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.

New book! Grave disturbances: the archaeology of post-depositional interactions with the dead. Oxbow 2020.

We’re delighted to announce the publication of a new book on reopening of burials, edited by Edeltraud Aspöck, Alison Klevnäs and Nils Müller-Scheeßel. It starts with a comprehensive introduction to the topic and presents eleven case studies of archaeological approaches to disturbed burials in different parts of the world. The chapter by Stephanie Zintl covers recent work on reopening in early medieval Europe. It’s available to pre-order from Oxbow: https://www.oxbowbooks.com/oxbow/grave-disturbances.html

Description
Archaeologists excavating burials often find that they are not the first to disturb the remains of the dead. Graves from many periods frequently show signs that others have been digging and have moved or taken away parts of the original funerary assemblage. Displaced bones and artefacts, traces of pits, and damage to tombs or coffins can all provide clues about post-burial activities. The last two decades have seen a rapid rise in interest in the study of post-depositional practices in graves, which has now developed into a new subfield within mortuary archaeology. This follows a long tradition of neglect, with disturbed graves previously regarded as interesting only to the degree they revealed evidence of the original funerary deposit. This book explores past human interactions with mortuary deposits, delving into the different ways graves and human remains were approached by people in the past and the reasons that led to such encounters. The primary focus of the volume is on cases of unexpected interference with individual graves soon after burial: re-encounters with human remains not anticipated by those who performed the funerary rites and constructed the tombs. However, a first step is always to distinguish these from natural and accidental processes, and methodological approaches are a major theme of discussion. Interactions with the remains of the dead are explored in eleven chapters ranging from the New Kingdom of Egypt to Viking Age Norway and from Bronze Age Slovakia to the ancient Maya. Each discusses cases of re-entries into graves, including desecration, tomb re-use, destruction of grave contents, as well as the removal of artefacts and human remains for reasons from material gain to commemoration, symbolic appropriation, ancestral rites, political chicanery, and retrieval of relics. The introduction presents many of the methodological issues which recur throughout the contributions, as this is a developing area with new approaches being applied to analyze post-depositional processes in graves.

Table of Contents
1. The archaeology of post-depositional interactions with the dead. An introduction – Edeltraud Aspöck, Alison Klevnäs and Nils Müller-Scheeßel

2. Unruly bones and efficacious stones. Materialities of death in Early Christian post-burial interactions in central eastern Sweden – Fredrik Fahlander

3. Grave disturbance in early medieval Poland – Leszek Gardeła

4. Disturbed relatives. Post-burial practices among the Nomadic Khazars of the Lower Volga (7th-8th centuries CE) – Irina Shingiray

5. Things we knew about grave robbery: reassessing ideas on how and why graves were reopened in the Merovingian period – Stephanie Zintl

6. Disturbance of early medieval graves in southwestern Gaul. Taphonomy, burial reopening and the reuse of graves – Yves Gleize

7. What happened at Langeid? Understanding reopened graves after time has taken its toll – Cecilia Wenn

8. Iron Age ancestral bonds. Consecutive burials and manipulated graves in the Dürrnberg cemeteries (Austria) – Holger Wendling

9. Disturbing the dead. Reopening of stone cists in the Macedonian Gevgelija and Valandovo plains – Daniela Heilmann

10. In search of the modus operandi. Reopenings of Early Bronze Age burials at Fidvár near Vráble, southwest Slovakia –
Nils Müller-Scheeßel, Jozef Bátora, Julia Gresky, Samantha Reiter, Kerstin Stucky and Knut Rassmann

11. Disturbance of graves among the ancient Maya – Estella Weiss-Krejci

12. ‘It was found that the thieves had violated them all’. Grave disturbance in Late New Kingdom Thebes – David A. Aston

GIS mapping

This week the project ‘Interacting with the dead: belief and conflict in early medieval Europe’ based at Stockholm University is being visited by Emma Brownlee from the University of Cambridge, who’s helping us get started with GIS mapping. She’s giving us some training in the use of up to date mapping software, helping us set up the maps we need, and answering our many questions about the types of analysis which are possible and how best to organize our data to utilize them. Not the best time of year to see Stockholm  – as this picture shows, it’s very, very dark on a November afternoon! Best to stay in indoors and try out some hot spot analyses.

New publication on reopening in early medieval Germany

At last – Stephanie Zintl’s PhD thesis has been published! The two volumes contain an overview on the history of research, methods and interpretations regarding reopened graves of the Merovingian period and an extensive case study based on several cemeteries in the region of Regensburg, Bavaria. The main observations and conclusions can be found here. Three of the cemeteries are published in the second volume.

Zintl, S. (2019). Frühmittelalterliche Grabräuber? Wiedergeöffnete Gräber der Merowingerzeit. Regensburger Studien 24 (hrsg. vom Stadtarchiv Regensburg) Regensburg 2019. (2 volumes)

Dialogues with the dead in Vikings

A new paper by Professor Howard Williams from the University of Chester and GRR member Alison Klevnäs brings mortuary archaeology to meet popular TV, discussing encounters with the remains of the dead seen in the History Channel’s Viking series.

(Williams, H. & Klevnäs, A. 2019. Dialogues with the Dead in Vikings. In Vikings and the Vikings: The Norse World(s) of the History Channel Series, edited by P. Hardwick & K. Lister. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland.)