The Crafters of Kingship: Smithcraft, Gender and Elite Power in Early Mediaeval Europe
Duncan is Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at Bishop Grosseteste University, specialising in interdisciplinary studies of settlement, landscape and conflict. His work typically integrates documentary and topographic sources with archaeological evidence to reconstruct the evolution of sites and landscapes during the medieval period in particular. Duncan’s early medieval interests focus on the development of kingship, and the changing role of metalworkers detectable through the study of elite settlement complexes.
After studying an MA in Medieval Archaeology at the University of York, Duncan worked as a Heritage Consultant for Wessex Archaeology before undertaking a doctorate at the University of Exeter. Following completion of his PhD, he worked on the University of Exeter research project Anarchy? War and Status in Twelfth-century Landscapes of Conflict.
In the earliest medieval centuries, skilled metalsmiths were of great value to leaders who required impressive metalwork to maintain social links and the loyalty of their retainers. In spite of their clear importance to elite society, smiths are regularly depicted by contemporary sources as marginal characters, in what seems to represent an attempt to limit the extent of their influence. Strategies of exclusion saw artisans live and die on the fringes of high-status landscapes, but archaeological and documentary evidence demonstrate that they were also perceived as embodying a distinct gender. Such characteristics have numerous anthropological parallels but bear closest resemblance to the two-spirit people of native North American communities; individuals who were honoured for their crafting skills but also acted as curators of liminality, spiritual figureheads who directed rituals integral to the reproduction of society. Using the documented phenomena of the two-spirit as an interpretive framework, it is argued that leading smiths in early medieval societies likewise acted as sacerdo, orchestrating symbolic cycles of creation and destruction. Ultimately, the emerging forms of rulership which accompanied the growing establishment of the Church saw the symbolic potency and economic primacy of smithcraft wane, although notable continuities in the practice and status of leading metalworkers is discernible over the course of the Christian conversion.