Edinburgh Book Festival: Max Adams; Journeys Through Britain's Dark Ages, Review

Edinburgh Festival review
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Edinburgh International Book Festival
Max Adams
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Archaeologist and author Max Adams is at the Edinburgh International Book Festival to promote his most recent work, ‘In the Land of Giants’.

Adams refers to himself as a ‘Dark Age archaeologist, eschewing, in popular surroundings at least, the more academic term ‘Early Medieval’. Another alternative term might be ‘post-colonial’, since much of the period Adams studies is shaped and influenced by both the physical remains of the Romanised world it replaced and by the Roman institutions it only in part replaced.

This was an age described by one contemporary as being ‘an age as dark as night’, and the term has stuck, in spite of extensive attempts to recover its past. Yet in many respects the period is far from dark, as evidenced by the magnificence of surviving structures at Ravenna, Worms and elsewhere, the wonderful manuscripts produced by Celtic monasteries, or the elegance of the Gokstad ship.

Equally, the people who lived in these times were aware, even if sometimes dimly, that the surviving structures of the previous age achieved a sophistication their own efforts could not match; hence, for the simple, they had to be the work of giants. Although this may appear a primitive response, is it any less rational than that of a crawling child to the adults around it?

Another aspect of this post-colonial world was its insecurity; in the absence of an overarching authority, local chieftains and kings became the source of protection and justice and suspicion of strangers more common. Thus the injunction ‘uninvited traders not welcome’ meant any traveller needed bona fides from the ruling authority to guarantee their safe passage.

Adams has walked much of the territory he describes, which, to judge by his frame, is a task he is well up to. These walks have taken him across much of southwest England and beyond, and enabled him to study the physical remains of this lost world in some detail.

His slide-illustrated, discursive yet meticulous explanations of the significance of both landscape and its contents made for a stimulating sixty-minute exploration of a world we have lost, and induced a hunger to learn more.

Max Adams' In the Land of Giants was published by Head of Zeus in July 2016. ISBN 9781 784 080334