Harvard Medieval Material Culture Lecture


Tuesday, April 2, 2019, 6:00pm to 7:00pm


Barker Center 110 (the Thompson Room), 12 Quincy Street

Martin Carver (University of York), Driven by Ideas: Some Archaeological Investigations of Early Medieval Transition. This event is part of the 2019 Harvard Medieval Material Culture Series The View from the Trenches: Archaeology and Medieval Studies Today, sponsored by the Committee on Medieval Studies, the Harvard Art Museums, the Department of History of Art + Architecture, and the Committee on Archaeology.

Professor Carver’s lecture concerns recent research in the European early Middle Ages, reviewing his previously published work on Sutton Hoo and Portmahomack, newly-published work on Britain as a whole, and work currently in progress in Sicily. Each of these was (or is) primarily an exercise in archaeological investigation, attempting to explain what happened to people when their regime changed.  Our ability to deduce this from material culture has increased notably over the last thirty years, and the story is partly one of how archaeology, bioarchaeology and especially biomolecular archaeology have kept pace with our ambitions and occasionally overtaken them. Although different kinds of archaeology (settlement, burial and monumentality for example) often report different attitudes and behaviors, these do occasionally converge. In the case of Britain, we see a changing emphasis on lordship, spirituality or wealth creation in different parts of the island from the fifth to the eleventh century. In Sicily, changes in regime are more thoroughly documented, and their applications also appear to have been ideologically driven. Here, however, we may be in a better position to distinguish the experiences of the ‘people without history’— farmers, merchants and their families.   Their lives seem to have run a different course, and moved at a different pace, from those of government, but in some fashion must nevertheless have been determinant.

About the speaker: Martin Carver was an officer in the British Army before practising as a freelance archaeologist for thirteen years and serving as professor of archaeology at the University of York for over two decades, retiring in 2008. A Fellow of the British Academy and the Society of Antiquaries, he was the editor of the journal Antiquity from 2002 until 2012. He has carried out fieldwork and research in Britain, Italy, France and Algeria, including the excavations of the major Pictish monastery at Portmahomack and the most recent round of Sutton Hoo digs and analyses. He currently is the director (with Alessandra Molinari and Girolamo Fiorentino) of the monumental Sicily in Transition project, which investigates the material, social, and economic history of the island from the seventh through thirteenth centuries CE. In addition to numerous excavation reports, he is the author of Archaeological Investigation (2009), Making Archaeology Happen (2011), Sutton Hoo: Encounters with Early England (2017), and Formative Britain: An Archeology of Britain, Fifth to Eleventh Century CE (2019).