A quick report from Glasgow EAA

The EAA conference for this year is over and I’ve more or less recovered from the devastating cold everyone seemed to contract there, so it’s time for a quick report.

For reopened burial enthusiasts, the first day featured an afternoon session on ’Grave disturbances: the secondary manipulation of burials’ organised by Nils Müller-Scheeßel. This was billed as a follow up to a session at the 2011 Oslo EAA organised by Edeltraud Aspöck and I (Alison Klevnäs), so we were both keen to take part.

Edeltraud presented a paper called ‘Microtaphonomy in context’ on her excavation of a heavily disturbed Bronze Age grave in eastern Austria. She’s carrying out a very detailed study of a single grave to investigate how much information can be extracted using the newest techniques. Her work has useful findings for excavators of reopened burials in all periods, so there were lots of questions from the evidently specialized and informed audience.

I was excited to present a paper on behalf of the whole Grave Reopening Research group. It brought together findings from all our recent research on early medieval grave disturbance: Edeltraud Aspöck’s work in Austria, Stephanie Zintl’s recent thesis in southern Germany, mine in Anglo-Saxon England, Martine van Haperen’s forthcoming thesis on the low countries, and Astrid Noterman’s ongoing case study in northern France. Preparing for the talk was the first time I’d had the opportunity to make detailed comparisons between our results in different areas, and seeing it all together threw up some interesting points of contrast for future investigation as well as showing several shared conclusions. It was good to have both Edeltraud and Stephanie Zintl in the audience to help field questions.

The session was well attended and well received, with standing room only in the lecture theatre much of the time. Papers ranged from the Eneolithic/Chalcolithic to the Early Middle Ages. Several presented data from recent or ongoing digs – it’s always interesting to see new results from excavations which take grave disturbance as a research object. The interpretations coming out of the Iron Age disturbed cemeteries, which seem to have quite complex ritual manipulations of human remains, were an interesting contrast to the early medieval material. But also a reminder that the neat categories of ‘secondary burial’ v. ‘disturbed burial’ which we use need questioning. I was particularly interested to hear Ulla Moilanen‘s talk on 9th to 12th century graves in Finland which seem to have been opened to stop the dead from walking, since these have parallels in burials described in England by Aspöck at Winnall II and at various sites in my thesis. I’ve just finished a paper on the Anglo-Saxon examples, so looking forward to some fruitful discussions with Ulla. Lastly, we were pleased to receive a positive write-up on Professor Howard William’s blog Archaeodeath!

Then I also presented a paper in a session called ‘Bridging scales: local to global perspectives on mobility, interaction, and transmission in the first millennium AD‘ which I co-organized with Kathrin Meents (until recently Kathrin Felder) and Susanne Hakenbeck. Here I gave a more personal view of the early medieval reopening evidence, especially tied to questions of scale – the sizes of geographical areas and the scales of narrative we use in analyzing and interpreting early medieval archaeology. This session was also well attended, despite being scheduled for 0800-1000 on Saturday morning, and gave rise to a lot of useful discussion. For me it demonstrated the strength of relatively short sessions with a smallish number of closely related papers, between which the speakers and audience can make connections and comparisons.

Between all that, I also managed to see great sessions on ‘Pathways to power in Iron Age/Early medieval Europe’ and ‘The control and management of burial in Christian cemeteries’. Edeltraud spoke in a roundtable discussion on ‘Terminology in funerary archaeology’, to which I couldn’t make it – hopefully she’ll give us a write up.

As ever, it was great to see old friends and acquaintances and to make new ones. This year in particular the conference was a useful opportunity for members of GRR to get together and also to hear from others working on disturbed burials. This evidently continues to be a hot topic!