Sculpture in the early medieval Irish Sea c. 800–1000: interlacing traditions

During my Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship I will be exploring early medieval stone sculpture of the Insular world (present day Ireland and Britain) and how it is an interconnected medium. 

This is a direct challenge to antiquarian and contemporary scholarship's categorisation of the material by geographic and socio-ethnic devisions. To date, much of the sculpture has been catalogued according to modern national boundaries which did not exist at the time the material was produced. For instance, the borders between England, Scotland and Wales or that between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have changed greatly over time and in many cases bear little significance in the Early Medieval period. Moreover, the scholarship tends to divide sculpture along perceived ethnic boundaries such as Viking or Scandinavian versus Anglo-Saxon or the so-called Celtic styles, which negates the narrative of individual sites where multiple styles are found together and ignores how these styles are interconnected. 

Kirk Michael Crucifixion, Isle of Man

My project explores the cultural significance of early medieval stone sculptures produced in the Irish Sea regions of Britain and Ireland in the ninth and tenth centuries. I will use my research to challenge prevalent assumptions about state formation and national and ethnic exceptionalism as it has developed in Britain and Ireland, instead investigating the function of the sculpture as symbols of secular, religious and economic power within a culturally connected area, particularly that of the early church. This will allow a nuanced narrative of cultural contact between the areas of ancient and modern northern Britain, Ireland and the Isle of Man, which will give greater understanding of the shared materiality in this region. Further, by examining the shared material culture from this region I hope to shed light on how the manner in which we categorise and divide our material heritage, in the scholarship and in our public histories, gives undue prominence to our differences rather than what is culturally similar. 

Dr Heidi Stoner
Durham University
Early Career Fellowship