New book! Grave disturbances: the archaeology of post-depositional interactions with the dead. Oxbow 2020.

We’re delighted to announce the publication of a new book on reopening of burials, edited by Edeltraud Aspöck, Alison Klevnäs and Nils Müller-Scheeßel. It starts with a comprehensive introduction to the topic and presents eleven case studies of archaeological approaches to disturbed burials in different parts of the world. The chapter by Stephanie Zintl covers recent work on reopening in early medieval Europe. It’s available to pre-order from Oxbow: https://www.oxbowbooks.com/oxbow/grave-disturbances.html

Description
Archaeologists excavating burials often find that they are not the first to disturb the remains of the dead. Graves from many periods frequently show signs that others have been digging and have moved or taken away parts of the original funerary assemblage. Displaced bones and artefacts, traces of pits, and damage to tombs or coffins can all provide clues about post-burial activities. The last two decades have seen a rapid rise in interest in the study of post-depositional practices in graves, which has now developed into a new subfield within mortuary archaeology. This follows a long tradition of neglect, with disturbed graves previously regarded as interesting only to the degree they revealed evidence of the original funerary deposit. This book explores past human interactions with mortuary deposits, delving into the different ways graves and human remains were approached by people in the past and the reasons that led to such encounters. The primary focus of the volume is on cases of unexpected interference with individual graves soon after burial: re-encounters with human remains not anticipated by those who performed the funerary rites and constructed the tombs. However, a first step is always to distinguish these from natural and accidental processes, and methodological approaches are a major theme of discussion. Interactions with the remains of the dead are explored in eleven chapters ranging from the New Kingdom of Egypt to Viking Age Norway and from Bronze Age Slovakia to the ancient Maya. Each discusses cases of re-entries into graves, including desecration, tomb re-use, destruction of grave contents, as well as the removal of artefacts and human remains for reasons from material gain to commemoration, symbolic appropriation, ancestral rites, political chicanery, and retrieval of relics. The introduction presents many of the methodological issues which recur throughout the contributions, as this is a developing area with new approaches being applied to analyze post-depositional processes in graves.

Table of Contents
1. The archaeology of post-depositional interactions with the dead. An introduction – Edeltraud Aspöck, Alison Klevnäs and Nils Müller-Scheeßel

2. Unruly bones and efficacious stones. Materialities of death in Early Christian post-burial interactions in central eastern Sweden – Fredrik Fahlander

3. Grave disturbance in early medieval Poland – Leszek Gardeła

4. Disturbed relatives. Post-burial practices among the Nomadic Khazars of the Lower Volga (7th-8th centuries CE) – Irina Shingiray

5. Things we knew about grave robbery: reassessing ideas on how and why graves were reopened in the Merovingian period – Stephanie Zintl

6. Disturbance of early medieval graves in southwestern Gaul. Taphonomy, burial reopening and the reuse of graves – Yves Gleize

7. What happened at Langeid? Understanding reopened graves after time has taken its toll – Cecilia Wenn

8. Iron Age ancestral bonds. Consecutive burials and manipulated graves in the Dürrnberg cemeteries (Austria) – Holger Wendling

9. Disturbing the dead. Reopening of stone cists in the Macedonian Gevgelija and Valandovo plains – Daniela Heilmann

10. In search of the modus operandi. Reopenings of Early Bronze Age burials at Fidvár near Vráble, southwest Slovakia –
Nils Müller-Scheeßel, Jozef Bátora, Julia Gresky, Samantha Reiter, Kerstin Stucky and Knut Rassmann

11. Disturbance of graves among the ancient Maya – Estella Weiss-Krejci

12. ‘It was found that the thieves had violated them all’. Grave disturbance in Late New Kingdom Thebes – David A. Aston

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.

Symposium!

We’re excited to announce that the GRR network will soon be holding its first major event. With the generous support of Riksbankens Jublieumsfond, we’re organising an international symposium on Merovingian-period burial reopening, to be held at Stockholm University on 12th-13th January 2017. This will be the first conference on the widespread and fascinating phenomenon of early medieval grave disturbance since 1977!

The symposium has its own webpage with more information and a registration form at http://reopenedgraves.eu/events/

Hope to see you there!

Limbs, Bones and Exhumations in Past Societies

Conference Poland

On 16 and 17 November 2014, three members of the Grave Reopening Research group will present papers at the conference Limbs, Bones and Exhumations in Past Societies in Bytów, Poland.

Edeltraud Aspöck: ‘Analysing the (micro)taphonomy of reopened graves’

Alison Klevnäs: ‘Grave robbery in the Merovingian kingdoms and Anglo-Saxon England

Martine van Haperen: ‘Early medieval reopened graves. A Dutch perspective’

The abstract booklet can be downloaded from Academia.edu. If you would like to attend, please send your application to the organizers at mpw@muzeumbytow.pl before 5.09.2014.

Find the conference on Facebook!

Welcome to the Grave Reopening Research (GRR) website

GRR is a network 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.