Chairs | David BIBBY, Germany / Ann DEGRAEVE, Belgium

Burial Archaeology

Whether medieval church cemeteries or spital burial grounds, crypts in churches, modern municipal cemetries, Roman burials on the road into town or Iron Age tumuli on the edge of Hallstatt conglomerations, from an early stage of urbanization, burial grounds have always been a feature of human settlements, towns and cities in the widest sense. As an important source of information on demography, social systems, religion and even styles and fashion of past populations, the study of burial grounds is an important specialization within urban archeology. The excavation of cemeteries and burials has its own peculiarities and difficulties. In cemeteries complicated stratigraphy and, especially within large urban centers, the constant reuse of the same plots, resulting in the truncation of the previous burials, make systematic excavation difficult. The investigations of crypts and burials within churches bring their own problems – not least those concerned with health and safety. And not only are excellent digging skills and knowledge of stratigraphic theory expected of the excavator of burial and cemeteries, a thorough knowledge of burial traditions, the anatomy of skeletons, typology of burials and “first aid for bones” are also necessary. It is essential that inhumations and cremations are treated correctly on site – at the point of excavation – should they realize their full potential in post-excavation analysis – traditional physical anthropology, radiological investigations, ancient DNA, trace element and stable isotope and chemical analysis etc. Although documentation will be the main theme of the 2013-CHT-Conference and post-excavation analysis 2014’s leitmotif, contributions in 2012, especially describing technological innovation and/or interdisciplinary studies, especially on the interface between excavation and analysis will also be welcome this year. Modern technologies such as photogrammetry, SFM-photography and various scanning techniques aid detailed recording on site and excavation databases, for both on site recording and as the foundation for post excavation analysis, are now standard. This list of tools is however by no means exhaustive.
This call is written from a European perspective as is appropriate to the writer’s own experience. Worldwide, similar burial conditions to those in European conglomerations are clearly present. Innovative contributions from both inside and especially outside Europe are welcome.

Forensic Aspects

The Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology defines forensic archaeology as “an expanding branch of archaeological investigation in which the methods and approaches of archaeology are applied to legal problems and in connection with the work of courts of law”. Disaster scenes, genocide graves and other catastrophes have brought forensic archaeology to the public’s attention. Although developed since the mid 1990s and well established in some countries, and despite numerous television series surfing on the wave of new technologies helping the investigator to understand the crime scene, forensic archaeology is still relatively new – both to archaeology as well as to criminology and the judiciary. At the same time, (urban) archaeologists are often called to offer their expertise to the police in the case of fortuitous discoveries of human bones.
The skills normally used on archaeological sites to locate, excavate and record buried remains are employed by police and other agencies to help locate evidence at a crime scene or other scene of disaster. The types of targets that forensic archaeologists are asked to investigate can however be as diverse as the determination of potential gravesites, surface body disposals, mass graves, the excavation of any buried items belonging to a crime victim or the link between suspects and the scene.
The grave locations are identified using geophysical prospecting, surveying, trenching, excavation and forensic ecology. Osteoarchaeology, palaeopathology and physical anthropology provide guidance on age, sex and other physical characteristics like ante-mortem, peri-mortem and post-mortem injuries. Associated environmental disciplines and quantitative methods are vital for site reconstruction.
Papers providing examples on the use of the archaeological principles in the identification of grave locations (pedestrian and geophysical techniques, excavation techniques, etc), scene assessments (special skills needed in function of the scene situation), scene documentation, excavation and recovery, and scene reconstructions using both traditional archaeological methods and modern computer technology will be welcome. They should however also provide the necessary feedback to the archaeological community. Contributions describing technologies developed by associated disciplines, esp concerning site locations and scene documentation, and applicable in burial archaeology of earlier periods, providing thus a surplus value for the archaeologists, will therefore be especially welcomed.