In the centuries following the decline of the Roman Empire, the maintenance and manipulation of identity became ever more crucial as new power structures emerged throughout Europe. During this period, a zoomorphic art style now called Style I animal art developed in northern Europe. Originating in southern Scandinavia in the late fifth century AD and continuing in use until the seventh century AD, the art style incorporated representations of disembodied heads, animal-men, and ambiguous creatures. These motifs were primarily rendered on personal ornaments such as brooches--objects that were ideal media for communicating messages to others. The creation and development of this style can be seen as active processes through which material culture was used as a social strategy to create and renegotiate personal and group identities.
This dissertation is an analysis of the ways in which brooches and other objects decorated with this style were used to express identities in social contexts, particularly in mortuary contexts, where such objects survive. The analysis of over 1500 inhumations in eleven Anglo-Saxon cemeteries provides a contextualized view of how Style I decorative motifs were actively used in local contexts.
My research examines the nature of pre-Christian human-animal relationships as depicted on personal ornaments and the ways in which these relationships visually expressed social identity, religious ideology, and the culture of transformation in Early Medieval Europe. I suggest that Style I animal art reflected the cultural fragmentation, mingling, and hybridity that occurred in the early medieval period. This analysis contributes to current early medieval archaeological studies by utilizing a contextual approach that considers the intersection of symbolic communication, art, and social expression.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. May 2012. Major: Archaeology. Advisor: Peter S. Wells. 1 computer file (PDF); xi, 404 pages, appendices A-B.
Flowers, Heather Marie.
Shifting shapes and shaping self: social identity, animal art, and mortuary ritual in early medieval Northwest Europe..
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