Manipulated Bodies: Investigating Postmortem Interactions with Human Remains

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 82nd Annual Meeting, Vancouver, BC (2017)

Following death the human body becomes the focus of a diverse range of activities that include, but are not limited to, burial in the earth. The unburied dead include those who receive non-burial forms of funerary treatment and individuals whose remains are intentionally exhumed or unintentional disturbed. Examining the archaeological traces the unburied dead can illuminate the diverse interactions with, and perceptions of, dead bodies and body parts in the past. This session seeks to draw together new research that examines post-mortem interactions with the dead including both non-burial modes of treatment and manipulation of human remains. This might involve: analysis of human remains from non-burial contexts; studies of funerary treatments of the body which do not culminate with insertion into the ground; or investigation of post-burial activities that result in the exhumation, manipulation and/or display of human remains above ground, whether this occurs soon after death or much later. This session aims to highlight potential comparative perspectives across social, cultural and temporal contexts, thereby examining the reasons why, contexts within and means by which the material body is manipulated after death.

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  • Documents (11)

  • The Afterlife of the Charnel Chapel at Rothwell (Northamptonshire, UK) (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Dawn Hadley. Elizabeth Craig-Atkins. Jenny Crangle.

    The practice of charnelling human remains has recently been revealed to have been widespread in medieval England, with chapels specially built for this purpose. However, this practice ceased at the time of the early sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation, and the charnel chapels were emptied and in some cases demolished. A rare exception is at Rothwell (Northamptonshire, UK), which survived the Reformation intact, apparently because it was closed up at this time with the charnel in situ. The...

  • The Chronological and Liturgical Context of Charnel Practice in Medieval England: Manipulations of the Skeletonized Body at Rothwell Charnel Chapel, Northamptonshire (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Elizabeth Craig-Atkins. Jennifer Crangle. Dawn Hadley.

    The rare survival of a charnel chapel and the commingled remains of more than 2,500 individuals it houses at Holy Trinity Church, Rothwell, England provides a unique opportunity to investigate the postmortem manipulation of human remains in the medieval period. The apparent paucity of charnel chapel sites in England has led to the dismissal of charnelling as a marginal practice with little liturgical significance, a pragmatic solution to the need for storage of disturbed bones. Yet the evidence...

  • The Dead in a Transylvanian Village (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Adrian Padure.

    The present paper is part of a doctoral research project.The project develops and reworks a 1930s sociological exploration,conducted as part of the Sociological School of Bucharest. In this paper I will make a broader framing, at a Romanian macro-level, of the funerary practices conducted within the village of Clopotiva,Transylvania. I intend to use both data from the 1930s research,as well as a new exploratory input gained during my fieldwork, which began in 2012.I will tackle handling of the...

  • The Histotaphonomy of Human Skeletal Exposure within a Neolithic Long Cairn at Hazleton, UK (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Lynne Bell.

    The total excavation of the Cotswold-Severn Neolithic long cairn at Hazleton was unusually meticulous and represents an excellent example of long term skeletal exposure. Some discussion exists around the nature of bodies prior to deposition in theses long cairn structures and histotaphonomy is here used to consider this question. The human remains at Hazleton were recovered from two spatially distinct stone-lined chambers in a highly disarticulated and commingled state. During excavation each...

  • Living with the Dead: Plastered Skulls and ‘Continuing Bonds’ (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Karina Croucher.

    This paper considers the phenomenon of plastered skulls from the Neolithic of the Middle East, exploring a re-interpretation of evidence. Plastered skulls result from the burial and later retrieval of crania, onto which is sculpted a face using plaster. These were then used and displayed within household contexts. Rather than traditional interpretations which revolve around status and hierarchy or social cohesion, this paper suggests a reinterpretation based on the modern bereavement theory of...

  • The Lost Dead of China: Why Does Hong Kong Retain the Unowned and Unclaimed Dead from the Chinese Diaspora of the 19th and 20th Centuries? (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Steven Gallagher.

    The 19th and 20th century Chinese diaspora directly contributed to the economic and social development of many nations in the Asia-Pacific region. It also had one unforeseen effect as many if not most Chinese who traveled overseas to seek safety or economic gain for themselves and their family had a deep-rooted desire to have their corpse returned for burial to their home village in China, as evidenced by the wreck SS Ventnor whose hold carried the remains of almost 500 Chinese from the New...

  • Manipulation of the Body in the Mesolithic of North-West Europe (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Amy Gray Jones.

    This paper seeks to situate the phenomena of ‘loose’ human bones in the Mesolithic of north-west Europe within a wider understanding of the role of post-mortem manipulation of the body in the mortuary practices of these Mesolithic hunter-gatherers. Whilst originally interpreted as the remains of disturbed burials, assemblages of disarticulated human remains have begun to be accepted as evidence for alternative mortuary practices, though their specific nature has so far received little critical...

  • The Politics of Death: An Anthropological Excavation of Political Ascension Through the Strategic Manipulation of Post-Mortem Bodies as Objects to be Used, Misuse and Abuse – and the Historic Ghost we’ve Inherited, Materially and Immaterially (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Atiba Rougier.

    Three kinds of post-mortem manipulations occur for three distinct reasons. They are connected by the need for authoritative power and the desire to be seen as strong. Selfish notions of self-preservation are manifested through governmental bodies in the name of freedom and evolution. The three kinds of post-mortem configuration can be categorized like this: (A) political ascension; (B) national or geographic control and domination; (C) reactive exclamations, usually performed by the powerless...

  • Post-Mortem Interactions with Human Remains at the Covesea Caves in NE Scotland (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Ian Armit. Lindsey Büster. Rick Schulting. Laura Castells Navarro. Jo Buckberry.

    As liminal places between the above-ground world of daily experience and the underworld, caves form a persistent focus for human engagements with the supernatural. As such they have frequently been used as places for the dead, whether as final resting places or as places of transformation. Late Bronze Age human remains were recovered from the Sculptor’s Cave, on the Moray Firth in North-East Scotland, during the 1920s and 1970s. They suggest the curation and display of human bodies and body...

  • Post-Mortem Manipulation, Movement, and Memory in Copper Age Iberia (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Jess Beck.

    Post-mortem manipulation of human remains played a critical role in mortuary practices in Copper Age Iberia (c. 3250-2200 BC). During this period in Spain and Portugal, individuals were buried communally in tholos-type tombs, as well as natural or artificial caves and rock shelters. Evidence from across Iberia suggests that mortuary practices included the manipulation and movement of previously interred bodies, either in order to clear space for new individuals, or to facilitate secondary...

  • Time to Take a Rain Check? The Social and Practical Implications of Weather and Seasonality on the Cremation Rite in Early Anglo-Saxon England (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Kirsty Squires.

    Cremation was one of the primary funerary rites employed in early Anglo-Saxon England (fifth to seventh century AD). Open-air pyres were used to cremate the dead alongside an array of pyre goods, including personal objects and faunal gifts. The resultant remains were subsequently collected and interred in pottery urns. Despite the fact that this mortuary rite has been subjected to extensive research over recent years, archaeologists often overlook the challenges faced by communities that...