Project Eliseg: Death and Memory in Early Medieval Britain
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Chester
Unit of AssessmentGeography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Language, Communication and Culture: Literary Studies
History and Archaeology: Archaeology, Historical Studies
Summary of the impact
This case study builds upon co-director Professor Howard Williams'
expertise in archaeologies of memory and mortuary archaeology through the
archaeological fieldwork of Project Eliseg (hereafter PE). This project
has transformed academic and popular understandings of a unique and
striking ancient monument by: (i) creating a network of strategically
designed outreach activities engaging the public with archaeological
fieldwork at early medieval stone monuments, (ii) disseminating the
research to a range of audiences via traditional and new media, and (iii)
instigated strategies for the heritage management and conservation of an
internationally important heritage site.
Investigating the unique and internationally significant Pillar of Eliseg
for the first time using modern archaeological methods and techniques,
fieldwork by PE (2010-12) is shedding new light on the Bronze Age origins
of the mound beneath the Pillar, the ninth-century materiality and
landscape context of the stone cross, the medieval persistence of the
monument as a landmark, the eighteenth-century excavation of the mound and
rehabilitation and inscription of the stone cross-shaft, and the
nineteenth- to twenty-first century treatment of the monument. Revealing a
monumental biography over four millennia, PE is exploring how the mound,
and subsequently the mound and cross together, accrued shifting
significance in myth, history and memory in the Welsh landscape.
PE is a high-profile archaeological research project, a collaboration
between Professor Nancy Edwards (Bangor), Professor Dai Morgan Evans
(Chester), Dr Gary Robinson (Bangor) and Professor Howard Williams
(Professor, University of Chester, 2008 — present) and mobilising
collaborations with Cadw, Bangor University and Llangollen Museum.
The project will result in a multi-authored monograph, but Williams (see
section 3) has authored interim discussion and interpretation of the early
medieval phases of the site in terms of memory theory and early medieval
elite commemoration (Williams 2011).
The study of early medieval sculpted stone crosses sheds light on belief,
power and social memory in the early Middle Ages (c. AD 400-1100). Recent
research has shown that their investigation requires a detailed
investigation of their cultural biographies: how they appropriated
monuments of earlier (prehistoric and Roman) date, as well as their
subsequent reception to the present day. The Pillar of Eliseg is an
internationally important fragment of an early ninth-century stone cross,
situated near Valle Crucis Abbey, Llangollen, Denbighshire, Wales and a
prominent tourist attraction close to the Cadw-run Valle Crucis Abbey. The
Pillar's location, materiality, form and long Latin text together promoted
the illustrious and legendary ancestors for the ruler of Powys, Concenn
and celebrated the military victories of his great-grandfather, Eliseg,
making this a key source of information about the origins of Wales. The
cross was likely raised as a symbol of royal authority and an assertion of
legitimacy and military prowess at a site of assembly and/or inauguration
at a time when Powys was being dismantled by the rival early medieval
polities of Gwynedd and Mercia. Situated on the threshold between
prehistory and history, the Pillar is unrivalled in its archaeological and
historical importance. Yet equally the Pillar is an enigmatic and hitherto
unexplored relic of the era that saw the emergence of modern Britain.
Professor Williams' established research expertise in `archaeologies of
memory', including the specific practice of the reuse of prehistoric
monuments in the early Middle Ages, and the history of early medieval
archaeology, including the study of antiquarian attitudes to burial
mounds, informed the project design and execution. Moreover, Williams'
ongoing research on the archaeology of social memory in early medieval
Britain formed the immediate context for the collaboration with Evans,
Edwards and Robinson on PE. Finally, Professor Williams' expertise in
community archaeology assisted in a strategy for public outreach during
and after the field seasons and informing Cadw's conservation, management
and presentation of the monument for the future.
References to the research
Peer-reviewed high-profile publications demonstrate Williams' active
international profile in four related research themes that informed the
design and development of PE:
1. Simpson, F. & Williams, H. 2008. Evaluating community archaeology
in the UK, Public Archaeology 7(2): 69-90. DOI
2. Williams, H. 2009. On display: envisioning the early Anglo-Saxon dead,
in D. Sayer. & H. Williams (eds) Mortuary Practices & Social
Identities in the Middle Ages: Essays in Burial Archaeology in Honour of
Heinrich Härke. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, pp. 170-206.
3. Williams, H., Rundkvist, M. & Danielsson, A. 2010. The landscape
of a Swedish boat-grave cemetery, Landscapes (2010) 1: 1-24. ISSN
5. Williams, H. 2011. The sense of being seen: ocular effects at Sutton
Hoo, Journal of Social Archaeology 11(1): 99-121 (See REF 2)
PE was funded by the Universities of Bangor and Chester and additional
funding from the University of Wales, Cambrian Archaeological Association
and Cadw amounting to the tune of £6,383.96 (grants variously
applied for by Professors Edwards and WILLIAMS 2010-12). Project Eliseg
involved a series of outreach components intended to communicate findings
quickly and effectively to as wide an audience as possible and supported
by the University of Chester's Knowledge Transfer Fund with a grant of £6,043.75
(application by Williams, 2010).
Details of the impact
PE has revealed, disseminated and interpreted the Pillar of Eliseg,
inspired by the co-directors' expertise in early medieval archaeology,
field archaeology, community archaeology, contemporary archaeology and the
history of archaeology.
Integrated Fieldwork Outreach
PE has adopted an explicit philosophy and methodology for the generation
of academic and popular knowledge and debate through the engagement of the
public with early medieval histories in stone during fieldwork.
Key aspects include:
- Opportunities for local volunteers to participate in the fieldwork, c.
7 each in 2010, 2011 and 2012
- Training undergraduate students in archaeological fieldwork techniques
linked to the study of the context of early medieval monuments, 12 in
2010, 8 each in 2011 and 2012
- Open door policies giving tours to visitors on a daily basis, c. 100
each in 2010, 2011 and 2012
- Open days attracting a wide range of visitors, c. 125 each in 2010,
2011 and 2012
- Primary school groups site tours in 2012, c. 70 children.
- Project video blog by Chester archaeology student, Joseph Tong
Between field seasons, PE has disseminated results of the fieldwork
through a variety of media:
- Conference papers and public lectures, including international
conferences: Williams, H. 2011. Remembering elites: Early medieval stone
crosses as commemorative technologies, Boye, L. et al. (eds) Arkæologi
i Slesvig/Archäologie in Schleswig. Sonderband "Det 61. Internationale
Sachsensymposion 2010" Haderslev, Denmark. Neumünster: Wachholtz,
pp. 13-32, open access on Academia.edu and viewed 404 times @1st
- Public talks on PE by Williams including: Investigating Eliseg's
Pillar'. Clwyd Archaeology Dayschool organised by Fiona Gale, Denbigh,
24th February 2013 and the keynote of the Runes Network
conference in March 2013 (also a public lecture) subsequently posted
93 plays @ 1st Sept 2013
Bilingual (English and Welsh) website updates, e.g.
- Popular magazine articles outlining the results of Project Eliseg:
Williams, H. 2011. Myth and memory in the Welsh landscape, Minerva
22(1): 34-35 and Williams, H. 2010. Desperately seeking Eliseg, Current
Archaeology 248: 8, Williams, H. 2011. Project Eliseg — Digging
for Early Medieval Myths and Memories, Past Horizons:
which had 33 tweets.
- Newspaper articles, regional radio and television, leading to a wide
range of media outputs during the fieldwork. A range of new media
utilised for the project, including news stories (e.g. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-north-east-wales-15007707).
- The Project Eliseg website provides information about the project and
its discoveries: (http://www.projecteliseg.org/) which averages c. 650
hits per day (47,789 hits for July 2013)
- The Project Eliseg Facebook page which has received 203 `likes' (https://www.facebook.com/ProjectEliseg)
and on Youtube: (http://www.youtube.com/user/ProjectElisegMedia)
(@ 1st Sept 2013, 2011 field season has a total of 3195
views, 2012 field season has a total of 1714 views)
- Bespoke art video of Project Eliseg 2010 by Dr Aaron Watson and John
(259 views @ 1st Sept 2013)
On-Site Heritage Management and Interpretation
Project Eliseg post-excavation conservation, access and revised heritage
interpretation panels for the monument by Cadw will be directly utilising
the results from Project Eliseg.
- Project Eliseg is working with Llangollen Museum where finds from the
excavations have been displayed since July 2011, with 50,000
visitors to July 2013 (average 25,000 visits per year for
- Plans are now underway to redisplay the replica Pillar of Eliseg
within the Museum using the artefacts discovered by PE.
Sources to corroborate the impact
Statements from Chairman of Llangollen Museum.