Posted by: kljolly | February 9, 2012

Material Culture: Odds and Ends

Several other essays in The Material Culture of Daily Living caught my eye or reminded me of a theme to pursue, besides boat transport.

Games, pagan songs, and hunting, churchmen like Aldred were forbidden to enjoy, all associated with secular noble pursuits with a taint of heathen indulgence.  The pre-chess game taefl (pp. 139-40) has uneven odds, with a small band around the king in the center defending itself against a force twice its size, although the king has special powers (reconstructions available by googling). Christina Lee examines pagan songs and hunting  in her essay on “Food and Drink” (pp. 142-56), mentioning the prohibitions on churchmen as evidence.

Alcuin queried, echoing Tertullian and Jerome, what does Ingeld have to do with Christ? Aldred may have also asked the same as he pondered monuments that combined the old gods and heroes with Christ, such as the Gosforth Cross.

Gosforth Cross

Dragons and barrows figure in my recreation of Aldred at Oakley Down.  What would he have thought of them?  I was led to an article by Sarah Semple that explores Anglo-Saxon reuse of pre-historic mounds for meetings, criminal execution and burial, as a place of exile (willing or unwilling), and Christian demonization of the sites.  Also, oak trees:  would the expanse of forest around Oakley have added another pagan echo to Aldred’s musings in the tent?

Another nifty find is the Portable Antiquities Scheme database (p. 239).  This site contains items cataloged by metal detectorists and museums, allowing me to search by region for finds in the Oakley area (Six Penny Handley parish).  Perhaps Aldred unearthed something while he was there.  Similarly, the PASE (Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England) site is useful for finding names.

Last, I found Christina Lee’s closing essay on “Disease and Impairment” (pp. 293-309) quite insightful.  She makes two comments on differing perceptions that got me thinking.  First, the medieval link between body and soul meant that disease and disability produced “sociological discontinuity” (p. 294), although arguably contemporary medicine makes this connection, albeit differently.  Second, she notes regarding mental illness that “normal” behavior varies culturally, citing the example of Guthlac living in a grave barrow (p. 300).  Peter Dendle has explore this angle further (Satan Unbound).

So my draft chapter on Aldred at Oakley is now shaping up into a meditation on barrows, dragons, and cross monuments.  I am getting Mary, Helen, and Cuthbert in there, along with St. Lawrence, to explain the colophon and memorandum in Durham A.IV.19.


The Material Culture of Daily Living in the Anglo-Saxon World, edited by Maren Clegg Hyer and Gale R. Owen-Crocker (Exeter:  University of Exeter Press, 2011).

Sarah Semple, “A Fear of the Past: The Place of the Prehistoric Burial mound in the Ideology of Middle and Later Anglo-Saxon England,” World Archaeology 30.1 (1998), 109-26.

Peter Dendle, Satan Unbound: The Devil in Old English Narrative Literature (Toronto:  University of Toronto Press, 2001).

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