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Medieval Life

Medieval Life: Archaeology and the Life Course

Roberta Gilchrist
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 360
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  • Book Info
    Medieval Life
    Book Description:

    "An important and timely volume... an elegant summary of complex theory, and synthesis of an impressive body of material. It will be eagerly read by current and future generations of archaeologists, and will demonstrate the significance of historical archaeology to a much wider scholarly audience." Dr Kate Giles, University of York. The aim of this book is to explore how medieval life was actually lived - how people were born and grew old, how they dressed, how they inhabited their homes, the rituals that gave meaning to their lives and how they prepared for death and the afterlife. Its fresh and original approach uses archaeological evidence to reconstruct the material practices of medieval life, death and the afterlife. Previous historical studies of the medieval "lifecycle" begin with birth and end with death. Here, in contrast, the concept of life course theory is developed for the first time in a detailed archaeological case study. The author argues that medieval Christian understanding of the "life course" commenced with conception and extended through the entirety of life, to include death and the afterlife. Five thematic case studies present the archaeology of medieval England (c.1050-1540 CE) in terms of the body, the household, the parish church and cemetery, and the relationship between the lives of people and objects. A wide range of sources is critically employed: osteology, costume, material culture, iconography and evidence excavated from houses, churches and cemeteries in the medieval English town and countryside. Medieval Life reveals the intimate and everyday relations between age groups, between the living and the dead, and between people and things. Roberta Gilchrist is Professor of Archaeology at the University of Reading

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-974-9
    Subjects: Archaeology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-xi)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xii-xiii)
  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xiv-xiv)
  6. Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  7. Chapter 1 Archaeology and the Life Course
    (pp. 1-31)

    This study aims to develop a new scale of archaeological analysis: the measure of the human life is adopted to explore the experience of living in the Middle Ages. While the theme of age will form a major part of this enquiry, the concept of the life course integrates ageing with embodiment, ritual, memory and material culture. Age has been examined previously as an aspect of social identity within historical disciplines: for example, the medieval and Tudor lifecycles have been evaluated in terms of the distinctive roles and representations of male and female as they progressed through life stages from...

  8. Chapter 2 Experiencing Age: the Medieval Body
    (pp. 32-67)

    This chapter addresses the medieval life course at the scale of the individual body and considers osteological evidence for the quality of life of respective age cohorts. Two different approaches are used to explore the theory and reality of ageing: medieval ideas about the body are introduced and bioarchaeological evidence is examined to reconstruct the corporeal experience of age. The theological and medical literature of the Middle Ages is vast and complex, and my intention here is to summarize only the basic tenets which informed medieval understandings of the life course. The emphasis is placed on the key theories which...

  9. Chapter 3 Clothing the Body: Age, Sexuality and Transitional Rites
    (pp. 68-113)

    Clothing is the key signifier of age and other aspects of personal identity: it transforms and extends the corporeal body as a ‘social skin’ (Turner 1993). Clothing is defined here to include not just articles of dress, but hair treatments, jewellery and badges attached to apparel, and items that are suspended or wrapped around the body, comprising belts, girdles, purses, pouches, scabbards and their contents. Dress was integral to embodiment and to the ‘gestural culture’ of the Middle Ages, which judged the quality of the person and their soul on the basis of posture, movement and comportment (Schmitt 1991). Medical...

  10. Chapter 4 The Medieval Household: the Material Culture of Everyday Life
    (pp. 114-168)

    Social archaeology frequently targets the ‘household’ as a unit of analysis, but careful consideration must first be given to its social and physical parameters. In pre-industrial societies the household is the residential centre of both production and consumption; it is the focus of social relations and biological reproduction; and it accommodates dual domestic and ritual functions (Allison 1999; Hendon 2004). The social composition of the household is often regarded as synonymous with the family, although in many societies its residents also include servants, slaves and other non-family members – what Rosemary Joyce has termed a ‘houseful’ (Joyce 2000, 6). An...

  11. Plates
    (pp. None)
  12. Chapter 5 The Medieval Church and Cemetery: the Quick and the Dead
    (pp. 169-215)

    The parish church was the touchstone of every community and it nourished the life experience of each medieval person. The key thresholds of the Christian life course were marked by the rituals of the sacraments, while the spatial geography of the parish church integrated the human body with the sacred scheme of the Christian cosmos. The spaces and rituals of the church were central to habitual learning and the individual sense of embodiment that was built up through the course of a lifetime. Multi-disciplinary sources permit the reconstruction of ritual action in the church: spatial movement and gestures, viewing and...

  13. Chapter 6 Medieval Lives: People and Things
    (pp. 216-252)

    This final chapter explores the diverse intersections between human and object biographies in medieval life, drawing from the case studies that were examined in the preceding chapters. Two themes are employed to interrogate the role of material practices in bringing together the lifecycles of people and things. The first reviews the ontological boundary between objects and people, considering the circumstances in which the perceived status of people and objects is exchanged. The use of anthropomorphic objects as human proxies is also examined, in addition to how things are ‘animated’ by the acts of naming and inscription. The second addresses the...

  14. Appendix 1 The Medieval Ages of Man: Natural, humoral, temporal and material associations of age
    (pp. 253-253)
  15. Appendix 2 Excavated Medieval Cemeteries Discussed in the Text
    (pp. 254-254)
  16. Appendix 3 Indicative Age Profiles Based on Excavated Medieval Cemeteries
    (pp. 255-256)
  17. Appendix 4 Children’s Clothing and Dress Accessories from Burial Contexts in Britain: Infants to 15-year-olds
    (pp. 257-259)
  18. Appendix 5 Sexual Signs: Medieval dress accessories incorporating sexual imagery
    (pp. 260-262)
  19. Appendix 6 Dress Accessories Associated with May Festivities
    (pp. 263-264)
  20. Appendix 7 Love Gifts: Dress accessories associated with courting and betrothal
    (pp. 265-266)
  21. Appendix 8 Apotropaic Materials: Dress accessories, domestic and devotional objects
    (pp. 267-271)
  22. Appendix 9 Charms: Devotional inscriptions on excavated objects and dress accessories
    (pp. 272-273)
  23. Appendix 10 Devotional Inscriptions on Medieval Finds from the Portable Antiquities Scheme
    (pp. 274-274)
  24. Appendix 11 Priests’ Burials from Medieval English Parish Churches and Hospitals
    (pp. 275-276)
  25. Appendix 12 Grave Goods Associated with Aged Skeletons from Medieval English Parish Churches and Hospitals
    (pp. 277-282)
  26. Appendix 13 The Classification of Grave Goods from Medieval Burials
    (pp. 283-283)
  27. Appendix 14 Infant Burials from Domestic Contexts in Medieval England
    (pp. 284-285)
  28. Bibliography
    (pp. 286-320)
  29. Index
    (pp. 321-336)
  30. Back Matter
    (pp. 337-337)