Reopening of Bronze Age graves: new publication

A new article in the Journal of Archaeological Science by GRR member Edeltraud Aspöck uses soil thin section analyses to investigate formation processes of a reopened early Bronze Age inhumation grave in Austria.

Edeltraud Aspöck, Rowena Yvonne Banerjea, Formation processes of a reopened early Bronze Age inhumation grave in Austria: The soil thin section analyses, Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, Available online 3 August 2016.


Early Bronze Age and early medieval inhumation graves in (central) Europe had often been re-opened a short time after burial and, in most cases, grave goods were removed. To improve the understanding of the archaeological evidence of these graves, one re-opened grave from a large early Bronze Age (Wieselburg/Gáta culture) cemetery in Weiden am See, eastern Austria, was excavated using a microstratigraphic protocol to maximize data collection for the reconstruction of the context formation process and, consequently, the interpretation of the re-opening process. In this article the results of the soil thin section analyses are presented and discussed.

Symposium registration form

Grave disturbance in early medieval Europe. International symposium 2017

09:00 to 17:00 Thursday 12th January 2017.

Attendance is free but registration is required.

Tea, coffee, and light refreshments will be served during the morning and afternoon breaks, but lunch is not provided. A range of cafés and restaurants can be found on the university campus or nearby.

For more information please see the main event page.

Update 17 December 2016: The symposium is now fully booked. If you would still like to attend, please register using the form below and we will place your name on a waiting list in case of cancellations.


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A quick report from Glasgow EAA

The EAA conference for this year is over and I’ve more or less recovered from the devastating cold everyone seemed to contract there, so it’s time for a quick report.

For reopened burial enthusiasts, the first day featured an afternoon session on ’Grave disturbances: the secondary manipulation of burials’ organised by Nils Müller-Scheeßel. This was billed as a follow up to a session at the 2011 Oslo EAA organised by Edeltraud Aspöck and I (Alison Klevnäs), so we were both keen to take part.

Edeltraud presented a paper called ‘Microtaphonomy in context’ on her excavation of a heavily disturbed Bronze Age grave in eastern Austria. She’s carrying out a very detailed study of a single grave to investigate how much information can be extracted using the newest techniques. Her work has useful findings for excavators of reopened burials in all periods, so there were lots of questions from the evidently specialized and informed audience.

I was excited to present a paper on behalf of the whole Grave Reopening Research group. It brought together findings from all our recent research on early medieval grave disturbance: Edeltraud Aspöck’s work in Austria, Stephanie Zintl’s recent thesis in southern Germany, mine in Anglo-Saxon England, Martine van Haperen’s forthcoming thesis on the low countries, and Astrid Noterman’s ongoing case study in northern France. Preparing for the talk was the first time I’d had the opportunity to make detailed comparisons between our results in different areas, and seeing it all together threw up some interesting points of contrast for future investigation as well as showing several shared conclusions. It was good to have both Edeltraud and Stephanie Zintl in the audience to help field questions.

The session was well attended and well received, with standing room only in the lecture theatre much of the time. Papers ranged from the Eneolithic/Chalcolithic to the Early Middle Ages. Several presented data from recent or ongoing digs – it’s always interesting to see new results from excavations which take grave disturbance as a research object. The interpretations coming out of the Iron Age disturbed cemeteries, which seem to have quite complex ritual manipulations of human remains, were an interesting contrast to the early medieval material. But also a reminder that the neat categories of ‘secondary burial’ v. ‘disturbed burial’ which we use need questioning. I was particularly interested to hear Ulla Moilanen‘s talk on 9th to 12th century graves in Finland which seem to have been opened to stop the dead from walking, since these have parallels in burials described in England by Aspöck at Winnall II and at various sites in my thesis. I’ve just finished a paper on the Anglo-Saxon examples, so looking forward to some fruitful discussions with Ulla. Lastly, we were pleased to receive a positive write-up on Professor Howard William’s blog Archaeodeath!

Then I also presented a paper in a session called ‘Bridging scales: local to global perspectives on mobility, interaction, and transmission in the first millennium AD‘ which I co-organized with Kathrin Meents (until recently Kathrin Felder) and Susanne Hakenbeck. Here I gave a more personal view of the early medieval reopening evidence, especially tied to questions of scale – the sizes of geographical areas and the scales of narrative we use in analyzing and interpreting early medieval archaeology. This session was also well attended, despite being scheduled for 0800-1000 on Saturday morning, and gave rise to a lot of useful discussion. For me it demonstrated the strength of relatively short sessions with a smallish number of closely related papers, between which the speakers and audience can make connections and comparisons.

Between all that, I also managed to see great sessions on ‘Pathways to power in Iron Age/Early medieval Europe’ and ‘The control and management of burial in Christian cemeteries’. Edeltraud spoke in a roundtable discussion on ‘Terminology in funerary archaeology’, to which I couldn’t make it – hopefully she’ll give us a write up.

As ever, it was great to see old friends and acquaintances and to make new ones. This year in particular the conference was a useful opportunity for members of GRR to get together and also to hear from others working on disturbed burials. This evidently continues to be a hot topic!



Dutch conference on mortuary archaeology

The Dutch foundation Archaeological Dialogues in cooperation with the medieval chair group at Leiden University are organizing a small symposium on the interaction between theory and methodology in archaeological mortuary studies, followed by a two day conference on early medieval cemetery archaeology in the Low Countries. The conference will take place at Leiden University on April 22nd to 24th 2015.

The first day will consist of papers the 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.

The two consecutive days will focus specifically on early medieval cemetery archaeology in the Netherlands and Belgium, and will include a lecture by Martine van Haperen on reopened graves from the Low Countries.

For more details, please see the program and registration form on the foundation’s website. The registration deadline is April 3rd.

Not so new any more, but never posted: my excavation of an early Bronze Age reopened grave in eastern Austria

pl 7a  webseiteAs part of my post-doc project on ‘the microtaphonomy of reopened graves’ (at the OREA Institute, Austrian Academy of Sciences) I excavated a reopened grave from the early Bronze Age period (so-called Wieselburg Culture) in eastern Austria to investigate what we can learn about reopened graves if we focus on the evidence of the reopening.

For the excavation and analysis I use a multi-dimensional approach: single-finds recording (collaborating with our research group Quaternary Archaeology), sedimentanalysis, micromorphology, archaeothanatology.

Excavations took about 2 months because – lucky me – the grave was particularly deep and contained two inhumations: a first body was buried in a coffin at the bottom of the grave pit, then the grave was reopened and a second body was placed on top. The photo shows the remains of the bottom burial which was reopened. The boxes are Kubiena tins for micromorphological soil samples. Analysis is still ongoing.