Gettin’ robbed
Gettin’ stoned
Gettin’ beat up
Broken boned
Gettin’ had
Gettin’ took
I tell you folks
It’s harder than it looks

To paraphrase the song: “it’s a long way to the top if you wanna … do early medieval archaeology and engage the public with exciting discoveries, findings, insights and approaches…”

In the aftermath of the recent publication Digging into the Dark Ages featuring a wide range of new perspectives on the public archaeology for the Early Middle Ages, I think we need to celebrate those that promote the study of the 5th-11th centuries AD far and wide beyond the ivory towers of academia. Also, I recently got called a ‘rock ‘n’ roll professor’ by a good colleague introducing me as a keynote speaker and this also inspired me to reflect on how I can better promote the early medieval research and public engagements of others via this blog where I can and in true rock ‘n’ roll style.

So here’s the first of a series of friendly and fun ‘shout out’ blog-posts that introduce the research of some great ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ bioarchaeologists, funerary archaeologists and heritage practitioners doing exciting work on the Early Middle Ages by inducting them into the Archaeodeath rock ‘n’ roll hall of fame!

To qualify my use of the term: by ‘rock ‘n’ roll’, I simply mean scholars and heritage practitioners who’ve put a lot of effort into public engagement as well as doing top-notch early medieval mortuary research. And like any rock musician, they might be part of wider groups of collaborative researchers, groups of investigators and broader networks, and so the induction is to recognise the work of teams rather than put individuals on pedestals.

So I hope this is a fun way to show case exciting new early medieval research and some of the personalities behind its deathly dimensions. Hence, in coming months I aim to match an archaeologist, historian or other specialist to rock/pop artists to show-case the exciting work of the former and perhaps to amuse those that follow their work. In doing so, I’m not likening them in precise terms of appearance or personality; instead I will try to identify a few songs of said artist that relate to the Early Middle Ages or themes and trajectories in early medieval research. So let’s give this a try!

Adam and Stuart working with me to create mock funerals at the Heysham Viking Festival, July 2019

Inducting Adam Parsons and Stuart Strong

So my first Archaeodeath Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame inductees are a duo of living historians and experimental archaeologists: Stuart Strong and Adam Parsons.

Adam is a professional archaeologist whose career has involved participating in key roles in the publication of two important early medieval cemeteries from Cumbria: Cumwhitton and St Michael’s Workington.  He also runs his own business Blueaxe Reproductions.

Stuart is a living history specialist who crafts a range of reproduction artefacts and works with schools, focusing on the recreation of the early medieval kingdom of Strathclyde. His business is called Gear & Graith.

Together with other living historians and their families, Adam and Stuart are part of the Cumbraland group dedicated to envisioning the early medieval peoples of lowland Scotland and north west England.

As well as working with schools, appearing at festivals and working for TV dramas and appearing on TV documentaries, Stuart and Adam took time out to be interviewed for the Digging into the Dark Ages book. They’ve been great collaborators in events and activities at the Heysham Viking Festival in 2018 and 2019, including ‘mock funerals’ to introduce festival-goers to the challenges of interpreting graves and grave-goods from the Viking period.

Figure 8
Stuart at Govan Old Church introducing visitors to early medieval reproduction artefacts

But are Stuart and Adam specific early medieval equivalents to famous rock ‘n’ roll duos? There are plenty of options, but I propose Stuart and Adam are the Ann and Nancy Wilson of early medieval living history: veteran and super-talented.

This gives me the excuse of linking to a few Heart classics to honour of Stuart and Adam’s early medieval public engagements, including ’70s numbers Dreamboat Annie, Magic Man, Barracuda, Little Queen and Even It Up. Still, maybe Stuart and Adam will go through an ’80s glam phase in the future, crafting early medieval reproductions akin to anthems like Alone and These Dreams or more upbeat pop hits like Never?. Jumping to more recent times, Adam and Stuart readily have the capability to perform their own tributes, like the Wilson sister’s homage to Led Zepplin: Stairway to Heaven.

The point is, in terms of early medieval living history, Adam and Stuart can belt out memorable anthems and catchy tunes alike with style and skill. Living history certainly deserves to be the ‘Heart’ of our public engagements with the Early Middle Ages. So who will you run to when you need early medieval reproduction artefacts? One could do worse than Stuart and Adam: we’re crazy on you!

“If the real thing don’t do the trick, you’d better make up something quick!”

Isn’t that what artefact reproduction is all about? 🙂

Who will be next to be inducted into the Archaeodeath Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame?