Perceptions of the Prehistoric in Anglo-Saxon England: Religion, Ritual, and Rulership in the Landscape

ISBN : 9780198844112

Sarah Semple
352 Pages
171 x 246 mm
Pub date
Jul 2019
Medieval History and Archaeology
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Perceptions of the Prehistoric in Anglo-Saxon England represents an unparalleled exploration of the place of prehistoric monuments in the Anglo-Saxon psyche, and examines how Anglo-Saxon communities perceived and used these monuments during the period AD 400-1100. Sarah Semple employs archaeological, historical, art historical, and literary sources to study the variety of ways in which the early medieval population of England used the prehistoric legacy in the landscape, exploring it from temporal and geographic perspectives. Key to the arguments and ideas presented is the premise that populations used these remains, intentionally and knowingly, in the articulation and manipulation of their identities: local, regional, political, and religious. They recognized them as ancient features, as human creations from a distant past. They used them as landmarks, battle sites, and estate markers, giving them new Old English names. Before, and even during, the conversion to Christianity, communities buried their dead in and around these monuments. After the conversion, several churches were built in and on these monuments, great assemblies and meetings were held at them, and felons executed and buried within their surrounds.

This volume covers the early to late Anglo-Saxon world, touching on funerary ritual, domestic and settlement evidence, ecclesiastical sites, place-names, written sources, and administrative and judicial geographies. Through a thematic and chronologically-structured examination of Anglo-Saxon uses and perceptions of the prehistoric, Semple demonstrates that populations were not only concerned with Romanitas (or Roman-ness), but that a similar curiosity and conscious reference to and use of the prehistoric existed within all strata of society.


List of Illustrations
1 The Past in the Past: Perspectives and Approaches
2 Monuments, Burial, and Identity: Regional Perspectives on Funerary Reuse
3 Ancestral, Spiritual, and Magical? Evidence for pre-Christian attitudes to the prehistoric
4 The Circle and the Cross: Medieval Churches and Prehistoric Monuments
5 Changing Meanings: Monuments in Literature, Art, and Place-Names
6 Royal and Religious Theatre: Monuments and Power in Mid to Late Anglo-Saxon England
7 Visions of the Past: The Anglo-Saxons and the Ancient Landscape

About the author: 

Sarah Semple is Professor of Archaeology at Durham University.

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