PresentDead blog post 3

PresentDead blog post 3

As part of the PresentDead project, I spent a week in Vienna to take a preliminary look at the human skeletal remains from Brunn am Gebirge, Achau and Globasnitz. The aim was to test a recording system that we are currently developing for bone surface modifications and bone breakage.

The archaeological focus on secondary interventions has traditionally been on the artefacts and the reasons why some of them were removed and others left behind. But in recent years, more attention has been paid to skeletal remains. In fact, focus has shifted from the basic description of the anatomical area of the body that has been disturbed to the taphonomic and technical consequences of the reopening. Today, archaeologists are increasingly interested in the traces left on bones by tools. The most classic example is the holes that are sometimes seen, made by the penetration of a probe – a tool that seems to have been used to detect graves in some regions. We can mention grave 8 from Friedberg-Bruchenbrücken (Germany) with a 4 mm hole on the upper part of the left tibia of the individual (Thiedmann, Schleifring 1992, pp. 435-439).
The marks left by the use of a sharp tool such as a knife are interesting for understanding the modus operandi of the reopening, and by extension for reconstructing funerary costume. Such marks are sometimes recorded, like at Vendenheim in eastern France (Chenal, Barrand-Emam 2014).

There are in fact a whole range of traces that secondary intrusions can leave on the bones, and one of the aims of the PresentDead is to better understand them in order to find out more about the practice of reopening, but also about the way in which individuals were dressed at the time of burial.
So during a week I looked at a selection of graves from three collections and ‘chased’ these marks. The bone preservation was uneven, making the process rather challenging. Eventually, I identified a few chopping & cut marks, sun bleaching and coffin wear.

The next steps now are to adjust the recording protocol to make it even more effective and to carry out a full, in-depth osteological study of the human remains from the sites.

Picture: chopping mark on the left femur from grave 3 from Brunn am Gebirge (NHM collection, photo by A. A. Noterman).