Welcome to the Grave Reopening Research (GRR) website

GRR is a network of archaeologists who investigate grave disturbance. Current members are Edeltraud Aspöck, Alison Klevnäs, Martine van Haperen, Astrid Noterman, and Stephanie Zintl. We share an interest in grave disturbance in the provinces of early medieval Europe, but also work on grave robbery, reopening, and related practices in other periods and places. GRR is a platform for joint publications, projects, and events. We use this website to highlight our upcoming presentations and publications.

Please contact us if you have a question about archaeological reopening. We’re particularly keen to hear about new excavations of early medieval robbed burials – please do get in touch if you find evidence that looks like ancient reopening.

See below for our latest news.

In search of an acceptable past

Another of our project publications has just come out, thanks to the hard work of Estella Weiss-Krejci and her co-editors of the new Open Access volume Interdisciplinary Explorations of Postmortem Interaction. Dead Bodies, Funerary Objects, and Burial Spaces Through Texts and Time.

Our paper, which you can download and read for free, took us into the history of archaeology for the first time.

Noterman, A. A. and A. Klevnäs (2022). In Search of an Acceptable Past: History, Archaeology, and ‘Looted’ Graves in the Construction of the Frankish Early Middle Ages. In: E. Weiss-Krejci, S. Becker and P. Schwyzer (eds). Interdisciplinary Explorations of Postmortem Interaction: Dead Bodies, Funerary Objects, and Burial Spaces Through Texts and Time. Cham, Springer International Publishing: 133-166.

Abstract

The Early Middle Ages have provided material for imagining selves and groups in a wide range of contexts since the earliest beginnings of the historical and archaeological disciplines. Considerable recent research has shown how modern political conflicts and regional-national identities have crystallized in this period in particular. This essay traces ways in which early medieval remains, mainly from the richly furnished cemeteries, have been brought into play in developing scholarly and popular accounts of the history of France. During the second half of the nineteenth century, the recovery of considerable numbers of finely worked grave goods from the large rural cemeteries provided material for studying and reevaluating Merovingian-period societies, previously only glimpsed in written sources and largely out-competed as national ancestors by the popular appeal of Gaulish warriors. Yet paradoxically, another form of discovery in the same burial grounds seemed to place them back in the Dark Ages: many graves were found to have been ransacked and robbed soon after burial, making the communities of the time appear lawless and barbarous. Archaeological attitudes towards excavated early medieval graves, and in particular the many thousands of graves already reopened in antiquity, not only highlight key aspects of the development of the discipline, but also reveal ways in which the remains of the dead may be integral to processes of national identity construction.

Grave reopening and the new Handbook of Archaeothanatology

Recently published in the Routledge Handbook of Archaeothanatology, a paper written by Edeltraud Aspöck, Astrid A. Noterman et Karina Gerdau-Radonić on the use of archaeothanatology methodology in the study of ancient reopened and robbed graves in western Europe and present-day Peru.

The contribution is divided into 3 chapters. This first one introduces the taphonomic characteristics of reopened individual inhumations typically found in two archaeological periods with large-scale grave reopening for object removal: the central European Early Bronze Age and the European Early Medieval periods. Of particular interest in this chapter is the micro-archaeological study of a reopened Early Bronze Age inhumation grave from Austria, with the archaeothanatological approach extended to the disturbed parts of the skeletons to achieve a detailed perspective of the treatment of the human remains when the grave was reopened. The second chapter presents examples from the archaeothanatological analysis of graves from early medieval cemeteries from eastern France and shows how taphonomic observations provide information on the relative timing of an intrusion, the type of artefacts removed and on the funerary practices of the period. Finally, the analysis of a disturbed deposit from Central Peru (Pachacamac, Lima) in a final chapter highlights the differences between a destructive looting episode and ritualistic grave reopenings.

Aspöck E., Gerdau-Radonić K. and Noterman A. A. (2022) – ‘ Reopening graves for THE removal of objects and bones: cultural practices and looting’, in Knüsel C. J. & Schotsmans E. M. J. (Eds), The Routledge Handbook of Archaeothanatology. Bioarchaeology of Mortuary Behaviour, Routledge, London.

New publication on reopening evidence in northern France

After Stephanie Zintl’s PHD thesis, it is now Astrid Noterman’s turn to have her doctoral work published!
The publication is in French, but those who do not master the language of Molière will also be able to access the contents of the book as each chapter is supplemented by a summary in English.

Description
The reopening of graves during the Early Middle Ages has long been recognised by archaeologists and historians across Western Europe. Traditionally described as ‘robbing’, practices associated with the removal of selected artefacts and manipulations of human remains are documented in a large number of cemeteries in northern France during the Merovingian period (6th-8th centuries CE). Based on data from more than 40 cemeteries and applying archaeothanatological analysis, this study explores the archaeological evidence for the reopening, at the levels both of the burial structure and of its contents (container, artefacts, skeletal parts). The chronology, motives and authors of the post-depositional intrusions are discussed and a new reading is offered of widespread customs shown to be part of the life course of early medieval cemeteries.

Noterman, A. A. (2021). Approche archéologique des réouvertures de sépultures mérovingiennes dans le nord de la France (VIe-VIIIe siècle), Oxford, BAR Publishing, International Series.

Project publications

This week Alison Klevnäs and Astrid Noterman gave a research seminar in the Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies at Stockholm University to mark the end of our project ‘Interacting with the Dead’ which we’re finishing this calendar year. We talked through some of our published and accepted books and papers. Here’s a list of the finished ones we talked about. Some are generally applicable discussions of the information value of disturbed burials and the use of archaeothanatological methods for their analysis. Others are explorations of the evidence for secondary interactions with inhumation graves in the specific context of early medieval Europe, aimed at difference audiences. Most are still ‘in press’, but should be out in the next few months. Then there are a few more which are still under construction – we’ll post when they’re on their way.