The significance of cremation practices in early Anglo-Saxon England was originally the topic of my 2000 doctoral thesis from the University of Reading.
I subsequently wrote up expanded versions of the ideas from the thesis into a series of book chapters and journal articles between 2001 and 2007.
More recently, I’ve returned and development aspects of this work to write:
- a synthesis and discussion of early Anglo-Saxon mortuary practice in 2011, as part of the Oxford Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Archaeology:
- a joint-authored article about the mnemonic significance of the decoration of cinerary urns with Ruth Nugent in 2012, downloadable here.
- broader discussion of cremation and materials and artefacts involved in ‘catalytic commemoration’ across early medieval Europe for the 2013 Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of Death and Burial;
- discussing the treatment of pots in both early Anglo-Saxon cremation and inhumation graves in the 2014 book on the archaeology of cremation edited by Ian Kuijt, Colin Quinn and Gabriel Cooney: Transformation by Fire: The Archaeology of Cremation in Cultural Context.
I’m now delighted to have an update of my arguments published bilingually in Polish and English in the journal Analecta Archaeological Ressoviensia. In volume 10 of the journal, dedicated to articles on the theme Rituals in the Past, I explore the significance of hair grooming implements interred with the early Anglo-Saxon cremated dead as a mnemonic practice of rebuilding the body from ashes.
Developing on my earlier work, I combine a review of my previous arguments with a discussion of how these have been received and revised by other authors. I next combine a self-critique identifying limitations and problems with my earlier interpretations, and present evidence from newer excavated sites, including the work by Nina Crummy, Guy Grainger, Catherine Hills, Catriona Gibson, Kevin Leahy, Sam Lucy, Jackie McKinley, Ian Riddler and Kirsty Squires.
The article finally presents a refined interpretation of the variability in cremation practices found across southern and eastern England in the fifth and early sixth centuries AD. I emphasise the variability, as well as the common themes, in the deployment of antler combs and toilet implements to transform and commemorate the cremated dead. Read the article here.
I am especially grateful to the editor, Leszek Gardela, for the translation of the article into Polish, the third language of my home town of Wrexham (after English and Welsh)!