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).

Grave reopening in the Paris region

Grave reopening in the Paris region

How to approach and understand disturbed graves in a densely populated region undergoing constant development?
Here is a new paper by Astrid Noterman on grave disturbances in Île-de-France published in a special volume of the RAIF journal, and which discusses Merovingian burial practices in the Paris region. Between looting, accidental disturbance and reopening practice, a lot of complexity for the archaeologists and the need to develop excavation protocols to appreciate the broad range of post-depositional interventions during the Merovingian period and beyond.

NOTERMAN A. A., PECQUEUR L. (2023) – La réouverture des sépultures mérovingiennes franciliennes : le pillage en question, in: LE FORESTIER C. (dir.), Archéologie des nécropoles mérovingiennes en Île-de-France, Paris, Les Amis de la Revue archéologique d’Île-de-France, p. 271-285 (RAIF, supplément 7);view=article&layout=edit&id=490

Grave reopening and the new Handbook of Archaeothanatology

Recently published in the Routledge Handbook of Archaeothanatology, a paper written by Edeltraud Aspöck, Astrid A. Noterman et Karina Gerdau-Radonić on the use of archaeothanatology methodology in the study of ancient reopened and robbed graves in western Europe and present-day Peru.

The contribution is divided into 3 chapters. This first one introduces the taphonomic characteristics of reopened individual inhumations typically found in two archaeological periods with large-scale grave reopening for object removal: the central European Early Bronze Age and the European Early Medieval periods. Of particular interest in this chapter is the micro-archaeological study of a reopened Early Bronze Age inhumation grave from Austria, with the archaeothanatological approach extended to the disturbed parts of the skeletons to achieve a detailed perspective of the treatment of the human remains when the grave was reopened. The second chapter presents examples from the archaeothanatological analysis of graves from early medieval cemeteries from eastern France and shows how taphonomic observations provide information on the relative timing of an intrusion, the type of artefacts removed and on the funerary practices of the period. Finally, the analysis of a disturbed deposit from Central Peru (Pachacamac, Lima) in a final chapter highlights the differences between a destructive looting episode and ritualistic grave reopenings.

Aspöck E., Gerdau-Radonić K. and Noterman A. A. (2022) – ‘ Reopening graves for THE removal of objects and bones: cultural practices and looting’, in Knüsel C. J. & Schotsmans E. M. J. (Eds), The Routledge Handbook of Archaeothanatology. Bioarchaeology of Mortuary Behaviour, Routledge, London.

New publication on reopening evidence in northern France

After Stephanie Zintl’s PHD thesis, it is now Astrid Noterman’s turn to have her doctoral work published!
The publication is in French, but those who do not master the language of Molière will also be able to access the contents of the book as each chapter is supplemented by a summary in English.

The reopening of graves during the Early Middle Ages has long been recognised by archaeologists and historians across Western Europe. Traditionally described as ‘robbing’, practices associated with the removal of selected artefacts and manipulations of human remains are documented in a large number of cemeteries in northern France during the Merovingian period (6th-8th centuries CE). Based on data from more than 40 cemeteries and applying archaeothanatological analysis, this study explores the archaeological evidence for the reopening, at the levels both of the burial structure and of its contents (container, artefacts, skeletal parts). The chronology, motives and authors of the post-depositional intrusions are discussed and a new reading is offered of widespread customs shown to be part of the life course of early medieval cemeteries.

Noterman, A. A. (2021). Approche archéologique des réouvertures de sépultures mérovingiennes dans le nord de la France (VIe-VIIIe siècle), Oxford, BAR Publishing, International Series.

New publication : Ritualiser, gérer, piller. Rencontre autour des réouvertures de tombes et de la manipulation des ossements

Finally, here is the publication of the proceedings of the 9th Meeting of the Gaaf!
Remember, in May 2017, Astrid Noterman and Mathilde Cervel organised the first conference held in France on the topic of grave reopening. During 3 days, archaeologists, physical anthropologists, historians and ethnologists shared their questions, methods and approaches to the issue of grave reopening from the prehistoric period to the present day.

The publication is organized around three themes (grave robbery, management of burial space, and cult practices) and aims to bring together some thirty contributions from these days. It opens the discussion around various practices whose archaeological manifestation is identical: the manipulation of the deceased. What field methodology is applied to these structures? What can we learn from these changes in the societies of the past? What motivations drive the living to reintervene in the graves of their loved ones? These are all questions that French and foreign specialists are asking in this new Gaaf volume.

The book is available here : and here:

Bonne lecture !

Table of Contents

IntroductionRequiem aeternam dona eis… Quelques remarques introductives autour de l’ouverture des tombes et la manipulation des corps – Cécile Treffort

1re partie – Le pillage des sépultures

  1. Le pillage des nécropoles à travers le temps en Champagne-Ardenne – Stéphanie Desbrosse-Degobertière, Cécile Paresys
  2. Pillages contemporains des inhumations ou fouilles anciennes ? L’exemple d’un site laténien à Witry-lès-Reims (Marne) – Natacha Crépeau, Mélody Félix-Sanchez
  3. Réouvertures de tombes et pillages à La Tène ancienne ? Le site de Pierre-de-Bresse “L’Aubépin” (Saône-et-Loire) – Carole Fossurier, Valérie Taillandier, Sébastien Chevrier
  4. Réouvertures de sépultures et pillages : l’exemple de la nécropole tardo-antique de Saint-Martin-le-Bas à Gruissan (Aude) – Mireille Cobos, Marie Perrin, Guillaume Duperron
  5. Pilleurs de tombes sur la colline du “Marxberg” : études de cas au sein de la nécropole de l’Antiquité tardive de Pons Saravi (Sarrebourg, Moselle, France) – Christèle Baillif-Ducros, Nicolas Meyer, Jimmy Coster, Yannick Milerski
  6. La perturbation des sépultures au haut Moyen Âge : discussion et collaboration européenne – Astrid A. Noterman, Edeltraud Aspöck, Alison Klevnäs, Martine van Haperen, Stephanie Zintl
  7. Lésions osseuses traumatiques : analyse comparative entre une étude expérimentale sur des os de porc et 19 individus de l’ensemble funéraire altomédiéval d’Ensisheim-Réguisheimerfeld (Haut-Rhin) – Julia Kientz, Tania Delabarde, Amélie Pélissier
  8. Les réouvertures de tombes de la nécropole du haut Moyen Âge de Vitry-la-Ville (Marne) : approches, méthodologies et résultats – Benjamin Tixier, Astrid A. Noterman avec la collaboration d’Alexis Corrochano, Gwenaëlle Grange
  9. Le pillage de sépultures sur le site “Michelet” à Lisieux (Calvados, IVe-IXe siècle). Essai de synthèse et révision des données – Julia Pacory, Astrid A. Noterman, Cécile Chapelain de Seréville-Niel, Didier Paillard
  10. La difficulté de dater le pillage de sépultures : l’exemple de la petite nécropole mérovingienne de Bergnicourt (Ardennes)- Nadège Robin, Soazic Bezault
  11. Au contact des morts : les actes post-funéraires du site de Monsidun, à L’Houmeau (Charente-Maritime) – Fabrice Leroy
  12. Des morts qui marchent : un témoignage archéologique des croyances médiévales (Saint-Georges-de-Montaigu, Vendée, XIe-XIIe siècle) – Véronique Gallien, Ludovic Schmitt, Yves Darton
  13. Les nécropoles de la Croix-Blandin (Marne) : pillages à l’époque contemporaine et manipulations d’ossements durant La Tène ancienne – Guillaume Seguin
  14. Du pillage au saccage : l’expertise archéologique d’urgence de la chapelle Saint-Georges de Céreste (Alpes de Haute-Provence) – Élise Henrion, Mathieu Vivas, David Lavergne, Xavier Margarit

2e partie – La gestion de l’espace funéraire

  1. Attente ou catastrophe ? Analyse d’une sépulture collective de la fin du Néolithique – Mélie Le Roy, Stéphane Rottier, Camille de Becdelièvre, Sandrine Thiol
  2. Réinvestissement et pillage d’une tombe monumentale étrusque : Grotte Scalina (Viterbe) – Paola Catalano, Giordana Amicucci, Vincent Jolivet, Edwige Lovergne
  3. Que reste-t-il de la nécropole païenne au-dessus de la catacombe chrétienne des Saints Pierre-et-Marcellin à Rome ? Le témoignage des inscriptions funéraires conservées dans cette catacombe au troisième mille de la Via Labicana – Edoardo Radaelli, Ilaria Gabrielli
  4. Réouvertures de tombes dans la nécropole antique de Saint- Vulbas (Ain) – Gwenaëlle Grange, Sabrina Charbouillot, Tony Silvino
  5. La mort en arpentage ou la délimitation des domaines et territoires antiques par l’instrumentalisation de la tombe : le cas de Monsidun à L’Houmeau (Charente-Maritime), approche préliminaire – Fabrice Leroy
  6. Réouvertures, superpositions, réductions… Manipulations dans la nécropole alto-médiévale (Ve-IXe siècles ap. J.-C.) de Vitry-sur-Orne “Vallange” (Moselle) : quel geste pour quelle nécessité ? – Amandine Mauduit
  7. Caveaux funéraires d’église : entre mémoire et oubli, présentation de cas en région Centre-Val de Loire (Tours, Blois, Épernon et Véretz) – Viviane Aubourg, Philippe Blanchard, Jean-Philippe Chimier, Didier Josset
  8. La mission française de recherche des corps de déportés en Allemagne, 1945-1960. L’exemple du camp de Gandersheim (Allemagne) – Jean-Marc Dreyfus
  9. Destruction de fosses clandestines et déplacement des morts à la fin de la dictature militaire uruguayenne (1983-1985) – José López Mazz

3e partie – Les pratiques cultuelles

  1. Un cas peu ordinaire de manipulation de squelette médiéval au sein d’un monument néolithique à Quiberon “Roch Priol” (Morbihan) – Olivier Agogué, Astrid Suaud-Préault
  2. Prélèvement et introduction d’ossements dans des sépultures de l’âge du Bronze à Riom, ZA de Layat
  3. (Puy-de-Dôme) – Ivy Thomson, Damien Martinez
  4. Homme Vs animal : une même intention cultuelle dans les silos du second âge du Fer du Bassin parisien ? – Valérie Delattre avec la collaboration de Ginette Auxiette
  5. Pratiques funéraires au second âge du Fer et fosses siloïformes : la question des dépôts primaires et secondaires du site B de “la Haute-Voie”, à Loisy-sur-Marne (Marne) – Élodie Wermuth, Régis Issenmann
  6. Les fragments d’éternité. La manipulation d’ossements dans le judaïsme et le christianisme, entre le pragmatisme, la sacralité et le châtiment – Piotr Kuberski
  7. L’in-quiétude des morts : typologie des pratiques et enjeux sociaux-culturels des manipulations “post-rituelles” des vestiges funéraires – Aurélien Baroiller

Conclusion – Enluminures, dessins, restitutions. Quelles images pour la réouverture des sépultures et la manipulation des ossements ? – Astrid A. Noterman, Mathilde Cervel