My favourite powerpoint slide from the funerary EAA sessions

In previous posts I have reviewed my own mortuary archaeology session on the Archaeology of Mortuary Disasters at this year’s EAA – the 20th annual conference of the European Association for Archaeologists, held in Istanbul, Turkey. I have also outlined some thoughts about the MERC roundtable on medieval archaeology.

Many papers incorporated aspects of the archaeology of death within other themes. For example burial evidence was integral to papers I saw by Mitchell and Pluskowski, part of the fascinating session ‘So Many Countries, so Many Customs: The Everyday Experience of Religious’. This was a rich session that went far beyond burial archaeology, but it serves to illustrate how burial archaeology was incorporated into other session themes.

Still, there were sessions principally dealing with mortuary archaeology as follows:

  • Neolithic Collective Burials in Europe in the Later 4th Millennium BC
  • A Globalisation of Death? Re-interpreting Burial Practices of the Eastern Aegean,
    9th – 4th Centuries BC
  • The Archaeology of Late Medieval and Early Modern Mass Graves
  • The Bioarchaeology of Ritual and Religion
  • Dead Ends, Funerary Flops and Monumental Failures: Archaeologies of Mortuary
  • Beyond Burials: Transforming the Dead in European Prehistory
  • Medieval Burial Practices in Europe and the Near East: Challenges, Approaches,
  • Elite Burials in Prehistoric and Early Medieval Europe
  • Chasing Death Ways: New Methods, Techniques and Practices in Documenting
    and Interpreting the Funerary Record
  • The Odd, the Unusual, and the Strange: Human and Animal Deviant Burials
    and Their Cultural Contexts
  • Burial Communities in Long Term Perspective

I am sure I have missed some: indeed given the number of sessions, it is unsurprising that many of these overlapped in the timetable. It was really tough trying to work out what to see! In the end, I attended most of two of these in addition to my own:

  • The Archaeology of Late Medieval and Early Modern Mass Graves
  • Burial Communities in Long Term Perspective.

Both these sessions inspire the following observations:

  1. they show the potential of spanning multiple time-periods to reveal broader themes and issues in mortuary archaeological interpretation
  2. many papers advocated a diachronic approach to mortuary archaeology
  3. many papers revealed the complexities of theory, method and data in the modern study of mortuary practices in the archaeological record spanning all of Europe and beyond.
  4. I was also fascinated to observe the polite but firm arguments in the sessions
  5. there were very fruitful debates that took place through Q&A and the discussion sessions.
  6. I was struck by the persistent use of discussions of ‘ancestors’ in some papers without qualifying what is meant, and how social memory is imprecisely explored.
  7. I was particularly impressed by how archaeologists are exploring repeatedly acts of disposal, but also acts of grave disturbance, re-opening and exhumation.

I don’t want to pick out individual papers for praise or criticism, but I would like to celebrate the rich geographical and thematic range of the papers on offer. Also, it is clear that burial archaeology is very much here to stay in European archaeology.

I wish I could have seen more of the sesisons! I was particularly disappointed that I couldn’t also see the ‘Beyond Burial’, ‘Chasing Death Ways’, ‘Deviant Burial’ and the ‘Medieval Burial Practices’ sessions; I do hope that some of this rich range of sessions find their way to publication!

A particularly gruesome slide from one of the papers in the ‘Mass Graves’ session