February 2, 2018, by Roderick Dale

Viking Age stone sculpture in the East Midlands

By Paul Everson

Borre style stone sculpture

Borre ‘ring-chain’ in All Saints Church in Bakewell, Derbyshire. Picture by Roderick Dale

How do you make new discoveries of archaeological material dating from the Anglo-Scandinavian era in the East Midlands: the 9th, 10th and 11th centuries? And how do you contribute to scholarly and popular understanding of the Viking Age in England?

For myself and my friend and long-term academic collaborator, David Stocker, the answer is: ‘you visit every church and known former church site in the region, and you look for fragments – large and small – of carved and decorated stonework dating from around the Norman conquest and the preceding centuries’. You look in corners, under pews, in alcoves … in stone-heaps within and outside the building. In particular, you look at door lintels and thresholds; at quoins and window shelves; and you scour the fabric of walls, where bits discovered during Victorian restorations might have been built in for their interest and safe keeping. Commonly such material is only a fragmentary part of the original monument. But it represents the former presence of the whole item: a cross, a grave-cover, a grave-marker. There is a real buzz in making a new discovery!

Systematic fieldwork of this sort is time-consuming: a long-term commitment, within the framework of other colleagues doing the same in other counties and regions around England, so that in time there will be a catalogue of all known items of this sort for the whole country. But in Lincolnshire we identified nearly 400 such items and in Nottinghamshire nearly 150: many were first-time discoveries. Some are distinctive and one-off, with decoration, figures and imagery whose meaning we can attempt to explain. Many we can recognise as variations of repetitive, standard products. With such numbers, we can look at the stone types and where they were quarried; and therefore trace patterns of manufacture and distribution. And use: do they, for example, in the contemporary society of mixed origins and beliefs represent the first-generation foundation of the churches and churchyards in our region that are so familiar to us?

Paul Everson will give a public lecture on Viking Age stone sculpture in the East Midlands in the Djanogly Theatre, Lakeside Arts, University of Nottingham, on 7th February 2018 from 1pm. Although the event is fully booked, you can watch the live stream on the Nottingham Lakeside Arts Facebook page, where you can also catch up with many of the previous lectures.

Posted in Lunchtime LecturesVikings