PresentDead blog post 2

Turning ideas into practice

Ha! PresentDead has already been running for half a year. And it is four months since the last (and first) blog post… so much for me thinking that the initial enthusiasm of starting the PresentDead project will finally turn me into a very active online communicator. Well, I am still the same as I ever was.

Saying that, the months since then have been quite exciting and really important ones as we have been working on transforming the more abstract project ideas into concrete workplans and tasks. This process, however, does not really lend itself into short, easy to communicate and ideally somewhat entertaining blog-post pieces. Anyway. So far, we have been defining workplans and goals and discussing how to implement them. And in an even more concrete fashion, Astrid has worked on the development of protocols for the analysis of bone taphonomy, which includes an analysis of the impact of reopening on the human remains as well as potential evidence of fragmentation. Fragmentation in the sense of fragmentation theory (e.g. Chapman, J. 2000. Fragmentation in Archaeology, People, Places and Broken Objects in the Prehistory of South-Eastern Europe. London, Routledge) – that is the idea that objects might be deliberately broken in order to create fragments for use in other practices. Astrid has also come to  Vienna to take a look at the human remains of selected individuals from three collections (Brunn am Gebirge , Achau , Globasnitz ) to ‘test’ the protocols she is developing. (This will certainly also be worth a dedicated blog post in the very near future!)

Thom Gobbitt and I have been working together quite closely since the start of the project (as was planned, my vision has always been to have an integrated archaeological-historical research in PresentDead, and with Thom, who is also trained as an archaeologist we have the right candidate for this endeavour!). This has meant a lot of discussion about how to proceed with the historical part of the project (we decided to follow two strands of research, a data-driven one and a more ‘traditional’ one, where Thom will organise workshops and collaborate with other historians on the topic); we have also been discussing how to organise the historical part of the data platform and how to achieve semantic integration of data (that, basically, is to integrate archaeological and historical data based on their “meaning”), among other things. Finally, we also realised that we really need to start the project with a historian’s review of how historical sources related to the reopening of graves have been used to inform the archaeological work and interpretation. And this is what Thom is working on now (and which has already brought to light many small but very important results, and these will certainly also be worthy of a blog post written by the third social media enthusiast in this project )

Ali Klevnäs has in the meantime been looking into Carpathian basin evidence for the reopening of graves prior to our main period of interest of the 5th to 8th centuries CE. The so-called “Sarmatian” cemeteries show plenty of evidence for reopening of graves and it will be important to establish if and how these practices can be related to what we find in the later “row grave cemeteries”.

Apart from being engaged, to varying degrees, with all of the above research threads, I have primarily been working on the data modelling, and, most importantly, have been establishing connections with archaeologists and other cooperation partners. We had a very fruitful first official meeting with Walter Pohl and the Viennese team from the HistoGenes project (Histogenes meets PresentDead), exchanging very practical ideas on the handling of the data and case studies, and with some very concrete outcomes about collaborations already being proposed (more to come on those when they happen). And for me, personally, it has been a nice experience to re-connect with several colleagues who are excavating in Vienna and the surroundings, and to breath the air of excavation once more while searching for potential sites for micro-archaeological excavations (as well as for analysis).