Historian of the Late Antique/early medieval world, Dr James Harland of Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen provided the tenth interview to date for the new book project Cremation in the Early Middle Ages.

This ground-breaking book will tackle the latest ideas and approaches regarding cremation practices across early medieval North West Europe. It will be edited by Femke Lippok (Leiden University) and me and its composition will be distinctive in that we are collating the collection entirely via structured interviews. Check out the reports on interviews with the previous nine contributors here:

Rica Annaert

Dr Egge Knol

Dr Raimund Masanz, 

Dr Gareth Perry 

Dr Kirsty Squires 

Russell Ó Ríagáin

Professor Anna Wessman

Dr Patrick Gleeson

Dr Leszek Gardeła 

While Dr Gareth Perry and Dr Kirsty Squires provided material culture, landscape and bioarchaeological perspectives on early Anglo-Saxon cremation practices, each focusing on the East Midlands, James was able to discuss with us fresh perspectives on East Anglian cremation practices of the 5th/6th centuries AD, specifically the large cremation-dominated burial site of Spong Hill.

Our interview provided a lens through which to evaluate the challenges of working with both historical and archaeological data to interpret the Adventus Saxonum, for which cremation practices like those from Spong Hill have long held a tenacious component. The interview then extended to consider the broader challenge of revising outmoded paradigms and combating extremist narratives regarding nationalism, ethnicity and the Early Middle Ages. This is a particular pressing challenge given that burial data remains pivotal in contemporary politics and popular culture perceptions of the origins of early Anglo-Saxon England.

We’re very grateful to Dr Harland for sharing his cross-disciplinary perspectives, building on his 2017 doctoral thesis from the University of York: ‘Deconstructing Anglo-Saxon archaeology: a critical enquiry into the study of ethnicity in lowland Britain in Late Antiquity (c. 350–600)’, his 2017 ‘”Race” in the trenches’ magazine article in The Public Medievalist, and his 2019 Antiquity article ‘Memories of migration?‘. Also of relevance is James’s 2021 edited collection with Matthias Friedrich: Interrogating the ‘Germanic’. We look forward eagerly to James’s monograph building on his thesis, forthcoming with University of Amsterdam Press.