I’ve previously posted about the April 2018 Mortuary Archaeology Today conference held at the University of Groningen, including:

During the conference tour, I was also introduced to the commemoration of the Jewish community of the town before the Second World War and the Holocaust via art and Stolpersteine.

The final component of my visit that I’ve yet to address was the Workshop of the second morning. This was an original and distinctive teamwork exercise in which 4 groups of archaeology students, practitioners and academics – including many of the speakers at the previous day’s conference – worked together on an hypothetical scenario of how they would go about investigating a cemetery in a South American country and which theories, methods and techniques they would employ. In doing so, they can to contend with the ethics, politics and practicalities of stakeholder participation and legacy in a post-colonial context.

While groups debated and planned their strategy, the organisers and a few ‘experts’ (including me) circulated between groups offering suggestions. We then came together at the end and presented our findings. How different they were from each other! There was no ‘wrong’ answer, but the diversity of strategies and approaches to the project based on even slim evidence in the hypothetical scenario was revealing. There are so many ways to design a mortuary archaeological research project and negotiate relationships with local people.

I learned that European mortuary archaeology still has a long way to go in its ethical considerations compared with (say) North American archaeology, but the range of potential solutions for public engagement, as well as discussion of the integration of scientific methods and techniques in the field was exciting and innovative. I had very little to add at the end, but that wasn’t for a lack of interest or engagement with the exercise: it was just so bewildering.

While very much an experiment in workshop creation, I think I might attempt a comparable version of this workshop in my own teaching, and this was another reason why the Groningen days were of benefit to me.