I’m in Groningen in the far north of the Netherlands where I’ve been attending and enjoying a rich range of papers on the archaeology of death and burial at the Mortuary Archaeology Today symposium and workshop. I intend to write up notes about the symposium and workshop – attended by c. 70 people – as well as Groningen’s cemeteries

and crematorium in due course. Here, I simply want to share my keynote lecture.

I was asked to present on a theme that combined the study of the body’s transformation in death, social mortuary archaeology, and the ethics of mortuary archaeology. In an attempt to do this I presented a talk that had 5 elements, each revealing different aspects of my work on the archaeology of cremation past and present:

  • early Anglo-Saxon cremation practices;
  • the Early Bronze Age cremation practices found as part of Project Eliseg;
  • the public archaeology of cremation in museums, heritage sites, art and experimental archaeology;
  • interrogating filmic and televisual representations of open-air cremation ceremonies, from Vikings, Game of Thrones to The Walking Dead;
  • the contemporary archaeology of cremation.

here is my title and abstract:

Cremation Past and Present

Howard Williams

The archaeological study of cremation practices is a vibrant strand of archaeological research that challenges both representational approaches to mortuary variability and change, but also queries the parameters, processes and scales by which we work as bioarchaeologists and mortuary archaeologists. This presentation will attempt to sketch the range of ways in which the archaeology of cremation has, in recent years, facilitated new perspectives about death and society. I offer some case studies from my own research in early medieval archaeology, contemporary archaeology, and the public archaeology of death, that have sought to connect the archaeological investigation of cremation with broader interdisciplinary questions regarding mortality and identity in the past and present.

In addition, my slides can be found below, and I’ve tried to include links to relevant publications where I’ve addressed issues connected to my talk. Also explore this blog!

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Thanks to all the audience for their attention and goodwill, as well as to the other speakers for their excellent talks.

Thanks also to the organisers – Karla, Iris, Eveline and Liz – for their efficient delivery, hospitality and dialogue over the two days.

Photo credit: Karla de Roest