First Millenia Studies Group: ‘What was happening in the Firthlands? Gaels, Picts and Vikings in Northern mainland Scotland’; ‘Comparing the impact of Christianity on Irish, Scottish and Scandinavian sculpture’; and ‘Interpreting Viking Age stone sculpture: the evidence of hybrid practice in the Irish Sea region’

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On 3 February 2015, the Centre was delighted to welcome three speakers to discuss their new research in a seminar co-hosted by the First Millenia Studies Group. Daniel MacLean discussed ‘What was happening in the Firthlands? Gaels, Picts and Vikings in Northern mainland Scotland’, Anouk Busset discussed ‘Comparing the impact of Christianity on Irish, Scottish and Scandinavian sculpture’; and Jamie Barnes discussed ‘Interpreting Viking Age stone sculpture: the evidence of hybrid practice in the Irish Sea region’. Below is this listener’s brief summary of the lectures.

Daniel MacLean’s talk focused on the new find of a barrow cemetery and enclosure at Tarradale (located west of Inverness), which seems to reuse Bronze Age flint and pottery. This enclosure has been heavily plough damaged and is very shallow, but in size it is comparable to Anglian and Pictish examples (and perhaps the famous site at Rhynie). Daniel has identified many other sites in the surrounding area which may bear fruit in future archaeological digs.

Anouk Busset discussed her ongoing PhD research which seeks to inform upon the use and function of Christian sculpture and standing stones in Ireland, Scotland, and Scandinavia. Her three case studies are Strathmore in Scotland, Ulster in Ireland, and Uppland in Sweden. Each country has different approaches and traditions, making them difficult to reconcile, but her comparative approach  hopes to demonstrate how these sculptures could be both symbols of power (secular) and objects of worship (sacred), while also informing upon their place within the wider landscape. A better understanding of the elites who commissioned these monuments may be attained by demonstrating the similarities and differences in the process of erecting these monuments in each country.

Thorwald's Cross showing Fenrir swallowing Odin at Ragnarök.
Thorwald’s Cross showing Fenrir swallowing Odin at Ragnarök.

Finally, Jamie Barnes posited a new theory on interactions between pagans and Christians in the Irish Sea region. ‘Embracing the intangible’, he looked to colonial theory of ‘hybrid practice’ to show how this meeting of cultures changed both sides irrevocably, and led to the creation of a new, different culture in a ‘third space’. It was not a simple transition from pagan to Christian – the new identity was fluid, and the relationship between the two groups was symbiotic. Jamie used Thorwald’s Cross to show how the sculptors attempted to make the Ragnarök intelligible to all, regardless of religion, by conflating it with the Christian Apocalypse.

Summary by Ross Crawford (PhD Researcher)

Next week, Tuesday 10 February, our series continues with Emily Flaherty and Esther Breitenbach who will discuss ‘What Women’s Lib – ‘The Aberdeen Women’s Liberation Movement and the Workers Education Association’ (Emily) and ‘Feminism in Scotland: European Links and Lessons’ (Esther). This will be held in Room 202, 3 University Gardens at 5.30pm. All welcome.

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