The forthcoming book Cremation in the Early Middle Ages will comprise a series of transcribed and edited interviews showcasing the latest archaeological ideas, approaches and data for cremation practices of the 5th-11th centuries in North West Europe. I’m working on this project with Femke Lippok, doctoral researcher on the Rural Riches project at Leiden University. The book will provide an invaluable resource for scholars and students and reveal how archaeological approaches have reshaped our understanding of the relationships between death and fire for the communities of the middle and later first millennium AD.
Our first seven interviews were with Rica Annaert, Dr Egge Knol, Dr Raimund Masanz, Dr Gareth Perry, Dr Kirsty Squires, Russell Ó Ríagáin and Professor Anna Wessman. They explored different regions, theories, methods and discoveries for cremation in the early medieval period.
Our eighth interview turned attention to the island of Ireland and new perspectives on early medieval cremation practices gained from the analysis of radiocarbon dates reported recently in the journal Antiquity by Patrick Gleeson and Rowan McLaughlin.
This is the very latest publication on early medieval cremation, and so it is a privilege to be able to interview Dr Patrick Gleeson, Senior Lecturer in the School of Natural and Built Environment at Queen’s University Belfast, a medieval landscape archaeologist who has become a leading voice in the investigation of cultic and funerary landscapes and exploring assembly places and practices.
In the interview, we learned about the findings from the latest paper in Antiquity but also broader issues and implications regarding cremation practices which challenge culture-historical paradigms in which burning the dead has often been framed. These include specific religious and ethnic labels and the broader metanarratives of migration, Christian conversion and kingdom formation. The evidence from early medieval Ireland is directly challenging such simplistic narratives which previously assumed cremation was ‘traditional’ and ‘pagan’, fading with the wholesale onslaught of Christian belief and practice. This has implications across North West Europe and for our book project in broader terms.
We thank Dr Gleeson for sharing his thoughts on current investigations and his vision for future work.
Having now amassed most of the book’s contributions, we are going to spend the next couple of months identifying a few further contributors before composing the book’s Introduction and closing Discussion.