On the road in June: conferences & books on Prehistoric bodies (and a goat in a sweater)

Over the past month I’ve been travelling between countries, and cities, gathering some recently released books & news on projects dealing in various forms with Prehistoric bodies. These are some of the highlights:

Paris UISPP Conference, 4-9 June

My research focuses on interpreting settlement human remains from the Balkan Neolithic, and has thus far been divided between evaluating current interpretation – from DNA based narratives (see article published ), to new materialism takes (article in press)-, to a re-evaluation of the archaeological discoveries per se. On the latter I did a recent presentation during a very interesting workshop led by Prof John Robb in Cambrige on Commingled Human Remains in Settlements, with Jess Beck, Ioanna Moutafi, Jess Thompson, Argyro Nafplioti & Leah Damman; more to come soon! In Paris I gave a talk focused on the first part of the project, namely on:

Epistemology and the posthuman turn: a critique of the function attributed to ‘theory’ in the latest archaeological models

In their latest article, Þora Petursdottir and Bjørnar Olsen (2017) write: ‘Like drift matter on an Arctic shore, theories are adrift. They are not natives of any particular territory, but nomads in a mixed world’. They then continue to compare the theories’ adrift-ness with that of wood lying on a beach shore, which in turn prompts a meditation on ‘hybrid assemblages’ and ultimately a posthuman condition. While this text makes an enjoyable poetic reading, it is rather representative for a number of works which raise important epistemological concerns- works that have been labelled under the banner of ‘the new ontological turn’. These strands of thought have permeated archaeology via the works of Gilles Deleuze, Bruno Latour, Donna Harway, Viveiros de Castro or Manuel DeLanda. However, the above assertions are highly problematic. Caught between ontological axioms and ‘practice focused’ approach, many of the new materialist/posthuman attempts end up as being mere poetic reflections, but with very little to add in terms of understanding what have made past assemblages be as they are. It is my goal in this paper to discuss what I see as the main problems for how archaeology frames its relation to the past in light of such works: (1) they raise important epistemological concerns, as they are advancing a world-view which has no criterion for validation or evaluation of the advanced hypothesis; (2) these accounts fail at opening up an inquiry to the elaboration of further hypothesis; instead, the focus seems to be on elaborate descriptions); (3) they seem to be using traditional archaeological concepts-agency, theory, context,- with a different, often times unhelpful or ambiguous, meaning. Ultimately, the implication is that while militating for a more inclusive ontological perspective, in reality they fall short exactly in providing a room for acknowledging the alterity of the past. Therefore, I take their case as a starting point for a critique of the function attributed to ‘theory’ in the latest strands of thought in archaeology.

And some snapshots from the scene:

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Opening reception at  l’Ecole Normale Supérieure / Receptia de deschidere la Ecole Normale Supérieure

 

Two recently released books that I got in order to learn more about different academic schools’ perspectives on human remains, old or new- the Portuguese & the French. It should also be noted that Paris has great bookstores for academic books, especially the Anthropology-social theory section.

On this note, two other French books of good use to taphonomic discussions of human remains deposits:

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…And a taste of Paris life:

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Bucharest

After Paris, and Cambridge where I ran the ‘Can science accommodate multiple ontologies? The genetics revolution and archaeological theory’ Workshop (11-12 June 2018), I spent a short time in Bucharest. It was enough to discover:

That Bjørnar Olsen is giving the city as an example in his book

 

Two (seems to be the key no.) recent titles on Neolithic settlements in Southern Romania

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And to network a little at the opening of The Society for Romanian Studies international conference- though I was sorry that I had to miss the round table I should have been part of: ‘Whither Romanian Anthropology?’ organised by James Kapalo, and Narcis Tulbure.

 

Manchester ‘Grave Matters’ conference, 29 June

This one day international event was part of the ‘Grave goods: objects and death in later prehistoric Britain’ project (by Duncan Garrow, University of Reading, Melanie Giles, University of Manchester, and Neil Wilkin, British Museum) which ‘focuses on material culture in graves and other formal mortuary contexts in Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age Britain, c. 4000 BC to AD 43’. The line-up sounded eye-catching, with names including Daniela Hoffman, Katharina Rebay-Salisbury, Laurent Olivier, and many more.

I was interested to hear about the ways in which researchers working on materials from throughout Europe (Germany, Austria, France, Netherlands, UK) tackle similar problems as the ones I encounter (e.g. Prehistoric structured depositions in pits including human remains vs those that don’t, fragmented human remains, cenotaphs etc.). It was just a pity that many of the presentations turned out to be quite conservative, and focused more on broader reviews of data, then pushing for a new take on the topic. Even so, it was interesting to hear them ‘live’, and Manchester city was a good place to be.

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View during break time, under a glorious sun
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The event started strong- with an ‘exploding coconut’
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Laurent Olivier giving a ‘vintage talk’ to quote John Chapman

 

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Bodies in Manchester Museum

Fittingly or not, the one month road trip ended on a similar note as its beginning, in Manchester Museum contemplating a display which seemed to illustrate how one might envisage some Posthumanist narratives:

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Taking part in all these events has been possible thanks to the funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No 701230, for which I am grateful.

 

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Pe drum in iunie: conferinte si carti despre corpuri preistorice (si o capra in pulover)

In luna iunie am participat la Paris la conferinta UISPP , 4-9 iunie. Cercetarea mea se apleaca asupra interpretarii osemintelor umane descoperite in asezari neolitice din Balcani si pana acum s-a impartit intre evaluarea tipurilor de interpretari recente, de la analize bazate pe ADN (vezi articol publicat ), si interpretari postumaniste (articol in press)-, la o revelauare a descoperirilor in sine (despre care am facut o prezentare recenta la un workshop interesant organizat de Prof John Robb in Cambrige pe tema Oseminte umane in morminte colective/ in asezari , cu Jess Beck, Ioanna Moutafi, Jess Thompson, Argyro Nafplioti & Leah Damman; mai multe pe subiect in curand!). In Paris am vorbit despre epistemologie si noile curente postumaniste.

In Bucuresti am gasit doua titluri recent publicate despre asezari Neolitice din sudul Romaniei (si o referinta a lui Bjørnar Olsen).

La Manchester am participat la conferinta ‘Grave Matters’, despre inventare funerare in preistoria europeana. Conferinta face parte din proiectul ‘Grave goods: objects and death in later prehistoric Britain’ si va fi urmata de o conferinta extinsa in luna mai 2019.

Summary of ‘Can science accommodate multiple ontologies? The genetics revolution and archaeological theory’ Workshop (11-12 June 2018)

Bodies and academia

posterworkshopjuneThis is a short summary of what happened earlier this week during the two days of the ‘Can science accommodate multiple ontologies? The genetics revolution and archaeological theory‘ Workshop which we held at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research (11-12 June) (see here the Programme, and Abstracts). With this event we hoped to foster critical dialogue between several disciplines on recent DNA studies in archaeology. The aim of the event was to deal with epistemological concerns regarding the integration of empirical data, especially genetics, in archaeological/ historical interpretative models. At the same time, we wanted to see how we can contribute to the wider current debates in Anthropology, the sciences, and History, on the ways in which various kinds of evidence can be successfully integrated, at the cross-roads of humanities and hard sciences approaches.

We had 2 ½ months to plan, 11 speakers, and around 40 participants in…

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Dead bodies, just ‘bodies’, or bones? Thoughts on terminology when studying the past

‘ […] when it comes to the study of human remains discovered in Neolithic settlements- disarticulated, fragmentary, and scattered human remains among dwellings- the question that I am currently thinking about is what would these deposits mean in terms of their presence and composition? Instead of focusing on a distinction: living-dead, what does it mean to have the 2 coming together?’

Bodies and academia

I once had to play a game (part of an exhibition guided tour): to choose a word that defines myself and write it on my name tag…’ (post)

When I meet new people at social events, the first question I get asked is: what is it that you do? The answer always puts me in difficulty (see past musings on the topic), as I do several things. However, trying to meet the expectations which usually understand ‘what you do’= the kind of material you are working on, my usual short answer is: dead bodies. A friend recently asked me about this- why do I keep telling people that I am researching dead bodies? ‘Simply tell them you do bodies’ she suggested. While from a social interaction point of view this is probably a healthy advice-many disappear after my reply-, this also made me think: what would be…

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DivMeanBody at upcoming conferences

It has been a little quiet here lately, but only because I have been trying to get the data into shape. More details on the first results soon, when the article is out. But in the meantime, there are some exciting events coming up this year for the project.

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Source: bonesdontlie

First stop on the map is next week, as part of the second meeting of the Philosophy of Historical Sciences Reading Group (at the McDonald Institute). The topic discussed will be Interdisciplinarity and the analysis of human remains. The interpretation of human remains discovered in Neolithic settlements in the Balkan area has shifted throughout the history of archaeology: from ignored finds to the most recent genetic narratives which turn them into migration markers. In the context of new inter/multi-disciplinary projects, the interpretation of such deposits, and the selection of individuals represented, seems to be discussed in reference to the changes that led to the transition to a Neolithic way of life, to migrations or movement of individuals among settlements (‘the foreigners’ hypothesis). However these narratives raise a couple of points that need a careful critical evaluation.

 

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Taking this discussion further, DivMeanBody will be present at EAA2018 Conference. First session is the one I am co-organising with Liv Nilsson Stutz (Linnaeus University):

Session 151. Boundary bodies: Critically thinking the body in contemporary (osteo)archaeology.

The archaeological study of human remains has long suffered from a divide between scientific and cultural/embodied discourses with only a few explicit attempts to bridge it. In this session we propose to position the human body at the centre of this divide, as ‘boundary bodies’, and explore how scientific and theoretical propositions intersect on the territory of the body. This effort is articulated with a critical reflection on some of the latest scientific, theoretical or technical advances in the field of human remains research in (osteo)archeology. From a ‘DNA revolution’, to the digitisation of the dead, from advances in archaeothanatology to the appearance of new subdisciplines, such as biohistory, our field has been lately marked by new questions and ethical and methodological concerns. Following on from some recent scholarship focused on the conditions of knowledge production on past human bodies (Crossland and Joyce 2015; Nillson Stutz 2016; Stojanowski and Duncan 2017), we aim to dismantle the illusion that this knowledge is a straightforward matter, and instead link it to the fields of ethics, law, heritage, and cultural anthropology.

We welcome thought-provoking contributions that critically engage with the archaeological body and its deposition context, and the impact of latest theoretical or methodological strands (e.g. from the challenges of biohistorical investigation, posthumanism, to the dead in the digital realm, the implications of hard sciences investigations, or the divide death/burial archaeology). This session will run together with the more practically inclined ‘Manipulated bodies: Case studies of post-mortem interactions with human remains’ session.

This session is paired with Session 154. Manipulated bodies: Case studies of post-mortem interactions with human remains organised with Elizabeth Craig-Atkins (University of Sheffield), and Marianne Hem Eriksen (University of Oslo).

Following death, the human body becomes the focus of a diverse range of activities conducted by the living. While burial in an earthen grave in a location designated for the disposal of the dead has been normative practice throughout the past in many locations across Europe, there are also a multitude of other ways in which the dead have been, and continue to be, managed. These include non-burial forms of funerary treatment, intentional exhumations, the responses to unintentional disturbances and forms of collection and curation of human remains. From bones in ossuaries and human remains in museum collections to puzzling body parts discovered beneath prehistoric houses, people have been curating others throughout the centuries. What can we learn from such post-mortem biographies, and what are the challenges faced by archaeologists and curators?

This session aims to highlight potential comparative perspectives across social, cultural and temporal contexts, thereby examining the reasons why, contexts within and means by which the material body is manipulated after death. This session seeks to draw together applied research and cases studies that examine post-mortem interactions with the dead and the archaeological body.

The abstract submission deadline for both sessions is: 15 February 2018.

There will be some other interesting talks and papers, so stay tuned for that!

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DivMeanBody la conferinte viitoare

Linistea de pe blog din ultima vreme s-a datorat in parte timpului dedicat ordonarii datelor culese intr-o naratiune relevanta. Mai multe detalii despre primele rezultate ale cercetarii în curând, când articolul va fi publicat. Însă, între timp, se anunta o serie de evenimente interesante pentru acest proiect.

Prima oprire pe hartă este săptămâna viitoare, ca parte a celei de-a doua întâlniri a Grupului de lectură de Filosofia Stiințelor Istorice (la Institutul McDonald). Subiectul discutat va fi Interdisciplinaritatea și analiza rămășițelor umane. Interpretarea corpurilor umane descoperite în așezările neolitice din zona balcanică s-a schimbat de-a lungul istoriei arheologiei: de la descoperiri ignorate la cele mai recente analize genetice care le transformă în markeri ai migratiilor. În contextul unor noi proiecte inter / multidisciplinare, interpretarea acestor depozite și selectia persoanelor reprezentate sunt discutate în legătură cu schimbările care au condus la tranziția spre un mod neolitic de viață, cu migrații sau mișcari ale persoanelor intre asezari (“ipoteza străinilor”). Cu toate acestea, aceste narațiuni ridică câteva puncte care necesită o evaluare critică atentă.

Continuând această discuție, DivMeanBody va fi prezent la Conferința EAA2018.

Prima sesiune este cea co-organizata cu Liv Nilsson Stutz (Universitatea Linnaeus) cu tema: Corpurile limită: Gândirea critică a corpului în (osteo)arheologia contemporană.

Studiul arheologic al rămășițelor umane a suferit mult timp de pe urma diviziunii dintre discursurile științifice și cele culturale, cu doar câteva încercări explicite de a depasi bariera. În această sesiune ne propunem să poziționăm corpul uman în centrul acestei diviziuni, privit fiind ca un “corp de graniță” și să explorăm modul în care perspectivele teoretice și științifice se intersectează pe teritoriul corpului. Acest efort este articulat ca o reflecție critică asupra unora dintre cele mai recente progrese științifice, teoretice sau tehnice în domeniul cercetării ramasitelor umane în (osteo)arheologie. De la o “revoluție a ADN” la digitizarea morților, de la progresul arheotanatologiei până la apariția unor noi subdiscipine, cum ar fi bioistoria, domeniul nostru a fost marcat în ultimul timp de noi întrebări și preocupări etice și metodologice. În urma unor lucrari recente, axate pe condițiile de producere a cunoasterii asupra corpurilor umane din trecut (Crossland și Joyce 2015, Nillson Stutz 2016, Stojanowski și Duncan 2017), ne propunem să deconstruim iluzia că această cunoaștere este un adevar evident și in acelasi timp sa o legam de intrebari  din domeniile eticii, legislatiei, patrimoniului și antropologiei culturale.

Invitam contribuții provocatoare care abordeaza critic corpul arheologic și contextul său de depunere, precum și impactul ultimelor direcții teoretice sau metodologice (de exemplu, provocările cercetării bioistorice, postumanismului, morții în domeniul digital, implicațiile cercetarilor din științele naturale).

Această sesiune se desfasoara impreuna cu sesiunea Corpuri manipulate: Studii de caz ale interactiunilor post-mortem cu ramasite umane‘  – organizată impreuna cu Elizabeth Craig-Atkins (Universitatea din Sheffield) și Marianne Hem Eriksen (Universitatea din Oslo).

După moarte, corpul uman devine punctul central al unei game variate de activități desfășurate de cei vii. În timp ce îngroparea într-un mormânt într-un spatiu special delimitat pentru morți a fost o practică normativă în trecut în multe locuri din Europa, in acelasi timp există o multitudine de alte moduri în care morții au fost și continuă să fie gestionați . Acestea includ exhumări intenționate, răspunsuri la perturbări neintenționate și forme de colectionare și de pastrare a rămășițelor umane. De la oasele din osuare și rămășițele omenești din colecțiile muzeelor, la cele descoperite sub locuinte preistorice, oamenii si-au ‘colectionat’ semenii de-a lungul secolelor. Ce putem învăța din astfel de biografii post-mortem și care sunt provocările cu care se confruntă arheologii și curatorii? Această sesiune își propune să evidențieze intr-o perspectiva comparativa contexte sociale, culturale și temporale diferite, examinând astfel motivele, contextele și mijloacele prin care corpul material este manipulat după moarte.

 

Termenul limită de trimitere a rezumatelor pentru ambele sesiuni este: 15 februarie 2018.

Acestor evenimente le vor urma alte noutati și lucrări interesante, asa ca urmariti acest spatiu!

MARBAL Outreach at Cambridge Festival of Ideas

DivMeanBody at Festival of Ideas Cambridge

MARBAL

Last week I participated in a public outreach session titled “Unravelling the Stories of the Dead: Rethinking Truth and Evidence Through an Archaeologist’s Lens“, which took place at the Cambridge Festival of Ideas.


I presented with two other archaeologists, and as our flyer on the gates to the Downing Site indicated,  we all took different approaches to the themes of truth and story-telling in archaeology.

Laerke Recht, who kicked off the event, focused on vertical versus horizontal story-telling, using the biography of author Agatha Christie as a framework within which to discuss object biographies and life histories. Just as biographers find different ways to explore Christie’s life – ranging from  situating her career within  the the broad perspective of the first half of the 20th century, to narrowing their focus to her personal relationships – archaeologists can use the same kinds of multi-scalar strategies to assess our…

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Interview with Alexandra Ion: Introducing DivMeanBody & The Postmortem Fate of Human Bodies

Read an interview with David Mennear – had a great time with it!

These Bones Of Mine

Alexandra Ion is an osteoarchaeologist and anthropologist who specialises in Neolithic deathways, theory of (osteo)archaeological practice, and the history of anatomical/anthropological body displays.  Alexandra can be found writing about her research and thoughts on her blog at Bodies and Academia, where topics include the anthropology of the body, with specific reference to the ethics and history of body research and the display of the body.  To keep up to date on the DivMeanBody project, and the latest research goings on, check out the project blog.  Alexandra’s research profile can be found here.


These Bones of Mine (TBOM): Hello Alexandra, thank you so much for joining me at These Bones of Mine! We’ve known each other for a while via our own respective blogging sites and I’m always interested to see what you post at Bodies and Academia. However, for those of us who do not know you or…

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Review of Public Debate “Restless dead bodies: the ethics of circulation of human remains” (EASA Medical Anthropology Network Conference|Lisbon 2017)

Last week I’ve been to EASA Medical Anthropology Network Conference|Lisbon 2017 and talked about the body in archives as a body-archive, bearing inscribed scientific practices and epistems. As part of this even, there was a very interesting public debate and here is its review:

Bodies and academia

cartazI’ve just come back from the  Medical Anthropology Network Meeting (5-7 July, Lisbon, Portugal) and the highlight of the 2nd day was an important and one of a kind debate on the ethics of circulation of human remains, with the specific focus on a Portuguese recent case study. Before going into further details, I should mention that the first time I’ve heard about the events in question was at this debate (also many others in the room learnt about it for the first time), and that I had known none of the researchers involved before this. Thus, my understanding of the context of the discussion is based on what was said during the plenary meeting by the participants involved- and on some press stories-. In consequence, I might miss some pieces of information, but I’ve tried to represent the case to the best of what I’ve learnt.

This will…

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Talking in Thessaloniki: Broken bodies-addressing the dynamics of postmortem depositions in Neolithic settlements from the Balkan area

The workshop in Thessaloniki has just ended (Ritualizing Funerary Practices in the Prehistoric Aegean and viewing the human body acts of transforming, organised by Sevi Triantaphyllou, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, and Diamantis Panagiotopoulos,  University of Heidelberg). It’s been a full day of talks on various practices of body disposal in the Aegean area, from cremation burials in Neolithic Macedonia to Mycenaean  collective tombs. It’s been good to hear a lot of young Greek researchers talking about their research in N Greece, and to see some of the local trends in this kind of research. With this workshop I also took the opportunity of raising for debate a couple of issues which I find with the study of human remains discovered in Neolithic settlements, from terminology, to the scale of analysis we use.

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In short, what we see is that from the appearance of (quasi)sedentary life in Anatolia & the Balkan area (and then in the rest of Europe), a staple of settlement life are…the dead, who are found among/beneath/on top of dwellings, in ‘waste areas’ (among animal bones, pottery sherds, figurines, shells etc). They can take the form of ‘graves’ which are traditionally labeled as primary inhumations- that is usually whole skeletons deposited in a pit-, or that of scattered/fragmentary deposits, from heads to hands, from unidentifiable tiny bits of bones to parts of the skeleton (these being interpreted either as ‘secondary depositions’, which start from the assumption that there was an initial grave, which was opened, some of the bones then taken out, and re-interred/thrown somewhere else or as scattered bones).

Throughout time there have been a series of attempts to interpret these depositions, either osteological/statistical inferences looking at them as Big data, searching patterns among larger geographical areas/time spans – are certain age groups/sexes/body parts preferred? is there a depositional rule? etc- , to anthropological type of inferences, such as John Chapman’s attempt at reading these bones as traces of practices of building social cohesion through breaking down/reuniting dividual (fragmentary) bodies (following on theories such as Marilyn Strathern’s).  However, there are still important questions which need to be answered, and methodological aspects to be debated, as the fragmentary nature of the evidence, alongside the way data has been collected, often hinders certain lines of inquiries.

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For example, at Cascioarele, a Neolithic tell in Southern Romania whose discoveries have been roughly dated between 5th-early 4th millenia, were discovered 11 children’s skeletons and a dozen of scattered bones. The tell was firstly investigated in 1925, and then during the 1960s by a team led by Vladimir Dumitrescu. During these campaigns the children’s graves were discovered at various depths, under the floor level of the daub dwellings, with the bodies lying in ‘extreme croutched poistions’ on one or the either side. 4 of these were analysed in 2010 (1), and their ages ranged from neo-nates to 5-7 years old. However, such discoveries also pose a challenge for those revisiting old data sets, as in order to be able to link them to other discoveries to obtain a broader picture of what might have happened to these individuals, one misses important information: were the pits posterior to the dwellings, or before them? Where are the rest of the skulls? (have they been lost due to taphonomic processes? post excavation? or they were missing and not deposited in the pits?). Where all children from the same time horizon, or in various moments of the occupation of the tell its inhabitants have deposited children in the living areas? These kind of questions, closely linked to methodological issues, are a common feature of research of this topic, and raising them can also improve future research.

Thus, more on the topic on a future post.

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Source:  Ion A. 2010
References:
(1)  Ion A. 2010. Analiza antropologica a scheletelor a patru copii descoperiti in situl neolitic de la Cascioarele-Ostrovel [Anthropological analysis of four skeletons discovered in the Neolithic Cascioarele-Ostrovel site]. Peuce S.N. 8: 27 – 36.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No 701230

[Workshop 6 April 2017] Ritualizing Funerary Practices in the Prehistoric Aegean: acts of transforming and viewing the human body

This is a quick mention of an upcoming workshop on Funerary Archaeology in the Prehistoric Aegean: Ritualizing Funerary Practices in the Prehistoric Aegean: acts of transforming and viewing the human body. The event is organised by Sevi Triantaphyllou (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki) and Diamantis Panagiotopoulos (University of Heidelberg)on April 6 at the Aristotle University of Thessalonik. Full program here.

“The scope of the workshop will be to disentangle different acts of transforming and viewing the body in the prehistoric Aegean based on archaeological evidence and paradigms derived from the funerary domain. Emphasis will be given on the integration of methodological approaches applied by osteoarchaeology but also of modern ideas of visualization and the archaeological theory of the human body.”

I am looking fwd to taking part in the event with a talk on: Broken bodies: addressing the dynamics of postmortemdepositions in Neolithic settlements from the Balkan area. More details to follow soon.

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Pe data de 6 aprilie, la Universitatea Aristotel din Salonic, va avea loc workshop-ul de arheologie funerara din zona Marii Egee in preistorie: Ritualizing Funerary Practices in the Prehistoric Aegean: acts of transforming and viewing the human body [Ritualizarea practicilor funerare din zona Marii Egee in preistorie: actele de transformare si privire a corpului uman]. Evenimentul este organizat de Sevi Triantaphyllou (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki) si Diamantis Panagiotopoulos (University of Heidelberg). Programul poate fi accesat aici.

“Scopul workshopului este acela de identifica diferitele acte de transformare si privire a corpului in zona Marii Egee in preistorie, pe baza descoperirilor arheologice si a paradigmelor derivate din studiile funerare”

Ca parte a proiectului curent de cercetare, voi participa cu o comunicare despre: Broken bodies: addressing the dynamics of postmortem depositions in Neolithic settlements from the Balkan area [Corpuri fragmentare: analizarea dinamicii depunerilor de oseminte umane in asezari Neolitice din Balcani]. Mai multe detalii vor urma in curand.

Getting started: first 3 months of DivMeanBody

No better time for making lists and drawing lines than the beginning of a new year. DivMeanBody’s first months have been marked by 3 landmarks: making the research aims public in late October (part of the Festival of Ideas in Cambridge), followed by the interesting postdoc forum at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research in early December, and then the TAG Southampton Conference just before Christmas.

TAG, and especially the Following Things in Motion: Object Itineraries in Archaeological Practice session organised by Marta Díaz-Guardamino (Cardiff University/University of Southampton) and Rosemary A. Joyce (University of California, Berkeley) provided a good opportunity to make me think about how I should approach these fragments of the past. While most osteoarchaeological analysis focus on the destiny of human remains in the(ir) past, such remains often continue their biography beyond death, up to the present time. The itinerary itself along with the scientific networks in which they are embedded reshape their ontological understanding. Therefore, I took the case study of several dozen human remains discovered in Neolithic settlements in southern Romania during the 1960s-1970s. These settlements have yielded collections of fragmentary and scattered human remains who might help us understand how these past communities were dealing with the transition between life and death. However, their existence does not end with their deposition, and their meaning shifts as they move through laboratories, displays and publications’ pages. To quote Shanks (1998), they have been ‘slowly assembled’, the biography of the individual before death being intertwined with their contemporary trajectory of a body-as-scientific-object, taken from the world ‘out there’ into the cultural realm. It is an itinerary which spans 6 millennia and in which human remains are constructed in various ways: the body as-an-archaeological artefact, body-as-osteological data, and body-as-knowledge. To explore how the meaning of these bones has been continuously redefined through their discovery, analysis and publication I chose to ask questions shaped within the field of the sociology of scientific knowledge area. Given that the past and present intertwine in constructing how these bones are defined, in order to grasp these transformations one needs to breach the biological body (osteology) and the cultural body (archaeology) divide which often marks an osteoarchaeological discourse.

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So where next? The plan for the next 3 months is to continue the historical research of these remains, in order to better understand how the archaeologists have constructed them as historical bodies. In parallel, I aim to gather the existing published evidence on human remains discovered in settlements falling within the geographical and temporal limits of the projects, as well as to trace any available materials that are still waiting to be analysed.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No 701230

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Inceputuri: primele 3 luni ale proiectului DivMeanBody

Nu este un moment mai bun pentru a face liste și a trage linia decât începutul unui nou an. Asadar, primele luni ale proiectului DivMeanBody au fost marcate de 3 repere principale: diseminarea in randul publicului a liniilor principale ale cercetarii la sfârșitul lunii octombrie (parte a Festivalului Ideilor din Cambridge), urmat de forumul postdoctoral interesant de la McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research la începutul lunii decembrie, iar apoi Conferința TAG Southampton chiar înainte de Crăciun.

TAG, și în special sesiunea Following Things in Motion: Object Itineraries in Archaeological Practice organizată de Marta Díaz-Guardamino (Cardiff University / Universitatea din Southampton) și Rosemary A. Joyce (Universitatea din California, Berkeley) a oferit o bună ocazie pentru a mă provoca să reflectez la modul în care ar trebui să vorbesc despre aceste fragmente din trecut. In timp ce majoritatea analizelor osteoarheologice se concentreze asupra destinului lor din trecut, aceste rămășițe isi continuă adesea biografia dincolo de moarte, până în prezent. Itinerariul în sine, împreună cu rețelele științifice în care acestea sunt încorporate reconfigureaza înțelesurile lor ontologice. Prin urmare, plecand de la studiul de caz a câteva zeci de rămășițe umane descoperite în așezări neolitice din sudul România pe parcursul anilor 1960 1970, am urmarit cum existența lor nu se încheie cu depunerea lor,  interpretarilor lor schimbandu-se o data cutraseul lor prin laboratoare, expozitii și pagini de publicații. Pentru a il cita pe Shanks (1998), ele au fost “asamblate lent”, biografia individului înainte de moarte  încrucișandu-se cu traiectoria lor contemporană, a unui corp ca-obiect-stiintific. Este un traseu care se întinde pe 6 milenii si in care ramasite umane sunt construite în diferite moduri: corpul ca-un-artefact-arheologic, corpul ca-date osteologice și corp-cunoaștere. Pentru a explora modul în care semnificația acestor oase a fost redefinita în mod continuu, prin descoperirea, analiza si publicarea lor, am ales să pună întrebări dezvoltate in aria sociologiei cunoasterii stiintifice. Având în vedere faptul că trecutul și prezentul se întrepătrund în construirea modului în care sunt definite aceste oase, pentru a înțelege aceste transformări este nevoie de depasirea diviziunii corp biologic (osteologic) și corp cultural (arheologic), care marchează adesea un discurs osteoarheologic.

Planul pentru următoarele 3 luni este de a continua cercetarea istorică a acestor descoperirii, cu scopul de a înțelege mai bine modul în care arheologii au construit corpul istoric. În paralel, imi propun sa adun informatiile publicate existente despre rămășițe umane din așezările care se încadrează în limitele geografice și temporale ale proiectului, precum și sa descopar orice materiale disponibile care încă așteaptă să fie analizate.