Merovingian Mortuary Archaeology and the Making of the Early Middle Ages

Merovingian Mortuary Archaeology and the Making of the Early Middle Ages

BONNIE EFFROS
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: 1
Pages: 296
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pnp53
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  • Book Info
    Merovingian Mortuary Archaeology and the Making of the Early Middle Ages
    Book Description:

    Clothing, jewelry, animal remains, ceramics, coins, and weaponry are among the artifacts that have been discovered in graves in Gaul dating from the fifth to eighth century. Those who have unearthed them, from the middle ages to the present, have speculated widely on their meaning. This authoritative book makes a major contribution to the study of death and burial in late antique and early medieval society with its long overdue systematic discussion of this mortuary evidence. Tracing the history of Merovingian archaeology within its cultural and intellectual context for the first time, Effros exposes biases and prejudices that have colored previous interpretations of these burial sites and assesses what contemporary archaeology can tell us about the Frankish kingdoms. Working at the intersection of history and archaeology, and drawing from anthropology and art history, Effros emphasizes in particular the effects of historical events and intellectual movements on French and German antiquarian and archaeological studies of these grave goods. Her discussion traces the evolution of concepts of nationhood, race, and culture and shows how these concepts helped shape an understanding of the past. Effros then turns to contemporary multidisciplinary methodologies and finds that we are still limited by the types of information that can be readily gleaned from physical and written sources of Merovingian graves. For example, since material evidence found in the graves of elite families and particularly elite men is more plentiful and noteworthy, mortuary goods do not speak as directly to the conditions in which women and the poor lived. The clarity and sophistication with which Effros discusses the methods and results of European archaeology is a compelling demonstration of the impact of nationalist ideologies on a single discipline and of the struggle toward the more pluralistic vision that has developed in the post-war years.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92818-3
    Subjects: Archaeology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ix)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. x-x)
  3. Map and Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    Only since the 1970s have American scholars regularly included mortuary remains in their research on Merovingian religion and society.¹ Prior to that, most medievalists neglected archaeological evidence from burial sites in favor of more familiar historical and documentary sources. From a European standpoint, this oversight was dismissed as popular distaste in the United States for studies linked to death.² Of greater consequence, however, were the small number of American archaeologists occupied with the early medieval period and the inaccessibility of locally published and unpublished excavations in western Europe. Lack of attention to important studies of Merovingian mortuary rites was thus...

  7. 1 Antiquaries, Historians, and Archaeologists: Creating a Cultural Context for Early Medieval Graves
    (pp. 12-70)

    Numerous recent studies have addressed the impact of collecting, archaeological exploration, and the foundation of museums on historical representation and national identity.¹ Posing similar questions to Merovingian archaeology proves very revealing.² The motives and ideologies of French, German, and Belgian antiquaries, historians, and archaeologists who explored early medieval mortuary remains shaped the manner in which they observed, collected, and interpreted evidence.³ Modern scholars often still use this archaeological material uncritically in their assessments of Merovingian burial rites.⁴ Thus at the heart of this chapter is a consideration of key developments in the historical and ideological context that shaped the representation...

  8. 2 Modern Assessments of Merovingian Burial
    (pp. 71-118)

    The nineteenth-century antiquaries who retrieved and evaluated material remains left an indelible imprint on historical and archaeological research by suggesting that scholarly questioning might yield far more than chronologies. As Arnaldo Momigliano has established, antiquarian scholars devoted much energy to demonstrating how physical evidence might contribute to the study of religion, political institutions, law, and other customs.¹ In the case of the Merovingian period, the application of artifacts to the description of society was particularly successful. Consequently, some early medieval historians began to experiment with syntheses of the written and material sources, incorporating antiquarian methodology to meet historical objectives. This...

  9. 3 Grave Goods and the Ritual Expression of Identity
    (pp. 119-174)

    Many of the analytical shortcomings of mortuary studies have stemmed from the intrinsically interdisciplinary nature of the evidence. Because scholars have had to utilize materials from fields other than their own to support their findings, they have not always been aware of the limitations of the sources. Just as art historians and archaeologists have often linked their finds confidently to particular historical events or individuals, historians have frequently used what they have trusted to be straightforward archaeological examples as a means of visualizing human interactions documented in the written sources. The discussion below of some of the most common pitfalls...

  10. 4 The Visual Landscape: Cemeterial Topography and Community Hierarchy
    (pp. 175-218)

    Grave goods represented innately “temporary” components of early medieval burial ritual in that they remained visible to the living only until the conclusion of the funeral. By contrast, external aspects of inhumation such as disposal facilities and epitaphs constituted more lasting monuments to the deceased in early medieval Gaul. Through such spatial features of burial, groups attained or reaffirmed their rights to restricted or limited resources. Arthur Alan Saxe has thus observed the particular appeal for elites of establishing “a permanently specialized, bounded territorial area” reserved for “the exclusive disposal of their dead.”¹ In this sense, topographical features of burial,...

  11. Epilogue
    (pp. 219-222)

    A variety of preconceptions have shaped the methodologies used in the study of Merovingian mortuary remains.¹ Because of the inherently malleable nature of the material evidence and changing interpretive frameworks for the processing of this evidence, antiquaries, historians, and early archaeologists have had a large degree of freedom in drawing conclusions about the populations and customs of early medieval Gaul. Their objectives in initiating this research have often evoked the concerns of their era. Releasing researchers ultimately from many of the constraints of the written sources, Merovingian-period artifacts and skeletal fragments constitute a new medium through which European scholars have...

  12. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 223-262)
  13. Index
    (pp. 263-272)