My final blog on the 2013 EAA in Pilsen, Czech Republic. Together with Nanouschka Myrberg Burström, I organised a sesssion on Saturday, the third day of the EAA, on Chains of Citation: Re-contextualisation in the Viking Age.
Viking Age Citations
For Scandinavia and regions subject to Norse contact and settlement, the Viking Age heralded new patterns and processes by which material culture circulated through plunder, trade and exchange, but also through imitation, influence and adaptation. The theme of citation provides a useful pivot around which to consider the active reconfiguring and evocation of previous landscapes, monuments and material culture in the creation of new social and religious worlds by Viking-period communities and individuals. Citation helps us to think of the these creolising worlds involving complex networks of social, political, religious and economic interaction beyong simple processes of colonisation and Christianisation.
Another potential of this citational approach is to look at different scales of social practice, from micro-contexts to broader patterns in human uses of material culture, monuments and landscape, to consider the ways in which the past and the present were important in the Viking Age, negotiated through citations within and between material cultures, monuments and landscapes.
With and Beyond Biography
A further benefit of this approach to the focus on biography of specific artefact categories or individual artefacts was outlined. In addition to charting the biographies of things, we can explore how things were imitated, adapted, reinvented, combined, recycled, displayed and deposited as citational acts that drew from the past into the present and on to the future. Like the biographical approach, and incorporating it, citations consider the enmeshed connections between people and things. But for me, citations between things is different, if related, and emphasises how we shouldn’t privilege the study of ‘heir looms’ and other artefacts and monuments with long geographical and chronological histories of movement and exchange, in thinking about memory work in the Viking Age. Likewise, while the reuse of far older monuments is part of Viking-age mortuary and commemorative practices, other kinds of past were harnessed through citational strategies.
In particular, it seems important to emphasise that the focus on how citations are made, how previous things are drawn into the design, form, ornament and location of other things, can be important for looking at both specific artefact types and assemblages. As well as looking beyond typology to consider assemblages, citation allows us to look at skeumorphism and scalar citations as active social processes in the study Viking Age material culture, monuments and landscapes.
Key outstanding questions include:
- When do things cite something else and when do they simply refer, or are associated with other tings?
- In what contexts does the citation become active and significant?
- What qualities and materialities are drawn upon to make material cultures, monuments and landscapes citational?
Florent Audy opened the session by considering the uses of coins in graves from the Viking town of Birka, particularly their use as coin-pendants. He used as his example the furnished female-gendered inhumation grave, Bj 963, dated to the mid-tenth century. Together with a range of other female-gendered artefacts, there were three coins of different dates and origins, one Anglo-Saxon, one Scandinavian (Ribe or Hedeby), one Carolingian. There are examples of almost 10,000 coin pendants known from Viking-age Scandinavian hoards and graves. Audy saw the concept of citation as useful to understand these graves in two different ways. First, as original objects, the coin being the central to the ornament, they cited their origins and exchange to reach the grave. On the other hand, coin-pendants make reference to other practices and artefacts involved in material expression in the Viking Age, integrating the coin into contemporary modes of dress and identity-formation. They have been recontextualized into a new function but allude to their previous function given that they were pendants made of the silver object par excellence of the Viking Age. Audy also considered the link with other miniatures as further ways of citating, and noted the link between shield-shaped and weapon miniatures and the depiction of weaponry on coins, as serving a comparable amuletic function in their use in dress and burial, possibly in the context of early Christian graves the cross itself was a citation and an icon of protection. Florent also suggested that they might cite a longer tradition of coin-pendants in Scandinavia, going back to the bracteates of the Migration Period and hence, the practice itself was a citation to the past. Audy even wondered whether the heterogeneity of the the provenance of the coins in graves might have been deliberate in citing different links and pasts. Florent showed clearly how thinking about citations allows us to understand coin-pendants and their contexts of use in costume, and also the variabilities in such practices.
Mark Hall presented two papers in one! He began by looking at the origins of the English word ‘citation’ back to the fourteenth century and its subsequent development to been ‘to refer to as authority’. His focus for the first half of his talk was on citation in Viking Age Scotland. Discussing a now-lost bronze cresent-shaped plaque from Laws, Monifieth, he considered the significance of the runic inscription upon it, possibly a personal name added to the Pictish artefact in the Viking Age. Did this expression a hybrid identity or an appropriation? He next looked at the Hunterston brooch with its pseudo runes and runes, a tenth-century addition to an eighth-century brooch. He moved on to other runic textual citations when considering the runic inscriptions within the Neolithic tomb of Maes Howe, Orkney. This first half of the paper was very much within the biographical approach, looking at the life-histories of things to good effect and showing their shifting significations and appropriations within the Viking Age.
The second half of Mark’s paper – or a second paper really – considered the role of material culture of making citations in Viking Age mortuary practice. He focused on the widespread use of gaming, itself a Northern citation of Roman gaming practices – in the context of elite performance in death linking to cosmological understandings of the creation of the world and as a theme linking this world and the afterlife. I was delighted to see my co-directed fieldwork at Skamby, Ostergotland, where we found 23 amber gaming pieces layed out over grave, deployed in this argument. Together, Mark’s paper(s) showed the value of a citational approach in enhancing and expanding on studies of the cultural biographies of things, graves and monuments.
Citations in Stone
My paper looked at stone sculpture as a citational medium. I started by pointing out that stone is a seductive medium, giving the impression of permanence and fixity, but their commemorative significance is often fluid in terms of meaning and context. Moreover, these monuments gain their significance not simply by their stone construcdtion, but by their citation of a range of other things. For pre-Viking sculpture, it has long been recognised that sculpture was made in monastic workshops close to, and perhaps by the same artisans, as other media including metalwork, manuscripts and other arts. Hence, when skeumorphic elements are identified, it is usually seen in terms of a uni-directional influence upon the sculpture, rather than thinking of the citational interplay set up through this skeumorphism. Moreover, the discussion of skeuomorphism is usually discussed for the Insular World and less regularly discussed for the succeeding Viking Age. Nor is the mnemonic power of these citations taken into consideration. My particular argument was to look at how citations constructed and promoted an architectonic understanding of elite personhood that has roots in the creolising context of the interface between the Scandinavia and the Insular World.
I looked at tenth-century hogback stones, suggesting their commemorative power derived not from a genealogy of evolution from a specific previous monument-type – the Anglian solid shrine-tomb – but instead from multiple citations onto a ‘network’ of architectures and portable artefacts emphasised in their form and ornament the architectural form of a hall guarded/threatened by pairs of biting beasts. I suggested this form shared a role in constituting elite personhood embodied in architecture. For hogbacks, they were effective for the specific role the citational network created the sense of a space within the solid rock, conceptually permeable but physically inaccessible. Hence, citation is key to understanding the commemorative power of early medieval stone monuments.
My co-organiser Nanoushka looked at imitations as works of citation, making indexical references to previous objects. She argued that citations make things happen and orientate things towards the future. Her focus was about Anglo-Saxon coins circulating and imitatied in Sweden c. AD 1000. She argued that citations created types, through processes of repetition and occurrence rather than slavish mimicking. It is within the creative capacity of citation that we can identify gradual change and its social significance in the coinage. Indeed, significantly she suggested that die chains are materialised webs of citation, showing how things change while staying the ‘same’. Hence, the theme of citation is important in understanding the adoption and adaption of coinage in late Viking-age Scandinavia.
Citations of places past and the creation of place were themes in Orri Vesteinsson’s paper on the Viking-age landscape of Iceland. Here, again, Orri’s point was not that singular specific homeland places were cited, but that generic broad concepts of landscape were cited through the working and reworking of natural places and the transformation and ‘humanising’ of Iceland’s natural environment. For example, he talked about the many ‘natural burial mounds’ afforded myths linked to the dead in the Icelandic sagas. He also talked about specific place-names that had mythological associations. Regarding the distribution of the dead, he suggested that the dispersed topography of burial location may in itself have been a means of claiming the land: a contrasting strategy to the significance of ‘formal disposal places’ so often discussed as significant in territorial claims by prehistorians. Orri went on to consider cairn-building, earthwork boundaries and the booths at assembly places as further ways of marking and making places in a landscape of colonisation, simultaneously making connections with place and evoking imagined homelands. Throughout, non-specificity tied places together, near and far, showing the potential of specific citations and networks of citation in understanding the structure and transformation of Viking Age landscapes.
Summing up: the Debate
The concluding discussion was interesting, intelligent and hard-hitting. Some couldn’t see the distinction between discussions of citation and discussions of biography. The issue of intention and the specificity of citation were also raised, so that some thought citation had to be specific, while others though it could involve multiple citations to different sources. There were also issues regarding whether the citations were original, or culminated from multiple stages in an artefact/monument/landscape’s biography. Certainly the use of citation as opposed to ‘influence’ suggests a more active adaptation and this needs to be clarified and refined in its usage.
Still, Nanoushka and I, as organisers, stood by the parameters of the session and the potential of this approach to foreground the varied strategies in operation in the Viking Age linking past and present on a range of scales, from miniature amulets to entire landscapes. This approach fits in well with studies of Norse cosmology, religion, economy and society in recent decades and takes those debates forward. We thought that the session was a good one, not only for the interesting individual presentations, but also for the fact that it did what we think good EAA sessions should do: address broadly significant original themes and apply them to specific periods or regions. We are plotting whether further sessions on this theme might be organised at future venues, or whether to take forward the five papers, if authors are willing, to publication.