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

Hope to see you there!

Grave reopening at EAA 2015 in Glasgow

Edeltraud Aspöck and Alison Klevnäs will both be at the Glasgow EAA in September 2015 talking about disturbed burials.

We’re both in Session RI12 ‘Grave disturbances: the secondary manipulation of burials’ on 3/9/15 at 1330-1800 in James Watt South, Room 355.

Alison’s also in AM5 ‘Bridging scales: Local to global perspectives on mobility, interaction, and transmission in the first millennium AD’ on 5/9/15 at 0800-1000 in Mathematics Building, Room 214.


Abstract for EAA 2015 Session RI12 ‘Grave disturbances: the secondary manipulation of burials’

Dr AM Klevnäs, Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies, Stockholm University

Grave reopening in early medieval Europe: new research perspectives

This paper presents new research into a long-recognized phenomenon: the widespread reopening and ransacking of burials in the row-grave cemeteries of the Merovingian kingdoms. Grave disturbance has been recorded in hundreds of early medieval burial grounds since the 19th century, but until recently there was almost no synthetic work comparing evidence between sites and regions. The practice was commonly glossed as graverobbery, and assumed to be an unlawful activity with material motives. Hence reopening was for a long time seen mainly as a problem: disturbance not only of the dead but also of the archaeological resource, with analysis of burials, grave goods and social structures all hindered by interference with the original burial context.
However, the last few years have seen significant new findings about the date, extent, and types of grave reopening seen in this period. This paper highlights the work of the Grave Reopening Research working group (, whose members are carrying out detailed investigation of reopening evidence in five different areas of early medieval Europe. This new work demonstrates that it is possible to move on from speculation about motives and to develop interpretations which are grounded in the evidence. Grave reopening was a widespread and intensive practice in 6th and 7th century Europe, with untapped potential for understanding contemporary attitudes to death, decay, commemoration, possessions, and ancestors. It has significant implications both for our understandings of early medieval burial practice, and also more widely for recognition of conflicts and power relations in early medieval society.

Grave reopening EAA Glasgow 2015 – a follow up by Nils Müller-Scheessel to ‘our session’ in Oslo!

The session by Nils Müller-Scheessel and Matej Ruttkay at EAA Glasgow is a follow up of our 2012 EAA session in Oslo and the focus is on taphonomy – so I am going to present results from my post-doc project – anyone else from the group thinking to attend?

Symposium on Theory and Methodology of Mortuary Archaeology

Graf 29, vlak 1-3Martine van Haperen and the Dutch foundation Archaeological Dialogues are organizing a small conference on the interaction between theory and methodology in archaeological mortuary studies.

The conference will take place at Leiden University on April 22nd 2015, the first day of a three-day conference titled ‘Merovingian Mortuary Studies in an Interdisciplinary Perspective’.

The organizers invite papers on the following themes: techniques and standards for excavation and publication; the use of scientific analyses on grave remains; and the potential added value of ethnographic examples and anthropological theory for archaeological mortuary studies.

Please see the call for papers for more details. The deadline for abstract submission is January 15th 2015.

EAA 2014

Edeltraud Aspöck will also visit the EAA 2014 in Istanbul and present a paper in session T06S025 Chasing Death Ways: new methods, techniques and practices in documenting and interpreting the funerary record, organised by Hayley Mickleburgh, Dr. Karina Gerdau Radonic, Rita Peyroteo Stjerna, Mari Tõrv.

Paper title will be:

The (micro)taphonomy of reopened graves

Abstract:  It is frequently the case that human remains which have been buried in graves are not left to ‘rest in peace’ eternally. There are a wide range of documented historical and ethnographical reasons and circumstances for the reopening of graves. For example, graves have been reopened as part of funerary rituals, for the removal of grave goods or body parts for symbolic reasons, as part of ancestral rites, or simply in order to be ‘robbed’ for materialistic reasons.

Understanding the reasons behind the reopening is often limited by a lack of understanding of the archaeological record. The methodological object of my post-doc project is to develop a new taphonomy-based method for the archaeological analysis of reopened graves. In this paper I will present preliminary results of the project, focusing on the results of my fieldwork on a reopened early Bronze Age inhumation grave in Austria. A bundle of methods has been applied, including archaeothanathology, single finds recording, soil analysis (micromorphology). The suitability of the applied methods for understanding the formation and the reopening of the grave will be discussed.