Centenary Lecture Series: ‘Glasgow’s Buried Legacy: 1500 years of growth, development and regeneration’

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On Thursday 27th June 2013, the Centre was pleased to welcome Professor Driscoll who discussed ‘Glasgow’s Buried Legacy: 1500 years of growth, development and regeneration’ as part of the ongoing Centenary Lecture Series. Below is this listener’s brief summary of the lecture.

Professor Driscoll focused on archaeological evidence in order to unearth interesting insights into Glasgow’s past, present and future. In the early medieval period, Dumbarton was a royal centre, the ‘kingdom of Clyde Rock’, in the seventh century. It maintained a late Roman commercial network, focusing on trade of wine and other consumables. This caused a persistence in ideas of Christianity in the region. At Ardrossan, there is an example of a long-cut cemetery, dating from the sixth or seventh century. Furthermore, at Inchmarnock, there is a small collection of sculpture from the early seventh century, which features a Norse influence due to the presence of runes. There may have been an incipient monastery at this site, due to devotional inscriptions on some of these sculptures.

Probably the most important site for early medieval archaeology around Glasgow is Govan. At excavations conducted between 1992-4, two burials were found which date to AD 435-601 and AD 474-601. Again, we can speculate there may have been an early church at this site but its significance is conjectural. One source claims that in 756 there was a battle at Dumbarton between the Picts and Northumbrians, and the armies split off and went their separate ways at Govan, possibly suggesting it was an important site as early as then.

The siege of Dumbarton in 870, recorded in the Annals of Ulster, was a turning point in the early history of the region. It seems to have been thoroughly plundered by the Vikings and probably destroyed. Professor Driscoll noted the siege of Dumbarton is very unusual in early medieval warfare as most conflict was short and indecisive, whereas this engagement exhibited an intent of deliberate conquest and destruction. It caused Dumbarton to drop off the historical timeline for another five hundred years, only appearing again in the 13th century after the birth of a new kingdom of Strathclyde in the 10th-11th centuries. Professor Driscoll argued that the old conception of Strathclyde as a weak political force has been re-evaluated and it is often difficult to determine who had the upper hand between Northumbria and Strathclyde.

Returning to Govan, Professor Driscoll highlighted the hogback monuments–which he called cute! It’s hard to disagree. Some excellent pictures of these monuments are found here:


They generally date from the early 10th century and are examples of a ‘hybrid monument’, as they feature influences from across northern Britain. Some have argued these monuments had a secular purpose as they resemble a notional lordly hall and may have acted as caskets for Kings of Strathclyde. Others have pointed towards a more ecclesiastical use, as they may have been reliquary shrines for the dead. Professor Driscoll pointed out that Govan also has a large collection of recumbent grave stones, the largest in Scotland after St Andrews and Iona.

Also at Govan is the Shrine of St Constantine, a stone sarcophagus beautifully detailed with interlace pattern and a hunting scene. It likely dates from the late 10th century, or into the early 11th, and is believed to hold the remains of St Constantine (King and Martyr)–though there is an ongoing debate about this! Stunning photos of the sarcophagus can be found at the Govan Stones Project’s Facebook page:


The Govan Stones Project is part of a wider process of regeneration within the town. Many prominent fixtures of Govan have been under threat (or even destroyed) in recent history, so it is hoped that an urban renewal project, with the old parish church at the centre, will help to secure Govan’s future. The lively body of material at the old church–including the hogbacks and the St Constantine sarcophagus–has already inspired several new artists, including the award-winning ‘The Ghost of Water Row’:


Summary by Ross Crawford (PhD Researcher) 

The Centre’s Centenary lecture series continues on 22 August with Professor Dauvit Broun’s ‘Glasgow’s Medieval Origins’. This will again be held in the Jeffrey Room of the Mitchell Library at 6pm.

And to find out more about the Chair of Scottish History and Literature: www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Professor_of_Scottish_History_and_Literature

For a full programme, follow this link: http://www.gla.ac.uk/media/media_246995

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