Nilsson Stutz and TarlowThe big book of death is here! So big you probably can’t afford to buy it! So big you probably can’t even lift it! So big it affects the earth’s gravitational field. And so jam-packed full of death in the archaeological record the tome qualifies in providing (to paraphrase Spinal Tap) ‘too much fxxxing perspective’.

Of what do I speak? It has a name. I am speaking, of course, about the newly published Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of Death and Burial edited by two empresses of archaeodeath: Professor Sarah Tarlow (University of Leicester) and Dr Liv Nilsson Stutz (Emory University).

The list of contents speaks for itself. Inevitably there are going to be gaps and there are going to be chapters with different approaches, but there certainly something for every budding mortuary archaeologists to have and hold until death do us part.

1: Liv Nilsson Stutz and Sarah Tarlow: Beautiful Things and Bones of Desire: Emerging Issues in the Archaeology of Death and Burial

Part 1: Approaches to Death and Burial
2: Adam Stout: Cultural History, Race, and Peoples
3: Did Prehistoric Man Bury his Deada Early Debates on Palaeolithic Burials in a National Context
4: Robert Chapman: Death, Burial, and Social Representation
5: Susan Kus: Death and the Cultural Entanglements of the Experienced, the Learned, the Expressed, the Contested, and the Imagined

Part 2: The Nature of the Evidence
6: Charlotte Roberts: The Bioarchaeology of Health and Well-being: Its Contribution to Understanding the Past
7: Barbara Bramanti: The Use of DNA Analysis in the Archaeology of Death and Burial
8: Gunilla Eriksson: Stable Isotope Analysis of Humans
9: Jacqueline McKinley: Cremation: Excavation, Analysis and Interpretation of Material from Cremation-related Contexts
10: Fredrik Ekengren: Contextualising Grave Goods: Theoretical Perspectives and Methodological Implications

Part 3: The Human Experience of Death across Cultural Contexts
11: Howard Williams: Death, Memory, and Material Culture: Catalytic Commemoration and the Cremated Dead
12: David Edwards: African Perspectives on Death, Burial, and Mortuary Archaeology
13: Lars Fogelin: The Place of Veneration in Early South Asican Buddhism
14: Andrew Petersen: The Archaeology of Death and Burial in the Islamic World
15: Deirdre O Sullivan: Burial of the Christian Dead in the Later Middle Ages
16: Estella Weiss-Krejci: The Unburied Dead
17: Julien Riel-Salvatore and Claudine Gravel-Miguel: Upper Palaeolithic Mortuary Practices in Eurasia: A Critical Look at the Burial Record
18: Chantal Coneller: Power and Society: Mesolithic Europe
19: James Brown: Archaeological Study of Mortuary Practices in the Eastern United States
20: Robert Chapman: The Living and the Dead in Later Prehistoric Iberia
21: Peter Kaulicke: The Powerful Dead of the Inca
22: Joshua Wright: Land-ownership and Landscape Belief: Introduction and Contexts
23: Magdalena Midgley: Megaliths in North-West Europe: the Cosmology of Sacred Landscapes
24: John Robb: Creating Death: an Archaeology of Dying
25: Alexander Gramsch: Treating Bodies Transformative and Communicative Practices
26: Melanie Giles: Preserving the Body
27: Terje Oestigaard: Cremations in Culture and Cosmology
28: Chris Fowler: Identities in Transformation: Identities, Funerary Rites, and the Mortuary Process
29: Joanna Sofaer and Marie Louise Stig Sørensen: Death and Gender
30: Gillian Shepherd: Ancient Identities: Age, Gender, and Ethnicity in Ancient Greek Burials
31: Maureen Carroll: Ethnicity and Gender in Roman Funerary Commemoration: Case Studies from the Empire s Frontiers
32: Alice Yao: Engendering Ancestors through Death Ritual in Ancient China
33: Erica Hill: Death, Emotion, and the Household among the Late Moche
34: Sarah Tarlow: Belief and the Archaeology of Death
35: Erella Hovers and Anna Belfer-Cohen: Insights into Early Mortuary Practices of Homo
36: Claudia Naeser: Equipping and Stripping the Dead: A Case-study on the Procurement, Compilation, Arrangement, and Frag­ment­ation of Grave Inventories in New Kingdom Thebes

Part 4: The Ethics and Politics of Burial Archaeology
37: Sapient trouble-tombs’a Archaeologists’ Moral Obligations to the Dead
38: Morag Kersel and Meredith Chesson: Looting Matters Early Bronze Age Cemeteries of Jordan’s southeast Dead Sea Plain in the Past and Present
39: Joe Watkins: How Ancients Become Ammunition: Politics and Ethics of the Human Skeleton
40: Cressida Fforde: In Search of Others: the History and Legacy of ‘race’ collections
41: Colin Pardoe: Repatriation, Reburial, and Biological Research in Australia: Rhetoric and Practice
42: Layla Renshaw: The Archaeology and Material Culture of Modern Military Death
43: Layla Renshaw: The Exhumation of Civilian Victims of Conflict and Human Rights Abuses: Political, Ethical, and Theoretical Considerations
44: Liv Nilsson Stutz: Contested Burials: The Dead as Witnesses, Victims, and Tools

2My own contribution, as you can see, looks at ‘Death, Memory and Material Culture: Catalytic Commemoration and the Cremated Dead’. I explore why grave-goods are placed with cremated human remains. I suggest that certain artefact-types were actively retrieved from the pyre, and some were added unburnt, to catalyse memories. Rather than artefacts of significance for having biographies linked to the deceased and/or mourners, these items were about transforming and reconstituting the identities of the dead in the post-cremation rituals. I use case studies from mid- to late first millennium AD Britain and Scandinavia to illustrate this argument. I look at toilet implements in early Anglo-Saxon graves, the inclusion of stone fragments in Viking-age south Sweden, Thor’s hammer rings in central Sweden and claw-paws from the Aland Islands.