The Unhealthy Body: The Care for and Funerary Treatment of the Ill and Infirm across the Ages

This book explores the question of the relationship between past societies and those who suffered from illness and impairment. The 38 contributions that make it up cover a wide chronological breadth, ranging from later prehistory to the present day. They consider, in turn, the places in which the sick were cared for (hospitals, religious establishments, and leprosaria), the funerary treatment that their corpses received in different periods of the past, the accompanying objects associated with them, as well as the medico-surgical practices that can sometimes be reconstructed from the study of skeletal remains. Focusing on social and funerary considerations, this volume illustrates the diverse behaviors elicited by the ailing and unwell according to time and place, thus contributing to current interests in the social history of care, and support of the ill and infirm in past societies.

Les réouvertures de tombes et la manipulation des ossements (re-opening of the graves)

After burial, the integrity of a grave can be disturbed in many ways, particularly by the intervention of the living. Despite the fact that the management of the burial space can often be responsible for these disruptions, it is not the only reason for people to disturb graves. Depending on the place, time and space of burial, the motivations are wide-ranging and not necessarily associated with destruction or offence. Archaeology professionals are therefore regularly confronted with these changes, and their interpretation often highly depend on the conditions of the excavation, the methods used to study the graves as well as the knowledge provided by other types of sources (e. g. written and ethnographic sources).

A multidisciplinary approach was privileged during the conference. Gathered around three themes (grave robbery, management of burial space, and cult practices), archaeologists, physical anthropologists, historians and ethnologists shared their questions, methods and approaches to the issue of grave reopening from the prehistoric period to the present day.

This volume aims to bring together some thirty contributions from these days. It opens the discussion around various practices whose archaeological manifestation is identical: the manipulation of the deceased. What field methodology is applied to these structures? What can we learn from these changes in the societies of the past? What motivations drive the living to reintervene in the graves of their loved ones? These are all questions that French and foreign specialists are now asking themselves.

Rencontre autour de nos aïeux (Our ancestors)

Increasingly, teams are called upon to work on very recent funerary occupations. However, archaeological studies of this chronological field are still marginal and, for some, useless, sometimes disturbing, even though history or sociology have largely nourished it for decades. The thirty contributions offer a multidisciplinary approach around 3 unifying themes bringing together historians, archaeologists, anthropologists, jurists, sociologists and psychoanalysts. It makes it possible to ask ethical and deontological questions and to question the guidelines to be given for taking into account these recent finded now integrated into the heritage field.

Rencontre autour du linceul (The shroud)

Special edition 1 of the Gaafif newsletter

Meeting report of the study day organized on April 5, 1996 in Paris, by the Gaafif and the regional archaeological service of Haute-Normandie. Texts reunited by Lola Bonnabel and Florence Carré.

Rencontre autour du cercueil (The coffin)

Bulletin de liaison, numéro spécial 2 du Gaafif

Report of the study day organized on January 28, 1997, at the Musée des Arts et Traditions populaires in Paris, by Anne Dietrich and Sofie Vertongen.

Rencontre autour des sépultures habillées (Clothes in burials)

This Rencontre, held at Carry-le-Rouet (Bouches-du-Rhône) the 13 and 14 November 2008, inaugurated a new cycle of meetings proposed by the Groupe d’anthropologie et d’archéologie funéraire (Gaaf). The association, which was created in October 2007 for researchers interested in funerary and anthropological themes – archaeologists, historians, anthropologists, sociologists, doctors, etc. – is an extension of the initiative, in 1991, of a group of archaeologists from the Paris region: the Gaafif (Groupe d’anthropologie et d’archéologie funéraire en Île-de-France).

This first regional association offered a space of discussions and reflexions around a pragmatic goal: allowing everyone to expose his work and freely express his methodological and scientific problems. The rapid success of the Gaafif proved the importance attached to these organized exchanges in a common respect. From meetings to information dissemination in the form of a Bulletin, the members of the association quickly understood the limits of a regional reflection and came up with the idea of round tables. Thus, were born the Rencontres: Rencontre autour du linceul, held and published in 1996, Rencontre autour du cercueil, in 1997 (published in 1998), Rencontre autour du feu organized in 1999 (unpublished).

After the dispersion of its members out of the region of Paris, the Gaafif disappeared for a while until some of them in the South of France wished to reactivate the association. Bringing their project of a meeting around dressed burials, Bruno Bizot and Michel Signoli launched the creation of the Gaaf. The researchers’ response to their call was immediate. After two years, the new association works now with a dynamic program including one or two workshops of expertise in paleopathology around Paris, and one Rencontre per year. The strength of the Gaaf comes from the wish to keep an active and multidisciplinary network. Its success comes from the diversity of the origin of its members (Inrap, universities, ministry of culture, CNRS, museum…) mostly French but also Swiss and Italian. We hope that this first publication of the Gaaf will perpetuate and prolong the constructive exchanges of our association.

Rencontre autour du cadavre (The corpse)

Louis-Vincent Thomas wrote that the corpse is “extra-signifiant”. Object and/or subject, it always sparked both fascination and repulsion in the man spirit. To tame death and evade the disorders of putrefaction, rituals and thanatological techniques have been elaborated.

Building an Anthropology of the corpse involves knowledge of the behaviours over a long history and a multidisciplinary approach. This is also approaching death by dissolving the subject in an object, responding to the bio-physicochemical laws that must be accommodated during the ritual, and this is also placing the subject – the deceased – at the centre of the social fact.

To address these issues, the Rencontre around the corpse proposes three lines of research:

The entropy of the corpse, biological principles / tolerance and perception

A corpse, an operating chain / tools and knowledge

The corpse, questions and social management / symbolism and representations

The Rencontre held in Marseille allowed a meeting between very different disciplines – anthropology, archaeology, sociology, history, ethnology, psychoanalysis, law – each with its own methods, documentary corpus and systems of representations.

Rencontre autour de l’animal (The animal in a funerary context)

The meeting focused on four main topics, questioning the animal presence as a funeral object, within the operating chain, the animal deposit in the funeral system and the representation of the animal by the society. Thanks to new data, the participants updated the research news from an interdisciplinary perspective, and questioned their observation methods and some analytical concepts.

The 20 contributions to this publication have been grouped by chrono-cultural areas:

  • From Prehistory to the end of Neolithic
  • The Metal ages in Gaul
  • The Ancient Mediterranean World
  • The Roman Gaul
  • From the Early to the Late Middle Ages
  • Through the Eurasian steppes
  • Representation and epistemology

They are framed by an introductory article of the meeting organizers, and a concluding article by François Poplin who attended all the discussions.

Rencontre autour des paysages du cimetière médiéval et moderne (The landscapes of the medieval and postmedieval cemetery)

The medieval cemetery is a functional and collective space, a place of spirituality and of individual and collective memories. Its location, its organisation and its aspect come from the interaction between these different constitutive elements.

Characterizing and grasping the long story of these landscapes invite the focus on the role and importance of cemeteries within ancient or present societies, as a place of remembrance and as part of heritage in the contemporary landscape.

Over the past twenty years, the knowledge of the landscapes of medieval and post-medieval cemeteries has progressed. By organizing its fifth meeting at the Prieuré Saint Cosme in La Riche, the GAAF wished to take stock of the progress in this field. Presentations and exchanges held between archaeologists, historians and landscape architects on this theme are concretized in this volume published in partnership with the Revue Archéologique du Centre de la France.

Rencontre autour de la mort des tout-petits (The death of little ones)

The birth and the death are the key moments structuring the existence of an individual. This is of course all the more true when the two events are close in time, or when giving birth means also giving death. Many questions related to very young children have been the starting point  of this conference. Which funerary treatment is given to the very young ones? Is it specific to a precise age? To what extent does in utero mortality define the treatment of the body? How did the societies handle those children who died without really being born? From a more pragmatic point of view, how can we estimate age of these archaeological individuals? With which precision and which reliability? What about the location of the graves, the taphonomy, the restitution of decaying environments and funerary architectures, or the  grave goods accompanying the dead?

This conference about the death and funerary treatment of the younger ones aimed at being interdisciplinary. It is therefore the world of the small child as a whole that has been explored, calling on research in various disciplines and geographical areas, and in a diachronic way. It is the confrontation of these sources that makes it possible to take the measure of the death of the very young as disruptive element or not of the social environment.