Conference: Beasts in Anglo-Saxon Art

UCL’s Institute of Archaeology, 11 – 12 June 2011.

Following the success of the 2009 conference on ‘Woodlands, Trees, and Timber in the Anglo-Saxon World’ held at UCL’s Institute of Archaeology, this is an interdisciplinary conference that seeks to examine some of the many ways in which the Anglo-Saxons interacted with and understood the natural world; this time its fauna, both real and imagined.

The importance of animals in the Anglo-Saxon world can hardly be overstated. Animal ornamentation remained a dominant mode of artistic expression for much of the period, animals featured prominently in poetry and religious texts, and human-animal relationships can be attested directly by the presence of animal bones in both burial and settlement contexts. Inevitably, the study of these phenomena transcends disciplinary boundaries, and as such finds footholds in a number of allied fields. One particular aim of this conference, as a result, will be to stimulate discussion and interaction between scholars working in all areas of Anglo-Saxon studies and its close relatives, at all levels.

As early medieval bestiaries demonstrate, little distinction was made in the Anglo-Saxon mind between creatures which a modern audience would accept as ‘real’ and those it would dismiss as ‘fantastical’. The study of beasts is thus as much a study of the cognitive attitudes of the Anglo-Saxons to the other inhabitants of their world – both tangible and imaginary. For this reason, the conference seeks to include contributions on all denizens of the Anglo-Saxon ‘beast-scape’ – from birds to dragons, wolves to sheep – and seeks, by including contributions touching on all aspects of human-beast relationships, to add to wider understandings of how the Anglo-Saxons used, conceptualised, reacted to, and re-ordered the natural world.

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