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Stones on display at Govan
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Dr Forsyth giving her keynote address in Govan church

I’ve just returned from a specialist interdisciplinary international workshop of the RMMC (Runes, Monuments and Memorial Carvings) hosted by the Department of Archaeology at the University of Glasgow and deftly co-organised by Anouk Busset and Dr Elizabeth Pierce. We enjoyed two days of papers on a wide range of topics exploring mainly early medieval memorials and monuments from Scandinavia and the British Isles, as well as a few papers from farther afield in time and space. There were many highlights so I won’t pick out any specific papers.

Ok, I guess I should mention an interesting paper by my Chester colleague Dr Adrian Maldonado; he gave an excellent appraisal on the hitherto neglected early medieval simple cross-incised stones from across Scotland. Adrian’s paper stuck in my mind in particular because he was tackling rather modest monuments. Their textless anonymity, simple (where there were any) decorative schemes and materiality were central to his interpretation.

I should also note that, in workshops like this one, it is the questions from the audience, and the discussions over lunch and drinks that are as valuable as the presentations. Where else but Glasgow can you get curry for lunch and whisky at an evening reception as integral components to the workshop? Insightful comments from postgraduates and very experienced art historians present at the event are still circulating in my tiny archaeological brain.

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The reputed shrine of St Constantine, late 9th century, Govan old church

Sadly, I have missed the two-day post-workshop RMMC field trip to look at early medieval sites in central Scotland. I hope the other delegates have fun. I am missing all the site visits because I have to be at another conference, my third in a week!

One of the highlights I will mention: my first opportunity to visit Govan old church to see the fine collection of early medieval stone monuments now displayed within its walls but before the 19th century displayed and discovered in various parts of Govan churchyard. Professor Stephen Driscoll gave us an introduction to the site of Govan and its archaeology before our visit, and subsequently three discrete research papers by (Jamie Barnes, Elizabeth Pierce and Victoria Whitworth) addressed (among other things) the hogbacks (early medieval recumbent monuments, possibly grave-covers), of which five are known from Govan.

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Rider, Govan

During our visit I sat down on the pews and listened with the other delegates in awe to the erudition and insights of Dr Katherine Forsyth who gave the keynote address of the conference on the power and significance of stones in medieval Celtic literature. I learned so much from this talk, including issues that confirmed and corrected my impressions and gave me renewed inspiration to tackle the relationship between literature and archaeology in my own work.

Following Dr Forsyth’s talk, we got the chance to chat with each other further during a wine and whisky reception and then subsequently over food back at Hillhead near my hotel.

I left the two-day workshop full of ideas and inspiration as I continue to learn more about the variability and complexity of early medieval stone monuments. The need for detailed and precise interpretations was revealed in talks by Victoria Whitworth, Jane Geddes and Roger Stalley. Contextual analyses of specific landscapes were evident in talks by Elizabeth Pierce, Cynthia Thickpenny and Daniel MacLean. Equally significantly, the breadth and volume of material to be investigated in comparative terms was forcefully outlined in the talks by Martin Goldberg, Anouk Busset, Heidi Stoner and Marjolein Stern. Theoretical developments were most evident in the paper by Jamie Barnes and the interdisciplinary nature of research was revealed in talks by (among others) Rikke Steenhold Olesen.

For all their variability, it is amazing how many common themes we can tackle but looking at stone monuments’ forms, ornamentation, texts, materialities, biographies and landscape contexts from across Europe and Scandinavia. The RMMC showed me the value of detailed contextual, as well as broad-ranging comparative studies to early medieval stone monuments. I look forward to future workshops as I think this is a splendid venue for discussion and debate. Well done to the organisers and their many supporters and helpers at Glasgow and further afield!

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