On Thursday of this week I was in Winchester to present at the Winchester Seminars on Comparative Medieval Cultures. Deftly organised and chaired by Dr Kate Weikert, each of the seminars involves a pairing of presentations. This is indeed an interesting way to try to foster dialogue between speakers as well as with the audience on common themes in medieval studies.
Due to illness, I ended up presenting alone, which I guess is another advantage of having two speakers booked on the same evening: if one is ill, you still have a viable seminar!
So rather than give them a single paper on the theme of ‘death and transition’, I presented two papers to fulfil the anticipated structure of the seminar. For each I used archaeological data to explore the physical and metaphorical movements that were key means of punctuating the transitions and translations of the dead during their disposal and commemoration in the Viking Age.
Boats and Mortuary Movement
My first case study was Viking boat-graves, summarising the results of an argument that remains forthcoming in a Festschrift. I discussed that movements – implied and remembered – are key to understanding the mortuary process associated with, and the variability between in Viking boat-inhumations in Scandinavia and how these may have marked boat-inhumation apart from other ways of representing and incorporating boats into funerals at that time. I explored this suggestion by looking at the site I dug with Martin Rundkvist at Skamby, a site about which I have co-authored two journal articles and a note. I discussed how the mortuary assemblage, the monuments associated with them, their spatial organisation in cemeteries and their landscape location.
Tombs on the Move
The second case study was the tenth-century hogback stones of northern Britain. In this paper I talked about how they are a particularly fascinating example of the deployment of the allusion of space within solid stone by using skeumorphs of permeable materials and hollow structures in their design. I also suggested that hogbacks implied permanence but they implied in a variety of means through their form and decoration, portability. This argument is due for publication in a book I am co-editing provisionally entitled Memories in the Making.
This Winchester seminar was a great opportunity to see familiar faces again, notably the always-smiling Dr Ryan Lavelle and the ever-friendly Professor Barbara Yorke. Given the presence of academics and students so well-versed in archaeological matters (including Kate, Ryan and Barbara) there were plenty of stimulating questions. Among those at the seminar and subsesquently in the pub were a lecturer in twentieth-century genocides and a Brazilian Beowulf specialist. Much beer and wine was consumed and the conversation spanned from Anglo-Saxon archaeology to the Falklands Conflict. Rumour has it that academic archaeologists also work at Winchester, but they were absent and proved surplus to requirements. A great evening all round.
Whilst in Winchester, I also got the opportunity to explore and photograph the vast majority of the memorials within Winchester cathedral, useful data for the first element of my Past in its Place project looking at death and commemoration in English and Welsh cathedrals. More on that another time. I also conducted a PhD supervisory meeting with one of my students who lectures at the University of Winchester. After an overnight b&b experience, I headed off for Reading to see family and attend Professor Richard Bradley’s retirement bash.