Grave Disturbances: the archaeology of post-depositional interactions with the dead

Grave Disturbances focuses on a much-neglected area of funerary archaeology. Disturbed human remains are frequently encountered within burial contexts, but are often given scant attention in comparison to more complete remains in expected anatomical configuration. The case studies in the volume focus largely on continental Europe, although there are also forays into Central America and North Africa. They delve into the diverse ways in which people in the past interacted with the remains of the dead, including accidental encounters, the addition of more recently deceased to older burials, and the reuse of mortuary environments. There is a rejection of the catch-all term ‘grave-robbing’ and an alternative framework offered for interpreting such disturbances.

The study of post-depositional practices is gaining increasing recognition as a subfield in mortuary archaeology and the rich array of fascinating papers amassed in Grave Disturbances demonstrates the validity of this avenue of research. It also introduces fruitful methodological approaches, including archaeothanatology, soil micromorphology, and 3D modelling. The volume is a must for all those with an interest in funerary archaeology: disturbed remains, previously largely ignored or viewed as insignificant, can be considered with fresh eyes – a paradigm has been shifted.

Review by Eileen Murphy.

Grave Disturbances: the archaeology of post-depositional interactions with the dead, Edeltraud Aspöck, Alison Klevnäs, and Nils Müller-Scheeßel (eds) Oxbow Books, £55 ISBN 978-1789254426.