What is the latest in the study of rune-inscribed stones and monuments? Two months ago I was brought right up-to-date by attending the second workshop of the Runes, Monuments and Memorial Carvings International Research Network. Following on from a first workshop in Uppsala, Sweden in 2011, the second workshop came to Chester over two days: 10th to 11th April 2013.

Organised by Joanne Kirton and Dr Meggen Gondek of the Department of History and Archaeology, University of Chester, the workshop was held at the Grosvenor Museum. Fourteen scintillating presentations addressed the workshop theme Monuments and their Audiences, exploring early medieval monuments from across the British Isles, Scandinavia and north-west Europe. Check out the programme for yourself here.

I had the honour of delivering the keynote lecture for the workshop, held at St John’s Priory. The unflattering picture above is of me presenting the lecture. My wife kindly informs me it makes me look likea giant mole who has popped out of his hole to eat a huge pie. As usual, she isn’t far from the truth! I decided to offer a two-part lecture addressing the conference theme. I focused on how we can begin to discern the audiences of stone monuments from how they were designed and where they were located through an archaeological, contextual approach to stone monuments.

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The Pillar of Eliseg – a fragment of early ninth-century cross-shaft on a Bronze-age burial mound

The first half reviewed the latest work on Project Eliseg, exploring the different ways in which the early ninth-century cross known as the ‘Pillar of Eliseg’ constructed social memories and senses of belonging through text, materiality, biography and landscape. More on this in future posts.

The second half explored how early medieval monuments created ‘audiences’ through their figural art: both constructing the sense of audiences upon the stone, witnessing the message of the text, and animated ocular witnesses for the actions of living agents performing around the monument. I looked briefly at a range of early medieval stone monuments and how this theme might apply to them. However, I decided to focus on the implications of this argument for the way we interpret the location and ornamentation upon Viking-age rune-stones from southern Scandinavia.

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A Viking-age rune-stone from southern Sweden, one of my personal favourites and close to where I excavated a Viking boat-grave in 2005.

I have visited rune-stones in Sweden systematically during research trips in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2011 and I have compiled an archive containing digital photographs of several hundred monuments. Also, I have been reading as much of the literature on rune-stones as I can. Despite this, I make no claims to be an expert in this complex and varied commemorative medium and I remain an outside amateur in rune-stone research. Still, for better or worse, attending this stimulating and expertly organised workshop and the preliminary reading for my keynote lecture have inspired me to start researching and writing on rune-stones in all seriousness. I hope to post about them again in the near-future!

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