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Collingwood’s illustration of hogback tombs from Brompton, North Yorkshire
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Today’s audience of c. 50 at the Grosvenor lecture theatre

Having presented last week about Viking Age death and burial in Scandinavia, focusing on the theme of violence in Viking funerals,  today’s Grosvenor Lunchtime Lecture focused on the use of stone sculpture to construct new identities in the British Isles following the Norse diaspora of the ninth and early tenth centuries and during the Christian conversion of these Norse communities and their elites.

My focus was upon the enigmatic and varied category of stone sculpture from northern Britain known as ‘hogback stones’. I have written a paper about them to appear in my co-edited book Early Medieval Stone Monuments. Also, I presented about them recently at the EAA Pilsen conference session on Citation in the Viking Age.

Hogbacks are still seen as a Viking ‘colonial monument’: the tombs of Viking settlers and Christian converts who raise new memorials to commemorate their dead in the churchyards (or possibly churches) they founded or refounding in the early tenth century in a swathe from North Yorkshire to the Cumbrian coast with a few outliers in the Wirral peninsula, Trent Valley. There is also a Scottish group focusing on Govan.

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A badly hacked about tenth-century hogback stone in St Bridget’s Church, West Kirby

My paper explored how they are almost always out of context: many are found only in fragments. They are presumed to have been grave-covers, but this is by no means conclusive.

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Carla and her Viking artefacts

My argument focused on the significance of their skeumorphism; how they drew upon not one, but a range of contemporary architectures and material cultures in their design. It was the multiplicity of allusions embodied in their form and ornament which together made them significant in commemorating the dead. I discussed the beasts as threatening but curtailed and bound forces, and the architecture as a metaphor for the body of the dead person. Those hogbacks with end-beasts and illustrative panels were varied in detail but shared the theme (identified by Victoria Thompson in her research on tenth-century sculpture) as concerned with the ‘body-under-siege’.  From this perspective, hogbacks are comprehensible in terms of a network of material citations, and as a means of commemorating the elite dead -whether Norse settlers or local elites – in a period of dislocation following the Viking raids, invasions and settlements of the ninth century.

Carla from Travellers through Time came back once again with her Viking paraphernalia, giving the audience a chance to handle a range of the material culture circulating in the early Middle Ages.

Next week: the final lecture in the series, focusing on the rune-stones of Scandinavia.

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