ERC PresentDead has started

This month work on the ERC project PresentDead has begun. The project will be investigating more evidence for re-entering graves and also other forms of contact between the living and the materials of the dead (graves, human remains and artefacts) in early medieval central and eastern Europe (5th to 8th centuries CE). Archaeological and textual evidence in diverse contexts will be studied using new scientific methods, technical solutions and new theoretical approaches.

http://reopenedgraves.eu/projects-erc-presentdead/

 

 

ERC PresentDead

The Present Dead: Investigating Interactions with the Dead in Early Medieval Central and Eastern Europe from 5th to 8th Centuries CE

The ERC project PresentDead aims to investigate the practical, mental and emotional dimensions of human interactions with the materials of the dead (graves, human remains and artefacts) in early medieval central and eastern Europe (5th to 8th centuries CE). Based on archaeological and textual evidence, diverse contexts of contact will be investigated through an innovative approach combining cutting-edge scientific methods, technical solutions and new theoretical approaches. The project’s working hypothesis is that perspectives on interaction with the materials of the dead will vary with the ritual stages of funerals.

Early medieval cemeteries comprise of up to hundreds of graves where corpses were generally inhumed in individual graves, frequently together with lavish objects. Many graves were interfered with soon after burial. While disturbed graves have elsewhere been seen as an inferior source of evidence, this project argues that these interventions are important sources for early medieval practices relating to the dead. Investigating cemeteries and out-of-cemetery contexts in four central- and eastern European regions it pursues the following objectives: 1. Investigating the range of practices and contexts in the archaeological records. 2. Analysing textual perspectives in diverse genres. 3. Synthesising material and textual perspectives via an innovative technical solution for semantic integration of data. The methodological objectives for achieving the archaeological goals are: 1. Consolidation of methods and development of research protocols. 2. Development of strategies to mitigate deficiencies of archaeological data. The development of digital tools, moving from high- to low resolution evidence, will be novel and key to the approach.

The project will significantly contribute to our understanding of the relationship between the living and the dead in early medieval Europe.

https://cordis.europa.eu/project/id/101089324

The afterlife of Viking Age graves

A paper by Alison Klevnäs on post-burial interactions with Viking Age graves has recently been published in a beautiful new book called ‘The Norse sorceress: mind and materiality in the Viking world’ edited by Leszek Gardeła, Sophie Bønding, and Peter Pentz.

Klevnäs, A. (2023). Surely every live man fades among the dead. Fear and desire in the afterlife of Viking Age graves. The Norse sorceress: mind and materiality in the Viking world. L. Gardeła, S. Bønding and P. Pentz. Oxford, Oxbow Books: 172-184.

 

In search of an acceptable past

Another of our project publications has just come out, thanks to the hard work of Estella Weiss-Krejci and her co-editors of the new Open Access volume Interdisciplinary Explorations of Postmortem Interaction. Dead Bodies, Funerary Objects, and Burial Spaces Through Texts and Time.

Our paper, which you can download and read for free, took us into the history of archaeology for the first time.

Noterman, A. A. and A. Klevnäs (2022). In Search of an Acceptable Past: History, Archaeology, and ‘Looted’ Graves in the Construction of the Frankish Early Middle Ages. In: E. Weiss-Krejci, S. Becker and P. Schwyzer (eds). Interdisciplinary Explorations of Postmortem Interaction: Dead Bodies, Funerary Objects, and Burial Spaces Through Texts and Time. Cham, Springer International Publishing: 133-166.

Abstract

The Early Middle Ages have provided material for imagining selves and groups in a wide range of contexts since the earliest beginnings of the historical and archaeological disciplines. Considerable recent research has shown how modern political conflicts and regional-national identities have crystallized in this period in particular. This essay traces ways in which early medieval remains, mainly from the richly furnished cemeteries, have been brought into play in developing scholarly and popular accounts of the history of France. During the second half of the nineteenth century, the recovery of considerable numbers of finely worked grave goods from the large rural cemeteries provided material for studying and reevaluating Merovingian-period societies, previously only glimpsed in written sources and largely out-competed as national ancestors by the popular appeal of Gaulish warriors. Yet paradoxically, another form of discovery in the same burial grounds seemed to place them back in the Dark Ages: many graves were found to have been ransacked and robbed soon after burial, making the communities of the time appear lawless and barbarous. Archaeological attitudes towards excavated early medieval graves, and in particular the many thousands of graves already reopened in antiquity, not only highlight key aspects of the development of the discipline, but also reveal ways in which the remains of the dead may be integral to processes of national identity construction.

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.