Clothing, jewelry, animal remains, ceramics, coins, and weaponry are among the artifacts that have been discovered in graves in Gaul dating from the fifth to eighth century. Those who have unearthed them, from the middle ages to the present, have speculated widely on their meaning. This authoritative book makes a major contribution to the study of death and burial in late antique and early medieval society with its long overdue systematic discussion of this mortuary evidence. Tracing the history of Merovingian archaeology within its cultural and intellectual context for the first time, Effros exposes biases and prejudices that have colored previous interpretations of these burial sites and assesses what contemporary archaeology can tell us about the Frankish kingdoms.
Working at the intersection of history and archaeology, and drawing from anthropology and art history, Effros emphasizes in particular the effects of historical events and intellectual movements on French and German antiquarian and archaeological studies of these grave goods. Her discussion traces the evolution of concepts of nationhood, race, and culture and shows how these concepts helped shape an understanding of the past. Effros then turns to contemporary multidisciplinary methodologies and finds that we are still limited by the types of information that can be readily gleaned from physical and written sources of Merovingian graves. For example, since material evidence found in the graves of elite families and particularly elite men is more plentiful and noteworthy, mortuary goods do not speak as directly to the conditions in which women and the poor lived.
The clarity and sophistication with which Effros discusses the methods and results of European archaeology is a compelling demonstration of the impact of nationalist ideologies on a single discipline and of the struggle toward the more pluralistic vision that has developed in the post-war years.
Bonnie Effros is Associate Professor in the Department of History at the State University of New York, Binghamton, and the Sylvan C. Coleman and Pamela Coleman Memorial Fund Fellow in the Department of Medieval Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (2001-2002). She is author of Caring for Body and Soul: Burial and the Afterlife in the Merovingian World (2002) and Creating Community with Food and Drink in Merovingian Gaul (2002). .
"Bonnie Effros has written a succinct cultural history of early medieval archaeology from medieval relic translations to contemporary scientific archaeology. She shows how in every period the ideological and cultural assumptions of those exhuming the dead have determined how they proceeded and how they interpreted their finds. . . . It will be indispensable reading for anyone who hopes to enter the complexities of interpreting the material culture of late antiquity and the early middle ages."—Patrick J. Geary, author of The Myth of Nations: The Medieval Origins of Europe
"This is a long overdue fundamental discussion of what archaeology can tell us about the history of the Frankish kingdoms. . . . Bonnie Effros also includes a very interesting history of Merovingian archaeology from the middle ages to this day. The book can thus also be read as a study of artifacts and their changing meanings throughout the course of European history. This is a highly original and successful point of view that makes the study an extraordinary contribution in its field and beyond."—Walter Pohl, Director, Institute for Medieval History, Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Vienna
"Merovingian Mortuary Archaeology and the Making of the Early Middle Ages is an original contribution to the long history of the archaeological engagement with the Early Middle Ages. Bonnie Effros confronts us with the most comprehensive intellectual assessment of this engagement, reaching from the early activities of ecclesiastics in the Middle Ages to the most recent interpretations of modern scholarship. The book is indispensable for any student on Early Medieval burial rites and will certainly find its way into the classrooms of universities."—Frans Theuws, Director, Amsterdam Archaeological Centre