Archaeologists have long studied graves and cemeteries. Recent years have seen heated debates over the ethics and politics of digging, displaying and storing the ancient dead. The recent conclusion of a joint English Heritage and National Trust consultation process over the future display of the human remains within the Keiller Museum at Avebury has brought this issue to the fore in the UK. Archaeologists are well aware of how human remains, artefacts and places associated with the dead are contested; they are 'adopted' as ancestors by modern religious groups, 'claimed' by science or 'owned' by us all. However, we contend that the reburial and repatriation debates have obscured a set of far wider questions concerning how mortuary archaeology interacts and intersects with popular culture and contemporary attitudes and practices surrounding dying, death and the dead.
Archaeologists have been remarkably quiet on these broader issues despite the fact that they regularly uncover and interpret the ancient dead for widespread consumption by many different sections of the public. The session aims to incorporate but move beyond the repatriation and reburial debate. Instead we want to critically appraise what mortuary archaeology does for modern societies and conversely how contemporary death-ways and commemorative practices influence archaeological theory and practice. Rather than pursuing a single theoretical agenda, our aim is to create an open forum for debate.
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