Deploying the Dead: Artefacts and human bodies in socio-cultural transformations
The central goal of this project is to identify the meanings and mechanisms of past interactions with the dead and their artefacts, to inform our understanding of present-day discoveries and dilemmas.
Long-dead bodies are pervasive and increasingly active participants in contemporary European society. Through both literal and metaphorical interactions with the remains of the dead, societies and individuals testify to their identity in the present and their aspirations for the future. This project asks the question: ‘Why and how do the dead and the artefacts associated with them become flashpoints of controversy, interest and identity for the living?’
Using literary studies and archaeology, this project will examine historic and prehistoric encounters with human remains and related artefacts in England and Central Europe to shed light on their cultural and social power. Through a series of case studies juxtaposing distinct eras, cultures and types of evidence, this project will reveal what is constant and what is locally and historically specific in our ways of interacting with the long dead. The research will explore the:
- relationship between long-dead bodies and myths of national or community origin
- ways in which long-dead bodies have been and are used to reinforce or challenge historical narratives
Results of the project will be spread through:
- public conferences
- social media
- academic publications
The results of the project will be useful to heritage professionals and relevant policymakers in responding to actual discoveries and anticipating the kinds of reactions they are likely to elicit. Equally importantly, they will prove useful in developing appropriate and sensitive responses to campaigns to discover or exhume human remains.