for a deceased loved one. Someone even stated the obvious: ‘hello dead people’ and another child’s comment regarding the cathedral as ‘one great coffin’. One left a Game of Thrones spoiler comment. Visitors from across the UK and across the world left their mark, responding to the exhibition in different ways and to its varied facets.
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    Some of the comments….

    The display of replica wax votives was very effective and despite fears that they might be stolen, all were accounted for by the end of the exhibition. People I talked to were confused, intrigued and opinionated about these artefacts, a contrasting response to the uncritical respect they showed to the information and images on the displays; artefacts provoke varied and fascinating responses.

  4. A practical failing was that the cloth posters regularly came away from their moorings and despite regular maintenance, I came back on Sunday to find two posters had fallen down. In future, these exhibits will need daily maintenance, if not hourly maintenance, to ensure they are operational in all respects.
  5. Still, as alluded to above, I remain unconvinced that having a ‘manned’ stall is helpful; those I did talk to were unsure what to say to me, and unsure what the exhibition was about: faith, identity, memory, the dead. Perhaps the exhibition should explore and hear these responses, but also perhaps it is best to not engage in person with visitors and leave them to engage in their own time with the exhibition.
  6. Tweets about the exhibition, and blogs about it, I believe are an integral part of the physical display. I hope and believe that these will provide a wider dissemination than those willing and able to visit Chester Cathedral in person, whether to accidentally or deliberately encounter our exhibition.
  7. We thought about whether to explicitly include dimensions on conflict commemoration in the exhibition to coincide with the rash of commemoration over the centenary of the First World War; we decided for better or worse not to do this and instead to think about how conflict commemoration inhabits spaces with other subjects and dimensions of mortuary commemoration in the cathedral.

The Future

There are 3 points here.

First, we are in negotiations with a fourth cathedral interested in hosting the exhibition.

Second, it remains unclear how we can accurately and fairly demonstrate the ‘success’ and ‘impact’ of our exhibition. Hundreds of people must have visited Chester Cathedral during the 6 days the exhibition was there, but who look at it? How much and what did they take away? Our visitor comments give an impression, but little more.

Third, it is important to note that work on the project goes on: the exhibition is not a formal ‘closing’ of our research. Rather than a simple ‘presentation of results’, the displays at Exeter, St Alban’s and Chester mark dimensions of unfolding and intersecting research themes that will form the basis of future research outputs. Still, we hope that you will continue to read this blog and the Past in its Place blog for updates over the coming months.

 

 

IMG_9103IMG_9087Pentre Ifan is one of the most striking and well-visited Neolithic monuments in Wales.

The monument itself is impressive, but the views out to sea and of the nearby rock outcrops of Carneddau Meibion Owen, make this a must-see archaeological site. Pentre Ifan unsurprisingly continues to feature heavily in interpretations and reinterpretations of the Neolithic in western Britain.

Recently, Cadw launched a CGI reconstruction of how the burial chamber might have originally looked like in the early Neolithic.

To understand the site we rely on the excavations of Professor Grimes. The facade was never a portal for living people, but perhaps an entrance into the afterlife (or place through which beings from the otherworld can enter this one…). Originally, the uprights would have been enclosed within a trapezoidal cairn. Yet there remains much that is poorly understood about this monument and its immediate environs.

Archaeodeath Views

This site certainly deserves archaeodeath attention and it most certainly requires lots of photographs to communicate the striking experience of visiting this monument. Beyond that, I have three points from an archaeodeath perspective:

IMG_9113First, it is notable that this is again a site so meddled with that, had their been mortuary deposits in and around the chamber, none have survived. Again, this begs the question is absence of evidence the evidence of absence? Was a mortuary dimension the primary one? Was burial merely one of many uses for these monuments? Or was the disposal and commemoration of the dead the key dimension but simply difficult to discern because of subsequent reuse and disturbance? Might another observation and question be added: might the relationship between relatively ephemeral deposits of human bodies (cremated or unburned) and the monumental architecture provide the pivot around which we understand the roles of dolmens in the Neolithic? While we should be naturally suspicious of regarding these as ‘burial monuments’, I think we can go too far in dismissing the mortuary dimension of these monuments.

Second, what of the biography of this monument? Was it really a one- or two-phase construction and what of its ‘afterlife’ down the centuries? Unfortunately, while Cadw have tackled how it once looked, they haven’t really tackled how its appearance evolved through time…

Third, there is the usual old-fashioned Cadw sign and newer heritage board. At Neolithic monuments, I always show interest in whether the sites attract modern ritual activity. Whether this happens or not at Pentre Ifan, when I visited there were no signs of modern depositional activity. However, there was a lost infant’s shoe placed on the stone by the heritage board. I presume this was simply a lost item of footwear rather than a memorial offering to a lost child; then again, how would I know either way?

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The Bronze Age cist from our 2012 excavations now on display at Llangollen Museum, Llangollen

Eliseg News

In previous blogs I have tried to keep you all up-to-date in developments with Project Eliseg; a collaborative fieldwork project investigating the fascinating Pillar of Eliseg, near Valle Crucis, Llangollen, Denbighshire. Between 2010 and 2012, three seasons of fieldwork investigated in the mound beneath, and landscape immediately around, the Pillar of Eliseg. Most recently I wrote about bid to secure funds from Cadw to support our plans for rapid completion of the post-excavation stage of the fieldwork here.

Good news: we have just learned that we have secured post-excavation funds from Cadw, so it is all steam ahead in the work towards the completion of Project Eliseg’s 2010-12 fieldwork. Gary and Nancy at Bangor are leading this up and again we are gaining support from Llangollen Museum’s David Crane and Sue Evans.

CPAT Day School

This news coincides with today’s Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust Day School at Oswestry, where I had the opportunity to present our work on Project Eliseg to an assembled audience of 130 local people and fellow archaeologists. To learn more about what I said, see earlier blog here.

The CPAT day school was well-organised, with plenty of drink, sandwiches and (most importantly) lots of cake. I had the pleasure of listening to superb presentations by:

  • Ian Grant outlining CPAT’s work at Borras Quarry including Neolithic, Bronze Age and early medieval finds.
  • Roger White talking about the Wroxeter and its hinterland
  • Keith Ray on his forthcoming book on Offa’s Dyke with Ian Bapty.
  • Shane Kelleher about his work at the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust.

I confess I missed the presentations by Bob Silvester and Bill Britnell, whose research on Welsh church archaeology and half-timbered halls respectively I have heard before and is excellent. Instead I had the opportunity after lunch had finished to talk with Keith Ray about his forthcoming book and present to him some of my preliminary ideas on the relationship between Offa’s Dyke, Wat’s Dyke and the Pillar of Eliseg. The two final papers in the day I missed too, having to leave for home, but they comprised of Viviana Culshaw presenting on Price’s Pottery, Buckley, and Richard Hankinson on Military Aircraft Crash Sites: both great topics I regret having to miss.

Parallel with work on Project Eliseg, Patricia Murrieta-Flores and myself are pursuing further work on the landscape context of the monument. Over the next year, it will be exciting to be able to present new work on the Pillar itself and on why it was located where it was.

 

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The chair sculptures and the empty chairs

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The display board accompanying the installation

Since at least the First World War, UK conflict commemoration has focused on staging the absence of bodies through cenotaphs of various kinds. Within the complex and varied memorials raised to honour the dead of the Great War, this is perhaps the single shared theme: bodies are absent – either lost or found and buried in cemeteries elsewhere. Even if close by in a burial plot of a war cemetery, the memorial marks the collective absence and provides a focus for all those both present and absent, those with names inscribed but also those without even a name.

In these memorials, personal artefacts are eschewed; they would provide too direct and personal a sense of the individual behind the rank, regiment and other dimensions of military identity. Military identity, embodied in name and rank, and the conflicts in which the dead fought, takes precedent over religion, class and ethnicity.

Yet staging absent bodies in a different way, through a collective of individual memorials, each marking one lost life, is a theme in a small temporary exhibition in the Chapter House of Chester Cathedral: Empty Chairs by Mike Yorke. Focusing on two chair sculptures, empty chairs are miniature wooden chairs, one each implying an absent, never-to-return body. 452 chairs are incorporated into the installation one each commemorating a lost British life in the war in Afghanistan. The BBC list now has 453 service personnel fatalies in Afghanistan. Yorke aims to raise money for the Royal British Legion.

The reason I mention this exhibition is because it is currently juxtaposed this week with our own exhibition about both presence and absence linked to the “Speaking with the Dead” project, part of which is about exploring cenotaphs and citational memorials within cathedral spaces – monuments that stage an absent body interred elsewhere. Whether a bishop, duke, sheriff or soldier, nurse or saint cathedrals are not simply ‘one great coffin’ as a child visitor remarked in response to the exhibition, they cite and stage bodies whose burial locations are lost, unknown and/or elsewhere.

Note: a few days after I wrote this post, it hit the news that UK combat operations in Afghanistan ceased with Camp Bastion being handed over to Afghan forces.

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Obelisk set in roadside village to the west of Angle church, now surrounded by a children’s playground

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Robin and obelisk, Angle

The standard histories of Victorian death, burial and commemoration revolve around the emergence of garden cemeteries from the existing tradition of aristocratic mausolea in designed landscapes, and subsequently the rise of cremation, the commemoration of royalty and the urban middle and upper classes. James Curl’s The Victorian Celebration of Death sets a high standard in this regard.

However, while important in characterising the changing mourning and funerary cultures of the Victorian age, these new spaces and memorial forms repeatedly and somewhat unduly dominate historical narratives over the contemporaneous transformation of existing churchyards and graveyards in rural contexts. Equally under estimated are the memorials raised throughout the nineteenth-century in landscape and public locations away from cemeteries. The Victorian age saw the rise of the garden cemetery, but it also saw the rise of the cenotaph and the war memorial in town and country.

One relatively neglected dimension of Victorian necrogeography is the cenotaoph raised to memorialise the landed gentry by their tenants. I am unaware of any dedicated study of these more isolated funerary monuments raised in villages and hamlets to honour landlords. These monuments take typical forms of the Victorian age and readily identified in cemeteries, but they are distinct in being isolated. As such, they are immediate predecessors in form and location to the village war memorials of the First World War.

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Kids exploring the obelisk

One such example is at Angle, Pembrokeshire, which at a superficial glance appeared to me to be an obelisk erected to commemorate the parish dead for the First World War memorial. Suspiciously old fashioned, I wondered then whether it was a memorial relating to the Boer War or another late Victorian conflict. I was wrong. So I explored more closely. In actual fact it is something else again. The inscription reads:

 

ERECTED

BY THE TENANTRY OF THE

ANGLE AND EASTINGTON

ESTATES, AS A LASTING

TRIBUTE OF RESPECT

FOR THEIR LATE SINCERELY

BELOVED, AND DEARLY

LAMENTED LANDLORD.

JOHN MIREHOUSE ESQR.

A.D. 1864.

Therefore, rather than a war memorial which it both resembles but palpably pre-dates, this memorial commemorates the chief landowner in the parish. As recently discussed on this blog for Paxton’s Tower, patriotic memorials to Wellington and Nelson punctuated the early and mid-19th-century British landscape. Equally, there are a large number of relatively uninspiring, almost boring, and rather nauseatingly servile monuments like this one that naturally escape attention. Still, it is monuments like this that are a useful barometer for commemorative continuities and changes in rural Britain.

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