Last month, I posted about the newly published academic book collection stemming from the 1st University of Chester Archaeology Student Conference held in spring 2016: Dead Relevant

You can watch the original conference here.

Entitled The Public Archaeology of Death, the book contains 13 contributions, details of which you can read on the publishers website, where incidentally you can order a copy of the book!

The book complements the other recent published collections I’ve co-edited: Death in the Contemporary World: Perspectives from Public Archaeology and Archaeologists and the Dead.

Review

Dr Jodie Lewis  kicks off the volume with a Foreword that draws on her extensive expertise in archaeological fieldwork, teaching and research to consider the importance of mortuary archaeology’s public engagements and the significance of publishing student work.

My introduction is titled ‘Dead Relevant: Introducing the Public Archaeology of Death’. I chart the evolution of the book from the student conference and reviewed the contents. Before this, I introduce the parameters and character of research on ‘public mortuary archaeology’, building on discussions in Williams and Giles (eds) 2016, with a particular focus on expanding the boundaries of debate away from the power of fleshed and articulated human remains in the contemporary world, and by exploring the politics of the archaeological dead in the present-day.

The St Patrick’s Chapel Excavation Project is up next, authored by Marion Shiner, Katie A. Hemer and Rhiannon Comeau, outlining a fabulous instance of nuanced best practice in engaging volunteers and visitors with the sensitive archaeology of the excavation of an early medieval inhumation cemetery.

Having given an important case study for public mortuary archaeology in the field, the book turns to the museum context. Suzanne Evans and I explore ‘Death’s Diversity on Display’. We identify how most discussions of human remains in UK museums focus on larger institutions, and those in Scotland and England rather than Wales. Using the case study of Llangollen Museum, we highlight the ways in which human remains and memorials – actual and replica – from many different periods speak to each other and to visitors within a concentric single-spaced museum.

The chapter ‘Displaying the Dead’ straddles the indoor museum displays and the outdoors heritage interpretation of a famous mortuary archaeological site. Madeline Walsh and I critique the display of the ‘sand bodies’ – later Anglo-Saxon period execution graves – at the Sutton Hoo Visitor Centre. We regard Sutton Hoo as a ‘mortuary landscape of ghosts’ where the dead are tangible through traces, shadows and material cultures rather than well-preserved bones.

Sian Mui identifies a key theme in the popular culture of death, revealed both in museum displays and dramas (historical, fantasy and sci-fi) in which dead bodies are depicted. In ‘Grave Expectations’ she focuses on how bodies are postured. As powerful visual symbols, shaping expectations of a ‘good death’, she identifies how museums operate in relation to other media in negotiating our ideas about death and the dead in the human past.

The ethics of our widespread photography of the archaeological dead is explored by Chiara Bolchini  in ‘Photographing the Dead’. She surveys two archaeology magazines and how they use photographs of human remains to support and extend their narratives about new archaeological discoveries and analyses.

Leszek Gardela next explores ‘Death on Canvas’, evaluating his collaboration with artist Miraslaw Kuzma to envision a series of Viking-period furnished inhumation graves. This art allows the stories of graves to be told again for both specialist and non-specialist audiences. Kuzma also generously agreed to allow a further image of his creation to be the book cover!

Complementing Leszek’s discussions, Aaron Watson and I next tackle the hot topic of ‘Envisioning Cremation’: how art can help afford new insights and questions regarding the significance and variability of cremation practices in past societies. We draw on our collaboration over a decade ago and contextualise it in relation to other artworks that have sought to visualise fiery death rituals.

Sam Munsch next contributes an essay on the ‘Controversy Surrounding Human Remains from the First World War, identifying the ethical challenges of working with and in a media and digital world in relation to recent periods when human remains are often named and known individuals, and thus disturbing reminders of recent conflicts.

We move into the innovative field of ‘archaeogaming’ with Rachael Nicholson’s contribution: ‘Here lies “ZOMEBIESLAYER2000” addresses the mortuary archaeology in video-gaming categories: MMOs, MMORPGs, and MOBAs.

Then, I present ‘Death’s Drama’ exploring the mortuary practices on the TV show Vikings. This draws directly from my blog-entries on the subject!

Dr Karina Croucher closes the collection with her Afterword: ‘The Public Archaeology of Death: Emotion, Equality and Student Experience’. She expounds on the role of students in archaeological research and evaluates the other contributions, before foregrounding the importance of emotion as a theme in the study of death in the human past and the present day.

Thanks

Sincere thanks to all the anonymous peer-reviewers, the typesetter and copy-editor, all at Equinox, and to the authors, for making this possible! I hope you like it!

 

 

 

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