14th meeting – The funerary landscape from Prehistory to Antiquity

Contact : gaaf2023paysagefuneraire@gmail.com

“The simplest and most banal of landscapes is at the same time social and natural, subjective and objective, spatial and temporal, material and cultural production, real and symbolic. Landscape is a system that straddles the natural and the social. It is a social interpretation of nature.”
Georges Bertrand

How to think the funerary landscape? It is probably trite to say that landscapes in funerary contexts are both natural and social, but they also have an environmental dimension that can be appropriated by individuals in all aspect of their lives, including death. Is it not the fate of many deceased persons to be bound to the earth at the time of their burial?
Challenging topic in archaeology, funerary landscape in ancient times combined a wide range of elements in its both creation and development such as natural elements (vegetation, relief, water…), funerary system, but also culture/social structures. Archaeological evidence is limited with few remains of grave markers, funerary monuments, paths and vegetation that have been preserved over the centuries. While the different components of the funerary spaces were visible and meaningful for the livings, archaeologically they remain difficult to perceive. However, mortuary archaeology in recent decades has changed our understanding of funerary landscapes through the increase of rescue and research excavations, which sometimes cover large areas that allow exploring different territories over a long period. Consequently, the complete life-cycles of a landscape dedicated for a time to funerary activities, its creation, its persistence and its transformation when the dead are forgotten can now and then be discussed.
This meeting of the Gaaf comes as a follow-up to a previous conference on medieval and modern funerary landscapes. Taking into account a long period of time, from Prehistory to Antiquity, it includes societies that are known or not through written or iconographic sources. The meeting is organised around three main themes that will discuss methods, as well as internal and external experiences of landscape in burial grounds. The focus will be first on the internal description of the cemetery – a view from inside with the landscape used as a support for burying the bodies of the deceased. Then, the discussion will turn to the place of the funerary space, whether visible or hidden, in the landscape of a territory.
The contributions will concern methodological and thematic approaches as well as chronological ones. All disciplines related to the subject will be able to contribute to these questions (archaeology, anthropology, paleoenvironmental sciences, genetics, dating methods, geophysics and LiDAR…).

Axis 1: What methods should be used to reconstruct the natural and anthropic elements of funerary spaces (written sources, paleoenvironment, prospecting, etc.)?
The funerary space and its insertion in a natural or anthropized space can be apprehended with the help of various sources that vary according to the morphology and relief, the chronology or the sector of implementation. Research history and recent methodological developments play a fundamental role in the understanding of funerary landscapes, which can be reconstructed at different scales, from the intra-site to the territory, and using different approaches.
This first theme aims to approach the funerary landscape at the scale of the cemetery or territory (built structures, vegetation, access/traffic routes, sacred spaces, etc.) by questioning the sources, their contributions and their limits. The discussion must therefore be based on the use of available sources, whether ancient (written, iconographic, epigraphic, etc.) or recent (excavation data, aerial, geophysical or LiDAR surveys), as well as on paleoenvironmental analyses (carpology, geomorphology, malacology, palynology, etc.) and on the different dating methods allowing to propose an evolution of the funerary space (stratigraphy, grave goods, types of samples for radiocarbon dating, OSL, Chronomodel…).

Axis 2: Internal landscape of burial grounds: grammar of social, symbolic and technical uses of funerary spaces
Burial grounds respond to a set of social, symbolic and technical rules expressed in the construction of the graves, the selection of grave goods and the treatment of the dead. All of them shape the internal landscape of the cemeteries and insert them into their natural environment.
In a tangible way, monuments, paths and other structures partition or separate spaces, gather or single out the dead. The spatial distribution of the archaeological remains may reveal “empty” spaces in the cemetery, exposing various installations that were not initially dedicated to the dead and whose functions are not immediately identifiable. One way of understanding this complex process is to approach these areas as evidence of the appropriation of parts of the internal landscape of the burial ground and its transformation into a funerary space (places for the treatment of the dead, funerals, commemorations, etc.). In a sense, the landscape can be perceived as a support for organizing, delimiting, separating, and honouring the dead through topography, the presence of waterways, ditches, particular vegetation, monuments, paths and traffic axes or any other marking and sectoring device.
This axis 2 proposes to discuss the visual and functional identities of the “burial grounds”, which result from a combination of factors ranging from practical and social motivations, through the modalities of functioning to their evolution over time. We will try to identify the place given to the natural components of the landscape and the part they play in the elaboration of the visual identity of the burial site. For societies with written sources, the role of natural elements and their transformation could be investigated in the epigraphy and decorations of monuments or funerary containers, in the use of funerary law (funerary concessions and use of burial grounds), or in the philosophical/religious understanding of Death. The social landscape of the cemeteries could also be approached through the identity of the deceased (age, sex, kinship, status, social family). According to the type of sources (biology of skeletons, architecture/funerary furniture, written sources), we would like to open the discussion on the social and identity factors involved in the appropriation and modification natural spaces for funerary purposes by ancient societies.

Axis 3: Funerary spaces/landscapes and territory: visibility, role, network
This axis focuses on the visual aspect of the ancient funerary landscape, questioning on the scale of the territory, which was also shaped for other uses such as exploitation, housing, communication, appropriation, worship… What about the coexistence of these different areas of activity with the presence of the deceased? Was the funerary landscape hidden, exposed, subjected to view or distanced? A landscape-representation, with its monuments, the choice of its location or its durability of use, could also mark the territory. We will also address the notion of the border between the world of the dead and that of the living: was the landscape delimited, open, distended or, conversely, combined with settlement?
Although the grouping of the dead is regularly observed in archaeology, it was not an absolute rule in ancient times. Attention will be paid to the spatial distribution of the dead based on age at death or status. The existence of networks connecting the different funerary spaces to each other or linking settlements and the dead will also be questioned, as well as the principles of mutation of funerary landscapes. Finally, we will discuss the choice of natural environments (plateau, valley, cave, crevice, river…) in relation to the inhumation and cremation practices.

Submission form :
The deadline for the contributions is October 16, 2022 and via gaaf2023paysagefuneraire@gmail.com

Organizing committee: C. Fossurier (Inrap, UMR 7268 ADES)Y. Labaune (Service Archéologique de la Ville d’Autun, UMR 6298 ARTEHIS)R. Labeaune (Inrap, UMR 6298 ARTEHIS)C. Laforest (Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, UMR 5199 PACEA)I. Le Goff (Inrap, UMR 7206 Eco-anthropologie)V. Taillandier (University of Lille, UMR 8164 HALMA)A. Thomas (MNHN, UMR 7206 Eco-anthropologie)A. Burgevin (Inrap, UMR 6249 Chrono-environnement)

Scientific Committee: V. Bel (Inrap, UMR 5140 ASM)L. Bonnabel (Inrap, UMR 8215 Trajectoires)P. Chambon (CNRS, UMR 7206 Eco-anthropologie)J.-P. Chimier (Inrap, UMR 7324 Criteres)G. Daoulas (Inrap, UMR 7209 AASPE)F. Delrieu (SRA Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, UMR 5138 Arar)C. Fossurier (Inrap, UMR 7268 ADES)M. Gaultier (Sadil, UMR 7324 Criteres)A. Hostein (EPHE, UMR 8210 AnHimMA)Y. Labaune (Service Archéologique de la Ville d’Autun, UMR 6298 ARTEHIS)R. Labeaune (Inrap, UMR 6298 ARTEHIS)C. Laforest (Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, UMR 5199 PACEA)I. Le Goff (Inrap, UMR 7206 Eco-anthropologie)S. Martin (Inrap, UMR 5140 ASM)P. Nouvel (University of Burgundy, UMR 6298 ARTEHIS)R. Peake (Inrap, UMR 6298 ARTEHIS)F.-X. Simon (Inrap, UMR 6249 Chrono-environnement)V. Taillandier (University of Lille, UMR 8164 HALMA)M. Talon (SRA Bourgogne – Franche-Comté, UMR 8164 HALMA)A. Thomas (MNHN, UMR 7206 Eco-anthropologie)V. Van Andringa (EPHE, UMR 8546 AOrOC)

13th Meeting – The Cremation

For the past twenty years, methods and reflections intrinsic to the excavation and study of structures linked to the practice of cremation have continued to evolve, with a growing and more diverse community of researchers. The GAAF 2022 Meetings are part of the questions already developed in part during the Meetings around the Fire (GAAFIF, 1998) and the Meetings on New Approaches to Funeral Archaeology (GAAF, 2014, session 2). The objective of the 13th edition of the GAAF, which took place in Toulouse from May 30th to June 1st, 2022 was to take stock of our discipline, to show the progress made and to bring about a collective reflection on its necessary evolution.

It also gave the opportunity to open a discussion on the relationship ancient or current societies have with cremation, in the widest possible chronological and geographical framework. This process has also address the relationship between cremation and burial, what these practices share or how they differ, in situations of continuity or rupture, depending on the society or the era.

Presentations and discussions were organized around four main themes.

Theme 1: Cremation from in the past and today

Theme 2: Archaeosciences

Theme 3: Methodological feedback and survey strategies

Theme 4: Current research

Rencontre autour du corps malade : prise en charge et traitement funéraire des individus souffrants à travers les siècles (the unhealthy body: the care for and funerary treatment of the ill and infirm across the ages)

Visible or imperceptible, acute or chronic, disabled or slightly impaired, illnesses have continuously affected past populations. Over the course of centuries and millennia, human groups have developed varied solutions–medical, religious or juridical–when faced with such occurrences. The ill were treated in a highly variable manner according to time and place, being socially included or excluded, cared for or neglected, invested with magical powers or viewed with ignominy. But how is this reflected in the place of burial, or the care of the corpse in past societies? By placing those who suffered from various afflictions from prehistory to the contemporary world at the centre of the debate, this is the subject addressed in the 10th annual meeting of the Anthropology and Funerary Archaeology Group (Gaaf).

To understand the treatment of the ill in the past from burial treatments and the spatial organisation of cemeteries comprises a real challenge for archaeological research. Indeed, until relatively recently, the individuals themselves and their remains have not been the focus of much attention in works dealing with the place of the ill within society. Up to the end of the 19th century, sufferers were only studied as part of historical treatments of charity written by researchers from the perspective of traditional Christian models. During the greater part of the 20th century, their status was principally viewed from the perspective of the history of European care institutions. It was not until the end of the century that the ill finally became true subjects of study as a result of developments in the social sciences. Since, the expansion of rescue archaeology and the development of human bioarchaeology have resulted in many more finds of individuals affected by illnesses, those who are today at the centre of scientific investigations, in the same way as care institutions and medical instruments from the past are. Drawing on the advances in this research area, the meeting will provide the occasion to formulate an outline of the evidence for the care of the ill but also to re-open discussion on the treatment of the bodies of the unwell from the perspective of funerary archaeology.

Through this international and multi-disciplinary call for papers, the conference organisers wish to provide a forum for exchange between researchers coming from diverse disciplinary backgrounds–by encouraging the participation of archaeologists and anthropologists working on varied geographical and chronological scales, as well as researchers from other social sciences and humanities disciplines, for example historians, sociologists, and ethnologists. If palaeopathological diagnosis is of great importance for addressing the relationship between human remains and the evidence for illness, this meeting will not solely have the goal of drawing together presentations principally directed at skeletal manifestations of illness. These may be addressed through particularly illustrative cases, but the social and funerary aspects will be given preference and placed at centre-stage in presentations. Oral presentations of synthetic treatments addressing the care and funerary treatment of the ill at site, regional, or national scales will be especially welcomed.

Scientific discussion have been organised around four general themes. The first three treated the place of burial of sufferers of ill health, the funerary treatment accorded to their remains and the symbolic, prophylactic or magico-religious activities surrounding their burials. The fourth and last theme addressed the contribution of archaeology to the understanding of past medical and surgical practices, as revealed through studies of human remains.

Theme 1 – Accommodation: the places catering for the burial of the ill

Theme 2 – Burial: treatment of the cadaver

Theme 3 – Accompaniments: objects, materials, and symbols

Theme 4 – To care for, to repair, and to dissect: human remains, testaments to ante- and post-mortem medical and surgical practices

The funeral ceremonies. Bones and tears: preparing the body, mourning and honoring the dead

The passing away of an individual from the group, that is, the death of a loved one, is a source of social disruption that can be experienced diversely, at both the individual and the broader family or societal level. Traditional societies have almost universally ritualized this event. The emotions that come along the loss of a dear one have led “those who remain” to take a series of actions, which may vary according to time, culture and social strata within a society. The funeral ceremony and the burial or cremation of the body are generally the culmination of this series of actions. Whatever their nature, the funerary behaviors can be interpreted as voluntary attitudes forming part of the social processes aimed at integrating the loss. This can be compared to the “work of mourning”, according to the Freud’s now classic expression, adapted to the collective scale.

The 12th Rencontre du Gaaf will be held virtually, from may 26th to 28th 2021. The conference will focus on funeral, in the broadest sense of the term, i.e. all the actions taken to allow the passage from the day of life to the darkness of death. This includes all the gestures carried on or around the body and the grave, before, during and after the deposition of the body, whether they are anecdotal or indicative of a chaîne opératoire. Not only the technical gestures that allow proper funeral will be considered, but also those with ritual purposes, those used to prepare the body and arrange the grave, and those related to commemorative activities.

Podium and poster presentations will focus on the three main phases of the funeral:

  • The preparation time: preparation and transportation of the body, digging of the grave, construction of the burial containers, graves goods, etc.
  • The moment of the funeral: management of the body, associated ceremonies, nature of the deposits, etc.
  • The various forms of memory: grave markers, post-ceremonial gestures, reopening of the graves, etc.

Free registration here until may 24th

Rencontre autour des sépultures habillées (clothes in burials)

Please the the publication page.

This publication is out of stock but can be downloaded.

Rencontres autour de la mort des tout-petits (the death of little ones)

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Rencontre autour du cadavre (the corpse)

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Rencontre autour de l’animal en contexte funéraire (the animal in a funerary context)

Please see the publication page.

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

Please see the publication page.

Rencontre autour de nouvelles approches de l’archéologie funéraire (new approaches of funerary archaeology)

Please see the publication page.