Having announced the publication of the new book The Public Archaeology of Death in December, I’ve now received my copies of the book. Furthermore, the University of Chester’s wonderful Corporate Communications people have facilitated a press release and photograph of me with one of the co-editors: Lancaster University doctoral researcher Ben Wills-Eves.
New book showcases students’ research
From the tomb of Tutankhamun to the grave of Richard III, contemporary society appears to be enthralled with mortuary archaeology. Lead-edited by Professor Howard Williams, The Public Archaeology of Death has been created in collaboration with Ben Wills-Eve and Jennifer Osborne, both former students of the University of Chester. It contains contributions from other former Chester students: Chiara Bolchini; Sam Munsch; Rachael Nicholson and Madeline Walsh.
The book stems from the first University of Chester archaeology student conference entitled Dead Relevant? Mortuary Archaeology in Contemporary Society. This open-to-all student-led day conference took place at the Grosvenor Museum in Chester in April 2016. Professor Williams felt that the conference addressed new issues not previously explored, and the idea for the book was born. Students who had taken part were invited to contribute to the academic publication. Professor Howard Williams explains more: “It made sense to pursue the experience of the conference through to print, so that those students who wished to be involved could enhance their careers and also learn the ropes of the complex process of academic publication.”
The book explores the public’s engagement with mortuary archaeology via digital and tangible media. Topics include: the display of the dead in museums and heritage sites; artist’s reconstructions of funerals and graves; the representation of death, tombs and cemeteries in video games; how TV shows have featured human remains from world war battlefields; the portrayal of mortuary practice and cemeteries informed by archaeology in the popular historical drama series Vikings; and the experiences of volunteers and visitors during the excavation of an early medieval cemetery (St Patrick’s Chapel, Whitesands Bay, St David’s, Pembrokeshire).
Ben Wills-Eve said: “As a PhD student, the opportunity to be involved in the editorial process for a volume has been invaluable for gaining experience of academic publishing outside of papers and journals. It has also been great to see undergraduate work included within a published volume and I know that the students themselves gained a lot from learning how to prepare a book chapter for publishing, aside from the fact that this recognises the validity and quality of much undergraduate work which often goes unnoticed.”
Professor Williams added: “The public archaeology of death is a vibrant field of future research and this book explores a range of themes.
“Archaeologists have studied and debated the rich and varied evidence of the burial and commemoration of the dead from past times to the present day. Mortuary data is not only a key window into the human past, it defines and resonates through 20th and 21st-century popular culture. Yet, in many regards, archaeologists’ engagements with death and the dead are contentious and problematic, emotional and political. For instance, in what circumstances, if at all, is it ethical to dig up and display human remains? Should we include images of human remains in our publications and social media feeds? What do people learn from meeting ancient people in museums and heritage sites? How significant is mortuary archaeology in our own present-day imaginings of prehistoric and historical societies, as well as fantastical and fictional societies portrayed in literature and film? The Public Archaeology of Death tackles questions such as these and has facilitated undergraduate students from the University to publish their work in a prominent venue, shoulder-to-shoulder with heritage professionals and academics who are well known in this field of research.”