Series on Middle Age Archaeology Debuts

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Erin E. Miles

Martin Carver, an archaelogical scholar, speaks in the Tsai Auditorium at CGIS on the early Middle Ages.

Pagans, prisoners, and primitive England were the subject of the inaugural lecture in the series “Medieval Archaeology in the 21st Century,” yesterday afternoon.

Professor of Archaeology at York University Martin Carver delivered a speech entitled “Sutton Hoo in the Light of the New Excavations: a Political Weathervane of the Seventh Century” to a crowd of nearly 100 in the Tsai Auditorium at the Center for Government and International Studies.

According to Harvard’s Medieval Studies committee member and Goelet Professor of Medieval History Michael McCormick, the lecture was an opportunity for Harvard to further cultivate its medieval archaeology studies. The first course in this subject at Harvard was taught last fall.

“Medieval archaeology doesn’t really exist in America,” McCormick said, “Harvard’s led the world and the nation in so many disciplines, why not lead the nation in the study of medieval archeology too.”

Carver, who garnered fame for his 10-year excavation of the medieval burial site, spoke about the history of Sutton Hoo’s excavation.

The site attracted the attention of archeologists in 1939 when a spirit medium directed an amateur to a ceremonially buried ship, Carver said. But Sutton Hoo remained untouched until Carver’s excavation in 1983, he added.

Carver discovered additional burial sites and the graves of several executed men, he said in the lecture.

By chemically analyzing the sand of the previously excavated burial site, Carver said he and his team were able to produce a more detailed picture of Sutton Hoo’s original layout, even inferring the number of daggers on the king’s corpse.

“The barbarian as unsophisticated was giving way to barbarian as sophisticated,” Carver said.

Carver said that it is now crucial to expose the findings to the “criticism of anthropologists.”

“We have not begun to try to understand the minds of the people who made these artifacts,” Carver said.

Still the progress Carver has achieved has made quite an impression on the medieval archeology community.

“Martin Carver is one of the founding fathers of medieval archeology,” said McCormick, “This is the very beginning.”

Carver, a self-proclaimed “roving digger,” said he is fascinated by the unusual site and its cross-disciplinary appeal.

“My dream was to make of the Middle Ages what has so successfully made of the Classics,” he said.

“I like the idea of the people being what we focus on.”