During the academic year 2013/14, Dr Adrian Maldonado has been replacing me teaching death whilst I am on research leave studying death. Among other things, Adrian has been teaching medieval archaeology to the second years, the archaeology of death and burial to the third years, and archaeologies of memory and mortuary archaeology to our Masters students on the MA Archaeology of Death and Memory.

Dr Adrian Maldonado, visiting Castell y Bere, Gwynedd

In addition, Adrian has just published a prize-winning article appearing in the journal Medieval Archaeology. Entitled ‘Burial in Early Medieval Scotland’, Adrian has drawn together his doctoral research to present a new interpretation of burial practices from AD 400-650 in northern Britain. I hope it doesn’t offend Maney to publicise his article by copying the abstract below:

THIS ARTICLE presents a summary and interpretation of burial practices in Scotland in ad 400–650. Due to the dearth of documentary sources, mortuary archaeology provides a window on the changes occurring at the juncture between prehistory and history. Yet previous work has generally approached burial as evidence for a single aspect of this transition: the conversion to Christianity. Rather than signalling ethnic or religious affiliation, it is argued that graves should be understood as acts of structured deposition which enabled new relationships to be forged between the living and the dead at a local level. The composition of the grave with stone, sand, timber and earth can be seen as a form of furnishing cognate with the use of grave goods elsewhere in Britain and the continent.

Despite the growing resource of excavated material dating to the 5th–7th centuries, the archaeology of northern Britain is often presented as a distant echo of the cultural upheavals of the post-Roman period. Investigation of early medieval cemeteries belonging to this period in Scotland has accelerated over the last two decades, and there is now a critical mass of modern excavations, crucially backed with a suite of radiocarbon dates, which are due a reappraisal for what they can add to the wider insular discourse on early medieval identity, ethnicity and religion.2 Sites published over the last decade range from unenclosed row-grave cemeteries to square barrows revealed from aerial photography to the burial grounds of early monasteries — almost none of which appear in the sparse documentary record. When taken together, they form an indispensable resource for studying the transition between prehistory and history in the lands beyond the former Roman Empire.

Dr Maldonado with Masters students visiting the Pillar of Eliseg

The early medieval Scottish burial evidence has been largely left out of recent important syntheses and collaborative works. Most recently, Nancy Edwards, introducing a wide-ranging volume on early Christianity in the ‘Celtic’ west, commented on the lack of evidence from Scotland in the finished product, recommending that ‘research on early medieval burial should be a priority since the last major synthesis was over 30 years ago’.3 While it is true that the modern national border is an arbitrary construct and should not constrain research, it is also the case that most recent overviews of early medieval burial in Britain have focused on Anglo-Saxon archaeology specifically,4 and the evidence north of this imaginary line now needs its own comprehensive survey before broader questions can be asked. What follows is a summary of the author’s doctoral research on early medieval burial in Scotland, framed as an attempt to draw out comparisons and contrasts with the evidence from across Britain and Ireland.

I am very pleased to recently learn that Adrian’s contract is being extended to cover teaching and research at the University of Chester for the academic year 2014/15. Congratulations Adrian: Chester students and colleagues will continue to benefit from your expertise!