Deploying the Dead: Artefacts and human bodies in socio-cultural transformations

Project Participants

  • Project Leader
    University of Exeter
    United Kingdom
    Freie Universität Berlin
    Czech University of Life Sciences
    Czech Republic
    Austrian Academy of Sciences

Long-dead bodies are pervasive and increasingly active participants in contemporary European society. Through both literal and metaphorical interactions with the remains of the dead, societies and individuals testify to their identity in the present and their aspirations for the future. Why and how do the dead and the artefacts associated with them become flashpoints of controversy, interest, and identity for the living? Harnessing the disciplines of literary studies and archaeology, this project will examine historic and prehistoric encounters with human remains and related artefacts in England and Central Europe in order to shed light on their cultural and social power. Through a series of case studies juxtaposing distinct eras, cultures, and types of evidence, the project will reveal what is constant and what is locally and historically specific in our ways of interacting with the long-dead. Our research will explore the relationship between long-dead bodies and myths of national or community origin, and the ways in which they have been and are used to reinforce or challenge historical narratives. Identifying the meanings and mechanisms of past interactions with the dead and their artefacts in order to inform our understanding of present-day discoveries and dilemmas is the central goal of the DEEPDEAD project.

Results of the project will be disseminated by means of exhibitions, public conferences, social media, and academic publications. These dissemination plans are aimed at prompting informed reflection on the sources of our fascination with the long dead. The results of the project will be useful to heritage professionals and relevant policy-makers in responding to actual discoveries and anticipating the kinds of reactions they are likely to elicit. Equally importantly, they will prove useful in developing appropriate and sensitive responses to campaigns to discover or exhume human remains.

Associated Partners: 

AP 1: Harald Meller, State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology Saxony-Anhalt, Halle (Saale), Germany;

AP 2: (a.O. Univ. Prof.) Maria Teschler-Nicola, Natural History Museum Vienna, Austria;