Starting up the new project

This month Astrid Noterman and I are starting up the first major project put together by members to investigate early medieval grave reopening on a transnational scale. It’s called Interacting with the dead. Belief and conflict in early medieval Europe, has been funded by the Swedish Research Council and is based at Stockholm University. In brief, the aim is to bring together the regional studies carried out by the research network members, produce the first Europe-wide survey of Merovingian-period reopening practices, and explore the implications for our understandings of the societies of the period.

The project will run for three years so we’re still taking our first steps at the moment – including taking part in the EAA and Sachsensymposium and lots of practical things like getting offices set up.

But I did a quick back of the envelope calculation this week and realized that although this is a new phase of research, it’s actually based on about 17 years of previous work. That’s four PhD projects investigating the evidence for ancient grave reopening in different regions of Merovingian-period Europe: Alison Klevnäs – southern England 2010, Stephanie Zintl – Bavaria 2012,  Martine van Haperen – low countries 2016, Astrid Noterman- northern France 2017. Plus Edeltraud Aspöck’s 2005 publication of the heavily disturbed cemetery at Brunn am Gebirge in Lower Austria, which has been influential for all of us. In fact that’s an underestimate, because Edeltraud’s further work developing techniques for recording disturbed burials also directly informs the project.

And so far this year, before the project was fully underway, we’ve already had great contributions from one of my MA students at Stockholm University, Tobias Vinoy, who wrote his dissertation on the disturbance of Roman Iron Age graves in Denmark, and Giorgia Sottotetti, an Erasmus trainee from the University of Pisa, who has been collecting and investigating early medieval cemeteries with reopened graves in northern Italy.

So that all explains why the first stage of the project is going to be a round of publications. Over the last two or three years we’ve presented comparisons between our regional studies at a number of conferences, and last year in Stockholm we had a whole colloquium to discuss findings in the different areas. So we’ve already spent a while puzzling over the details of what the reopening practices in different areas look like, defining the research questions for the next stage, and locating areas for some targeted new data-gathering. Now all of that work needs to come out in print… watch this space.