An Archaeology of Myth-Fulfilment

Authors: Russell, M.

Start date: 16 December 2019

The mythological foundations of Britain have, throughout the centuries, proved a fertile ground for those seeking political and dynastic stability, competing aristocracies attempting to anchor legends to particular natural places through the deployment of art, literature and monumental architecture. Archaeology has tended to approach mythology from the wrong direction, using excavated structures and other material remains from sites with legendary associations in a search for some ‘deeper truth’ concerning the origin of folklore. In reality, it would appear that it was mythology which provided inspiration for specific building projects, rather than the structural remains representing, in some way, the residue of genuine events which over time had become mythologised. It is only by studying the archaeology of myth-fulfilment, examining how the legends of Britain were appropriated and made real through the extreme modification of the landscape, can we truly hope to understand the grand designs, political foundations and aspirations of the Medieval state.

Folklore is often dismissed as ephemeral, having little real impact upon the tangible structures of society such as buildings and material culture. The truth, however, is rather different for, with foundation mythology providing a blueprint for power in the post Roman and early Medieval period, the desire to ‘legend-truth’ British folklore, anchoring myths to specific places, resulted in a profound architectural fiction, the consequences of which affect us to this day.

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