I'm a PhD student researching the role of mortuary archaeology in contemporary British society. Think of this as a scrapbook of all the interesting links, snippets of information and random bits and bobs I come across pertaining to death, dying and the dead. Enjoy?!


Stonehenge: Two tribes go to war – over bones
Two modern-day tribes with competing claims to Stonehenge are set to join battle this week over the remains of the dead. On one side stand the archaeologists, who insist that bones of ancient Britons buried near the monument should be put on display at the new £27m visitor centre, which opens on Wednesday.
Ranged against them is a warband of druids – led by Arthur Pendragon – who are campaigning for the bones to be reburied.
It is a conflict that raises considerable passion, along with questions about human dignity and how best to explain the past to the public. But both sides plan to wage war on the politest of terms: English Heritage has allowed the Loyal Arthurian Warband to hold a protest on Wednesday on its land at the site, while the druid group says “non-violent, direct action” will be used only as a last resort.

(Source: Independent)

Stonehenge: Two tribes go to war – over bones

Two modern-day tribes with competing claims to Stonehenge are set to join battle this week over the remains of the dead. On one side stand the archaeologists, who insist that bones of ancient Britons buried near the monument should be put on display at the new £27m visitor centre, which opens on Wednesday.

Ranged against them is a warband of druids – led by Arthur Pendragon – who are campaigning for the bones to be reburied.

It is a conflict that raises considerable passion, along with questions about human dignity and how best to explain the past to the public. But both sides plan to wage war on the politest of terms: English Heritage has allowed the Loyal Arthurian Warband to hold a protest on Wednesday on its land at the site, while the druid group says “non-violent, direct action” will be used only as a last resort.

(Source: Independent)


The Thousand-Year Graveyard
Scientists uncover a tortured history of disease and death from the Middle Ages onward
On a hot afternoon in July 2012, Giuseppe Vercellotti was digging up bones near the wall of an abandoned medieval church here, thinking about getting a cold drink, when he heard his students call his name. Faces glistening with sweat, they told him that they had found something strange buried half a meter down. Vercellotti took a look and saw a layer of lime, used in ancient times to squelch the stench of rotting corpses. When he tapped the hard layer with his trowel, it sounded hollow.
“We immediately thought it was a mass grave,” says Vercellotti, a biological anthropologist at Ohio State University, Columbus, who co-leads a field school here. “We instructors were all excited and hopeful.”
But the students were apprehensive: “They all started talking about possible contagion,” Vercellotti says. Unconcerned, he leaned deep into the trench, where he got a whiff of a pungent odor and spotted an elbow bone poking out of the lime that had sealed it like a cast. The layer spoke of bodies tossed into a pit and hastily covered with lime. Could this trench hold victims of the Black Death, the plague that killed half of Europe in the Middle Ages?

(Source: Science)

The Thousand-Year Graveyard

Scientists uncover a tortured history of disease and death from the Middle Ages onward

On a hot afternoon in July 2012, Giuseppe Vercellotti was digging up bones near the wall of an abandoned medieval church here, thinking about getting a cold drink, when he heard his students call his name. Faces glistening with sweat, they told him that they had found something strange buried half a meter down. Vercellotti took a look and saw a layer of lime, used in ancient times to squelch the stench of rotting corpses. When he tapped the hard layer with his trowel, it sounded hollow.

“We immediately thought it was a mass grave,” says Vercellotti, a biological anthropologist at Ohio State University, Columbus, who co-leads a field school here. “We instructors were all excited and hopeful.”

But the students were apprehensive: “They all started talking about possible contagion,” Vercellotti says. Unconcerned, he leaned deep into the trench, where he got a whiff of a pungent odor and spotted an elbow bone poking out of the lime that had sealed it like a cast. The layer spoke of bodies tossed into a pit and hastily covered with lime. Could this trench hold victims of the Black Death, the plague that killed half of Europe in the Middle Ages?

(Source: Science)


Mystery cave find wows Spanish scientists
Archaeologists made an exciting discovery near Barcelona recently: the 6,400-year-old remains of four people. Strangest of all, the group may have been bound together with rope and wrapped in a shroud at death.
The archaeologists from the University of Barcelona found the remains of a 50-year-old man, an adolescent and two children in a cave near the city of Barcelona.
The bodies were in unusually good condition because a rockfall had blocked off the entrance to the cave, researchers said.
But it was the circumstances of the find that were most intriguing.
All four bodies had been placed in an “extreme foetal position” and lined up along the north wall of the cave, and the scientists believe they had been tied together with ropes and wrapped in a funeral shroud.
"The funerary rites here are different to those (seen) elsewhere", said Manel Edo, the director of the excavations. 
He said the rites — which date from the early stages of the Middle Neolithic period — were the first of their kind to be seen on the Iberian peninsula. 
Edo also explained the bodies had been placed in fetal position because “that is how you arrive on Earth and how you leave”.
At the site, the archaeologists also found household objects including a double-handed vase, and the remains of two goats and a cow, while the man of the group had a bone pendant below his left arm.  
The cave also included the remains of a bonfire, which may have lit during the funeral, the scientists said.

(Source: The Local)

Mystery cave find wows Spanish scientists

Archaeologists made an exciting discovery near Barcelona recently: the 6,400-year-old remains of four people. Strangest of all, the group may have been bound together with rope and wrapped in a shroud at death.

The archaeologists from the University of Barcelona found the remains of a 50-year-old man, an adolescent and two children in a cave near the city of Barcelona.

The bodies were in unusually good condition because a rockfall had blocked off the entrance to the cave, researchers said.

But it was the circumstances of the find that were most intriguing.

All four bodies had been placed in an “extreme foetal position” and lined up along the north wall of the cave, and the scientists believe they had been tied together with ropes and wrapped in a funeral shroud.

"The funerary rites here are different to those (seen) elsewhere", said Manel Edo, the director of the excavations. 

He said the rites — which date from the early stages of the Middle Neolithic period — were the first of their kind to be seen on the Iberian peninsula. 

Edo also explained the bodies had been placed in fetal position because “that is how you arrive on Earth and how you leave”.

At the site, the archaeologists also found household objects including a double-handed vase, and the remains of two goats and a cow, while the man of the group had a bone pendant below his left arm.  

The cave also included the remains of a bonfire, which may have lit during the funeral, the scientists said.

(Source: The Local)


Archaeologists find more bodies at Durham University site
Durham University archaeologists have found the remains of many more human bodies at a dig on the City’s World Heritage Site, providing clear evidence of a centuries-old mass grave.
The number of bodies found has risen from four to 18.
Experts first thought they had uncovered remains of Durham Cathedral’s medieval cemetery, whose boundaries may have extended further than the present day burial site.
But further investigation has revealed an unorthodox and intriguing layout to the bodies which archaeologists say is proof of a mass burial.

(Source: Popular Archaeology)

Archaeologists find more bodies at Durham University site

Durham University archaeologists have found the remains of many more human bodies at a dig on the City’s World Heritage Site, providing clear evidence of a centuries-old mass grave.

The number of bodies found has risen from four to 18.

Experts first thought they had uncovered remains of Durham Cathedral’s medieval cemetery, whose boundaries may have extended further than the present day burial site.

But further investigation has revealed an unorthodox and intriguing layout to the bodies which archaeologists say is proof of a mass burial.

(Source: Popular Archaeology)


Online in 3D: the ‘grotesque beauty’ of medieval Britons’ diseased bones
Digitised Diseases site makes 1,600 specimens available for doctors and members of the public to study for free

The bones of a young woman who died of syphilis more than 500 years ago, the reassembled jaw of a man whose corpse was sold to surgeons at the London hospital in the 19th century and the contorted bone of an 18th-century man who lived for many years after he was shot through the leg, are among the remains of hundreds of individuals which can now be studied in forensic detail on a new website.

The Digitised Diseases website, to be launched on Monday at the Royal College of Surgeons in London, brings together 1,600 specimens, many from people with excruciating conditions including leprosy and rickets, from stores scattered across various university and medical collections. The original crumbling bones of some specimens now available in 3D scans are too fragile to be handled. The database is intended for professionals, but is also available free to members of the public who may be fascinated by the macabre specimens.


(Source: The Guardian)

Online in 3D: the ‘grotesque beauty’ of medieval Britons’ diseased bones

Digitised Diseases site makes 1,600 specimens available for doctors and members of the public to study for free
The bones of a young woman who died of syphilis more than 500 years ago, the reassembled jaw of a man whose corpse was sold to surgeons at the London hospital in the 19th century and the contorted bone of an 18th-century man who lived for many years after he was shot through the leg, are among the remains of hundreds of individuals which can now be studied in forensic detail on a new website.
The Digitised Diseases website, to be launched on Monday at the Royal College of Surgeons in London, brings together 1,600 specimens, many from people with excruciating conditions including leprosy and rickets, from stores scattered across various university and medical collections. The original crumbling bones of some specimens now available in 3D scans are too fragile to be handled. The database is intended for professionals, but is also available free to members of the public who may be fascinated by the macabre specimens.

(Source: The Guardian)