Session: #546

Theme & Session Format

6. Material culture studies and societies
Session format:
Regular session

Title & Content

Idiosyncratic Burials: Interpreting the Politics of Death and Dead Bodies
Recent decades in archaeological theory and practice witnessed increased attention on the complexities of mortuary practice. Breaking from characterizations of burial assemblages as normative and reflexive representations of social and biological facts, more emphasis has been given to idiosyncratic facets of the mortuary domain in an attempt to highlight human agency and the politics of death. In our perspective, idiosyncratic mortuary behaviour can materialize through a wide range of deposits from ‘mass graves’ to the minute, but significant, differences observed between the burial assemblages within a cemetery. However, such variability in mortuary practice often remains viewed through the lens of perceived cultural logic and grammar by merely introducing more nuanced, but still mostly non-negotiable biosocial categories—such as age-at-death, genetic variability, etc.—into the interpretative mix. Although it is undeniable that certain aspects of mortuary practice are governed by strict cultural rules and remain remarkably consistent over time and space, there are truly idiosyncratic, and contingent elements of funerary behaviour that can shed light on contemporary politics.
Moving beyond the basic comparative and statistical assessment of mortuary assemblages, understanding idiosyncratic, ‘deviant’ or unorthodox elements and instances of funerary practice require different approaches, such as microarchaeology and archaeothanatology. We invite papers to our session that investigate such ‘non-normative’ mortuary behaviour in any region and period and seek to make sense of such rituals and political acts through their analysis.
mortuary archaeology, archaeothanatology, 'irregular burial', politics of death, microarchaeolgy
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Main organiser:
Vajk Szeverenyi (Hungary) 1
Tamás Polányi (United States) 2
1. Déri Múzeum, Debrecen
2. independent scholar