Welcome to the Grave Reopening Research (GRR) website

GRR is a working group 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.

New project: Belief and conflict in Early Medieval Europe

We are very happy to announce that the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet) has awarded funding for a three-year project entitled ‘Interacting with the dead. Belief and conflict in Early Medieval Europe (AD 450-750)’ to Alison Klevnäs and Astrid Noterman. The project will start in September 2018 and be based in the Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies at Stockholm University. The other network members – Edeltraud Aspöck, Martine van Haperen, and Stephanie Zintl – are currently busy with other research, but will participate as project advisors.

Interacting with the dead. Belief and conflict in Early Medieval Europe (AD 450-750)

This project will study customs of revisiting, reworking, and retrieving human and material remains which have newly been recognised in burial grounds across early medieval Europe, using them as an innovative route into understanding beliefs and community life in this formative period of social and religious change.

Once into the Christian Middle Ages, burial sites became places of worship and pilgrimage, with human body parts revered as relics. But the traditional view of the earlier pagan societies is that the dead were kept separate from the living, lying undisturbed in rows of graves in quiet fields, surrounded by their treasured possessions and grave gifts.

This research will show that far from decomposing in peace, the pre-Christian dead were regularly and frequently unearthed. Over 3 years, it will bring together the first Europe-wide survey of grave reopening practices, showing that a set of related customs can be seen at hundreds of excavated sites over a geographic range from Transylvania to central Spain to southern England.

Applying forensic and archaeothanatological techniques to the excavated evidence, the researchers will reconstruct the reopening practices in detail, exploring their methods and motives as a source for past understandings of such fundamental concepts as death, the body, and ownership. Tracing the spatial and chronological development of the customs, the project will ask how their recognition changes our picture of the societies of the period.

Workshop in Hamburg

There will be a workshop in Hamburg on 10-11 November 2017, titled “Rest in peace? Burial grounds as spaces for non-funerary activities”, will look into just this: what else happened, or might have happened, in burial places, apart from people burying their deceased? As the program shows, the presentations cover a wide range both in regards to time and regions. Stephanie Zintl will talk about the reopening of early medieval graves and what these actions may tell us about the cemeteries’ role beyond being used for burying people; and will draw attention to newer research and ideas on what was traditionally only seen as “grave robbery”.

The workshop is organized by Daniela Hofmann and Robert Schumann at the University of Hamburg and is free of charge. If you want to attend please contact the organizers.

Reopened graves at the Sachsensymposion

In September 2017 Martine van Haperen and Alison Klevnäs attended the 68th Internationales Sachsensymposion, held this year in Canterbury, England. Alison presented a paper introducing the new research carried out by GRR network members on Merovingian-period grave reopening and was delighted to receive lots of useful feedback and new leads from the audience of early medievalists. Highlights (for reopening researchers) included Jean Soulat and Laure Pecqueur’s presentation of the burial grounds at Vicq which include a large number of disturbed burials, currently being investigated by Astrid Noterman.

Ritualiser, Gérer, Piller

On 10th to 12th May 2017, Astrid Noterman (CESCM, CRAHAM) and Mathilde Cervel (EPHE) organised the first conference held in France on the topic of grave reopening.

The 9th Meeting of Le Groupe d’anthropologie et d’archéologie funéraire/the Group of anthropology and funerary archaeology (Gaaf) in Poitiers aimed to open up discussions on grave reopening and bone manipulation by questioning the motives of the living and the means available to archaeologists achieve their understanding.

The symposium was built around three sessions, each of which dealt with a different type of reopening from prehistory to the modern period – Session 1: grave robbery / Session 2: funerary space management / Session 3: cultural practice.

A panel of archaeologists, historians, anthropologists and sociologists from several countries (France, Italy, Portugal, Uruguay, England…) presented on specific cases of grave disturbance but also on the best way to excavate and interpret them.

During the symposium GRR presented a poster entitled ‘Grave Reopening Research Group – A research collaboration to investigate early medieval grave disturbance‘. This poster highlighted the widespread phenomenon of reopening in early medieval Europe, and the work carried out by each member of GRR on grave disturbance in England, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands and France.

A publication of the symposium will follow in the coming years.