From Current Archaeology:
Archaeologists have excavated over 600 bodies from around the world, mysteriously buried face-down. Britain is the biggest hotspot – with more than 200 prone burials. What do they signify? Caroline Arcini of Sweden’s National Heritage Board has been investigating.
Note: I suspect that Morbid Curiosity may have posted this before, but I couldn’t confirm it because Tumblr’s search feature FUCKING SUCKS. Sorry, it had to be said. Seriously: I can’t even search my OWN posts by text, or even by tag.
Gratuitous personal sidenote: I went to graduate school to study Celtic languages and literatures. My focus was on modern and medieval Welsh, but I also had to study the languages from the other side of the Irish Sea. I studied Old Irish for a few years. Old Irish was an incredibly complex (at least, to a native English speaker) and fascinating language, just as its descendant, modern Irish, is today. Since they date from the 7th to 9th centuries, these skeletons may have spoken that language. Before they were skeletons.
The entire blog post (click the image to get to it) is fascinating. Particularly:
The tradition of weighting down or otherwise defiling corpses (as with nails through the temple and stakes through the heart) seems to be a long one in Europe, born out of a fear of the dead that was related to the rise of Christianity, the lack of understanding of germ theory, and the increase in epidemic diseases.
There weren’t, for example, vampires in Rome. The Romans actually had ongoing relationships with the dead, running pipes from the ground to the grave below in order to offer them food and drink and celebrating them at least once a year in the Parentalia. The Judeo-Christian idea that the dead should go into the ground and stay there means that deviations from this practice - as hair and nails seemed to grow after death, for example - probably caused a lot of general freaking out. But the simple introduction of monotheism may also have caused cultural stress, particularly in 7th century England, when kings were converting to Christianity and people were no longer sure what to believe.
I’ve gotta go watch the documentary on YouTube now. Laters!
Archaeology of the Undead
Lots of press has been given in the past week to two late 7th to early 9th century burials found at the site of Kilteasheen in Ireland. According to the news reports and the documentary (which won’t air in the U.S. until 2012, but which you can see on YouTube… for now), archaeologists excavating at the site from 2005-2009 uncovered over 130 graves. Two of them - both males - were buried with stones in their mouths, and one of the men also had a large stone on top of his torso. Aside from a 2008 report of a 4,000-year-old burial, these two early 8th century Irish burials seem to be the oldest evidence of what may be the practice of preventing “revenants” (zombies, vampires, and other undead people) from returning to the land of the living.
Check out this excellent blog post by Kristina Killgrove about archaeological ‘revenants’ and be sure to watch the documentary about the ‘vampire’ burials in Ireland - now available on Youtube!
Roman sarcophagus, second century A.D. From Karthryn B. Gerry’s article on the Treasures of Heaven online exhibit:
Starting in the second century, Romans began to favor inhumation, or burial, rather than cremation, and the upper strata of Roman society could afford finely carved marble sarcophagi for their tombs. […] Roman tombs often housed the remains of several generations and could be visited by family members, who would hold ceremonial meals and perform other rituals in the tombs at certain times of the year. The tomb complex in which the Garland Sarcophagus was found included large carved sarcophagi, small altars with cremated remains, and a number of carved portrait busts.
Artist: Aleksey Ivanovich Saveliev (Russian, 1883–1923)
Title: At the prepared grave.
Descriptive Title: [Gravesite and Mourners at Funeral of Leo Tolstoy, Astapovo, Russia]
Medium: Gelatin silver print
Dimensions: Image: 8.9 x 13.3 cm (3 1/2 x 5 1/4 in.)
Credit Line: Gift of Pierre Apraxine, 2010
Accession Number: 2010.423.5
Another great article from Der Spiegel Online about the peculiarities of burial in Germany. Where Islam and grave wax meet!
It wasn’t just Evita who had some posthumous adventures.
In July 1987, thirteen years after his death, the Peronist Justicialist Party received an anonymous letter that claimed that [Juan] Perón’s hands had been removed from his tomb along with his army cap and sword; the letter demanded that the party pay an US$8 million ransom for their return. When authorities checked Perón’s tomb, they discovered that it had indeed been broken into and the hands and other items removed. Forensic experts who examined the body said the mutilation had occurred only a short time before the discovery. One source states that the tomb was broken into on June 23, 1987, and that a poem written to him by his last wife, Isabel, had also been removed from the tomb. At the time, some news reports stated that the hands had been removed with “a surgical instrument,” but later reports state that the dismemberment had been done with an electric saw.
The ransom was never paid, no suspects were charged, and the hands were never recovered.
Image: Juan Perón’s last public appearance. Source: Wikipedia.
Funeral of a Red Cross nurse, Western Front, during World War I. Soldiers lowering the coffin of a Red Cross nurse into a grave. Other nurses stand around holding wreaths and a bugler is waiting at the head of the grave. This is one of three photographs of the funeral which are attributed to Tom Aitken.
In spite of the huge numbers of men killed during the war, these photographs suggest that there was still an element of shock at the death of a woman, especially a nurse.
“Burying soldier who cut barbed wire defence of Adrianople (LOC),” 1913. Source: The Library of Congress on Flickr.
A team of archaeologists from the Kentucky Archaeological Survey have removed nearly 100 sets of human remains found in an unmarked cemetery on the grounds of Eastern State Hospital in Lexington, about double the amount they expected to find when the project began.
The graves are located…
This is the Hallstatt Beinhaus, or charnel house—a room of more than 1200 snugly stacked skulls. It’s located in the burial grounds of the Catholic church in Hallstatt, Austria. Atlas Obscura tells the story:
In the 1700s, the Church began digging up corpses to make way for the newly dead. The bodies which had been buried for only 10 to 15 years were then stacked inside the charnel house. Lest this all sound overly callous to the memory of the dead, there is actually a charm to the whole affair that Hallstatt can’t seem to escape even with a room full of skulls.
Once the skeletons were exhumed and properly bleached in the sun, the family members would stack the bones next to their nearest kin. In 1720 a tradition began of painting the skulls with symbolic decorations as well as dates of birth and death so that the dead would be remembered, even if they no longer had a grave. Of the 1200 skulls, some 610 of them were lovingly painted, with an assortment of symbols, laurels for valor, roses for love, and so on. The ones from the 1700s are painted with thick dark garlands, while the newer ones, from the 1800s on, bear brighter floral styles.
Skeletons, mummies, bog bodies, exhumations. The dead, and what happens to them.
Meet This Dead Person
Feats of Preservation
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Death in Art
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