Deep in Time: Meaning and Mnemonic in Archaeological and Diaspora Studies of Death

This element of the project is based on an extensive historical review of approaches to death, dying, memorials and memorialisation in Europe and the former British World. It will seek to outline the ways in which people negotiate and re-negotiate their articulations with the dead, the afterlife and the memorialisation of the dead. By considering the longue durée of approaches to death and burial it is anticipated that a more nuanced and informed narrative of modern social attitudes will be forthcoming.

In addition, this study will also assess the ways in which approaches to death and burial and the articulation of meaning might provide some insights into social conventions and the appropriation of the dead by social, political and religious institutions. Silverman (2002) suggests that in addition to the social, philosophical-religious, circumstantial, and physical determinants of mortuary practices, archaeological studies also offer the opportunity to consider the space and place of death.

The current study will address questions such as: changing attitudes to death and burial and their causes; the nature of memorials and memorialisation within their socio-political and ritual contexts; the nature of modern perceptions of death, dying, memorialisation and the negotiation of these processes by people across the study period; how modern perspectives are shaped or influenced by the longue durée of social memory in relation to life and death, the transitions between these, and the ways in which individuals, groups and societies influence or are influenced by socio-political and ritual ‘norms’ or ‘deviancies’; how material culture is used to provide an outlet for grief and a means of negotiating emotion, memory and social identity.

By considering mortuary variation in Britain and Europe, and with reference to global perspectives on death and dying, we can begin to tease out both similarities and differences in the ways in which people approach memorialisation, the negotiation of death, and also their approaches to bereavement, liminality etc.

Effectively then, the aim of the historical survey is to assess the social dimensions of mortuary practices over time, with a view to informing the overarching theme of the changing face of memorialisation in the UK. In particular, the greater resolution afforded by archaeological studies, in terms of changing approaches to death and dying, ‘deviant’ practice, differing perspectives on memorials and memorialisation, will facilitate a comparative set of perspectives from which we can evaluate individual and group perspectives at differing spatial and temporal scales, and thereby offer a more subtle reading of the evidence.

Should you have any questions regarding this element of the project please do not hesitate to contact either Dr. Malcolm Lillie or Dr. Yvonne Inall.

The Research Highlights and Executive Summary for this study are now available here: Deep Time Highlights and Summary