Ruth Nugent (Chester), Estella Weiss-Krejci (Vienna) and I have submitted a session proposal to the 2014 EAA annual conference in Istanbul. We think it will be a fun session. Get in touch with me via my work email if you are interested in contributing a paper or know someone who might: howard.williams@chester.ac.uk

Dead Ends, Funerary Flops and Monumental Failures: Archaeologies of Mortuary Disasters

English: Sir Thomas Browne, engraving from an ...
Sir Thomas Browne, engraving from an eighteenth century frontispiece (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sir Thomas Browne, the seventeenth-century English antiquary, regarded all memorials as inevitable failures; all memory eventually becomes oblivion. European archaeologists today might disagree, for even short-lived and materially transient mortuary performances might have powerful and lasting social efficacies, mortuary traditions can endure for centuries, and the biographies of bodies, graves, cemeteries and mortuary monuments can be charted over millennia.

Yet burial archaeologists tend to assume their data represents the results of designed, planned, competently executed, and hence completed, closed and ‘successful’ ritual processes.  Mortuary archaeology rarely engages with the inherently contingent, expedient, accidental, improvised, contested and open-ended natures of burials and commemorations, and their material traces in the past and the present. In particular, few studies have considered how these dimensions can often lead to all manner of incomplete, failed and interrupted mortuary practices resulting from a range of human and natural agencies colliding within the mortuary arena.

Moving beyond anecdotal instances, this session seeks to theorize different dimensions to funerary failures using archaeological evidence. Interpreting cemeteries and tombs that survive only as designs and models, bungled burials and collapsed catacombs, curtailed cremations and half-built mausolea, short-lived cemeteries and flawed funerary art, practice-pieces and misspelled epitaphs, the session explores what we can learn about past societies from when death went wrong.

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