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Durham University

Department of Archaeology

All Research Projects

Publication details

Graves, CP (2008). From an Archaeology of Iconoclasm to an Anthropology of the Body Images, Punishment and Personhood in England, 1500-1660. Current Anthropology 49(1): 35-57.

Author(s) from Durham


This paper argues that the iconoclastic attack on images in England in the 16th and 17th century was not random destruction. Particular parts of the body, namely the head and hands, were the focus of attack. These were the same foci upon which capital and the severest forms of corporal punishment were aimed. The paper demonstrates why both religious imagery and criminal bodies were treated in specific ways. Distinct from the theological reasons for iconoclasm, these persistent foci and forms of attack reveal something about attitudes to the body in this period, and the way in which head and hands were privileged within a cultural system. A number of the major discourses of the body which informed and reproduced this system are explored, together with the changes through which they passed in this historical period. Iconoclasm both informs, and was informed by, an understanding of the body as it was constructed throughout the later medieval and early modern periods.

Department of Archaeology

Scottish Soldiers Project

Cooperating with the Palace Museum in China