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.

Grave reopenings at the EAA 2018

EAA 2018
Members of the Grave Reopening research group will present various papers at the EAA 2018 in Barcelona:

Klevnäs, Alison – Noterman, Astrid (Stockholm University) – Aspöck, Edeltraud (Austrian Academy of Sciences) – Haperen, Martine (Leiden University) – Zintl, Stephanie (Bayerisches Landesamt für Denkmalpflege)

van Haperen, Martine (Leiden University)

Noterman, Astrid (Stockholm University; CESCM (UMR 7302)) – Klevnäs, Alison (Stockholm University)

Value and economics of grave reopenings

rural riches royal ragsMartine van Haperen recently published a short article with an ethnographic/economic perspective on grave reopenings in the festschrift presented to prof. dr. Frans Theuws for his 65th birthday.

‘Van Haperen M. (2018), Exchanges with the Dead: Economic Aspects of Reopening graves. In: M. Kars, R. van Oosten, M.A. Roxburgh, A. Verhoeven (eds.), Rural Riches & Royal Rags? Studies on medieval and modern archaeology, presented to Frans Theuws, 110-114.’

At the EAA 2018 in Barcelona, Van Haperen will also present a paper closely related to this subject, titled ‘Deposition, Transformation, Retrieval: the Value of Objects from Reopened Graves’.

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.