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  • The Durham Workshop: an overview

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    Photo courtesy of Gary Bankhead

    The second network workshop took place this week at Durham University, under the theme of ‘Architectures of power: ritual action, performance and the built environment’.

    The workshop began with six ‘flash papers’ from members of featured Network projects. The proceedings were initiated with a useful comparison of the structural evidence from great-hall complexes by Sarah Semple and Helena Hamerow entitled ‘Plans and buildings’. Christopher Scull and Gabor Thomas then considered Rendlesham and Lyminge in terms of ‘Activities and zoning’. Finally, David Petts and Gordon Noble reflected on the ‘Secular and ritual’ characteristics of these sites.

    The first session of formal papers was entitled ‘Space and structure: the built environment of Royal residences’. John Blair kicked off with an illuminating paper entitled ‘The eccentric elaboration of Anglo-Saxon timber architecture’, drawing in particular upon examples around the world to argue for a range of internal and external furnishings. He was followed by David Rollason’s evocative discussion of Aachen in terms of continuity, community and church in ‘Aachen: A Typical Royal Residences of the Eighth and Ninth Centuries?’. Brian Buchanan then shared some exciting results from a novel form of visibility analysis in his paper entitled ‘The spatial arrangement of identity: Using visibility graph analysis to investigate the spatial organisation of early medieval royal centres’.

    Session two, entitled ‘New perspectives and work in progress’, consisted of contributions from the three early career researchers involved in the network. Adam McBride presented a new methodology for reconstructing social hierarchy using burial wealth in his ‘Power Centres and their Cemeteries: settlement hierarchy on the eve of kingdom formation in the Upper Thames Valley’. Continuing the methodological theme, Faye Minter convincingly demonstrated the benefits of systematic metal-detector survey – amongst other things – in ‘The methodological approach of the Rendlesham Project’. To close the day, Matt Austin considered various methods of situating great-hall complexes within their wider regional context in a paper entitled ‘Great-hall complexes and their hinterlands: Some methodological and conceptual considerations’.

    The second day began with a session entitled ‘Ritual action’ and featured papers on the archaeology of contemporary Scandinavia and Ireland. John Ljungkvist began by reviewing and contextualising the evidence from one of Scandinavia’s most important great-hall sites in ‘The idea of Gamla Uppsala manor complex – its emergence, structure and Scandinavian parallels’. This was followed by Torun Zachrisson’s useful reflections on the evidence for ritual activity, particularly on the possible role of guldgrubber figurines as tributary objects, in her paper ‘Burning down the hall, but not the temple – ritual actions at Uppåkra, Sweden viewed as parts of inaugurations’. Patrick Gleeson then rounded off the session by taking us westwards, in a masterful discussion of the Irish evidence entitled ‘Rituals, residences and the architecture of kingship: building ideologies into early medieval Ireland’.

    The final session considered ‘The lived environment of Royal residences’ from a number of perspectives. Howard Williams began by taking us on an experiential tour of life and death inside the complex at Yeavering in a fascinating paper entitled ‘Remembering and Forgetting within Ad Gefrin’. Oliver O’Grady then took us north of the border, drawing our attention to such sites as Scone  in a wide-ranging exposition of ‘Scotland’s early medieval palaces: questions for an elusive heritage’. Finally, Michael Shapland then explored the ecclesiastical dimension of great-hall complexes and other sites in ‘Palace chapels and the practice of Anglo-Saxon kingship’, in the process making some very useful points on the powerful role Christian belief played in the articulation of early medieval kingship.

    The workshop was brought to a close with a general discussion, drawing upon a number of themes and issues that had been raised throughout the two days. Particular topics of debate included: the means by which ecclesiastical communities reappopriated great-hall complexes from the eighth century; the agency and biography of sites; the need to consider such sites in a broader spatial context; and the need to better understand antecedent power structures.

    Taken together, the workshop was a tremendous success and thanks are hereby given to all in attendance. The greatest thanks are of course reserved for the team at Durham for organising the event. Our third and final workshop will take place at the University of Aberdeen, 8-9 November 2016. It will consider ‘Royal residences and networks of power’.

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