Fortunate Fellow

Kings & Warriors, Craftsmen & Priests
Last year, the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland conducted a survey of its Fellowship to gather views on the Society’s activities and to invite suggestions for future developments. The survey, which took the form of an electronic questionnaire, was completed and returned by more than 650 Fellows. An initial report on the data has recently been made available at the Society’s website. It may be of interest to readers of this blog so I’ve posted a link at the end of this post.

Fellows who completed the questionnaire were entered into a prize draw to win a Society publication. By a random stroke of good fortune the lucky winner was none other than Yours Truly. This meant that I had to choose one item from the Society’s mouthwatering catalogue of books on Scottish archaeology and history. But which one? The catalogue bore such an uncanny resemblance to my own wish-list that the choice seemed impossible. After much head-scratching, I managed to trim the candidates down to a manageable two: The Stone of Destiny: Artefact and Icon (a collection of papers edited by Welander, Breeze and Clancy) and Kings and Warriors, Craftsmen and Priests in Northern Britain AD550-850 by Leslie Alcock.

Stone of Destiny: artefact and icon
I eventually chose Alcock’s book, a comprehensive study of the Early Historic period by one of the pioneers of modern Scottish archaeology. Based on his 1989 Rhind Lectures to the Society, the book was published in 2003, three years before Alcock’s death. Its wide scope encompasses the material culture and social organization of peoples such as the Picts, as well as a range of important archaeological sites. Some of the sites had been excavated by Alcock as part of a long-running programme of ‘reconnaissance excavations’, the main objective of which was to examine major centres of power mentioned in the annals and other primary sources.

Alt Clut Dumbarton

Alt Clut, Dumbarton Rock, was excavated by Alcock in 1974-5 (Photo © B Keeling)

I had already amassed a large collection of Alcock’s publications over the years, but Kings and Warriors had somehow not found a path to my bookshelf. Thanks to a bit of luck it’s sitting there now – a hefty tome which dwarfs a couple of slender neighbours. It looks fittingly like the magnum opus of a great scholar, one whom I was never lucky enough to meet in person but whose published work has often shaped my thoughts.

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Society of Antiquaries of Scotland – Report into the 2012 Fellowship Survey

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I am grateful to the Society not only for the gift of a book, but also for mentioning my blog and Twitter account in the announcement of the survey report (see link above).

Leslie Alcock’s ‘reconnaissance excavations’ of hillforts and other high-status sites were published in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and are available as full-text PDFs on the Society’s website. A good example of an article in this series is:
L. Alcock L & E.A. Alcock, ‘Reconnaissance excavations on Early Historic fortifications and other royal sites in Scotland, 1974–84; 5: A, Excavations and other fieldwork at Forteviot, Perthshire, 1981; B, Excavations at Urquhart Castle, Inverness-shire, 1983; C, Excavations at Dunnottar, Kincardineshire, 1984’, Proc Soc Antiq Scot, 122 (1992), 215-88.

Kings and Warriors was reviewed by Jonathan Jarrett in 2008, at his blog A Corner Of Tenth-Century Europe.

With no more prize draws on the horizon, I’ll need to scrape a few pennies together to buy The Stone of Destiny from the Society’s website, which is where copies of Kings and Warriors can also be purchased.

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15 comments on “Fortunate Fellow

  1. ritaroberts says:

    Lucky You…………Enjoy your read.

  2. carla says:

    Congratulations on your good fortune!

  3. kevin halloran says:

    Well done! Getting hold of books is the greatest bane of my ‘scholarly’ career and has severely restricted my output. Budget cuts at my local university seem to have fallen disproportionately on the History Department and I struggle to find anything more recent than the 1980s. The price of academic books is such that I will only buy if the work is central to something I’m working on. I confessed to one academic acquaintance that I sometimes had to resort to the preview facility on Google Books which can be hit and miss as not every page is available. He told me he’d never bought an academic book in his life and if he couldn’t find a copy or they hadn’t sent him a review copy gratis he did exactly the same as me. Gratifying in a way.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks, Kevin. Your situation will be familiar to many (including me) but it’s good to know I’m not the only independent scholar who resorts to Google previews, and reassuring to hear that some academics do likewise.

      • kevin halloran says:

        And editors (understandably, no doubt) take no heed of the (sometimes dire) circumstances of the independent scholar. I have been told that a particular book was ‘indispensable’ only to find after spending £80 it had a single relevant sentence. I have bought extracts of sources from the BL – both the ASC and the Annales Cambriae come to mind – only to be told by the editor he would prefer if I used a different edition, not realising or caring that the BL charges something in excess of £20 a pop! I should have taken up golf.

        • Tim says:

          This is where the Internet has helped a lot, I think. Independent scholars would be in constant penury if a certain amount of stuff wasn’t online. In our field I’m thinking specifically of primary sources like the Irish annals and the recensions of ASC. Secondary material in journals and books remains a problem, of course, unless it’s out-of-copyright and online (and, by definition, potentially obsolete). So far, I’ve not needed to consult original manuscripts (or maybe I’ve just got away with it).

  4. Harry says:

    Congratulations, Tim. And a very well written tribute to Alcock. His ‘Arthur’s Britain’ introduced me to the academic study of the ‘Dark Ages’ and for that I’m completely in his debt.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks Edwin. Like you, I got into Dark Age history via Arthurian stuff – in my case it was the The Age of Arthur by John Morris. Interesting to see how Alcock moved away from what he wrote in ‘Arthur’s Britain’.

  5. David says:

    Congratulations – that sounds like a good choice!

    My mother was a student at Cardiff, where Leslie Alcock was teaching at the time, and she was involved in the dig at Dinas Powys. She found this to be an inspirational experience, and she has always spoken of Leslie Alcock with great affection.

  6. Tim says:

    That’s interesting, David. Digging at Dinas Powys under Alcock’s supervision must have been a fantastic experience for a student.

    Btw, I hope some of the current interest in The White Queen is spilling over onto your book!

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