By the same authors

Why that? Why there? Why then? The politics of early medieval monumentality

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter



Publication details

Title of host publicationImage and Power in the Archaeology of Early Medieval Britain: Essays in honour of Rosemary Cramp
DatePublished - 2001
Number of pages21
PublisherOxbow Books
Place of PublicationOxford, UK
Original languageEnglish
ISBN (Print)1842170511


[FIRST PARAGRAPHS] The hypothesis presented in this paper has already appeared in various fragmentary forms (Carver 1986,1993,1998b), but has not hitherto been drawn together, so it is fitting that I should try to do this in honour of my best teacher and most telling critic. After all, it would not do for Professor Cramp's Festschrift to be too burdened by flattering emulation; it should contain something exasperating as well. So I look forward to her leafing through these pages with growing despair, culminating in the tart response familiar from my carefree student days: 'really Mr Carver, I have no idea what you are talking about', meaning: 'actually, I know perfectly well; you on the other hand ...' In brief, the hypothesis concerns the history of the early medieval period in north-west Europe and our ability to read it from archaeology, or more ' specifically from its major investments such as burial mounds, churches, illuminated manuscripts and sculpture: the word 'monumentality' of my title is intended as shorthand for all these things. Confidence in the idea that monuments had (and have) a meaning beyond some vague celebration of an individual or propitiation of an unseen omnipotence has been growing among prehistorians (e.g. Bradley 1993), and is an accepted feature of the historic period. We know that monuments are more than passive memorials because written commentaries, poetry and inscriptions declare their active purposes for us. Monuments comprise the vocabulary of a political language, fossilized versions of arguments that were continuous and may have related more to what was desired than what had occurred (Carver 1993). At the same time, we need not suppose that the expression is necessarily so subtle, sceptical or to use a fashionable word, ironical, as to lose all hope of making equations between a society and its ideas. That architecture, sculpture, burial mounds and brooches have messages beyond the functional which are dependant on their social, economic and above all their ideological context was never an issue: to understand their real meaning is the goal and the aim of each generation that studies them. It is very likely that the motives I attach to the construction of the monuments to be discussed are equally inadequate characterizations of the profound stresses that motivated and were concealed by their makers. That said, the monuments are what survive, and our story must temporarily keep the candle burning untiI their story can be told.

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