14th meeting – The funerary landscape from Prehistory to Antiquity

The program of the 14th GAAF meeting is now available (in english for now).

From April the 12th to the 14th 2023, the communications and posters followed 3 axes :

Axis 1: What methods should be used to reconstruct the natural and anthropic elements of funerary spaces (written sources, paleoenvironment, prospecting, etc.)?

Axis 2: Internal landscape of burial grounds: grammar of social, symbolic and technical uses of funerary spaces

Axis 3: Funerary spaces/landscapes and territory: visibility, role, network

2024 Gaaf Meeting – The Invisible in the Grave

Call for papers for the Annual Gaaf Meeting!
Deadline 15 December 2023.

Link to the submission form here.

What is the invisible? It is that which is not immediately visible to the eye. The search for the invisible is at the heart of archaeology – a scientific discipline that brings objects to light, unearths forgotten contexts and searches for structures that have been lost from the ground surface. The strength of the archaeology discipline lies in its ability to make visible what is no longer visible through the use of a variety of excavation and analytical techniques. And what about the invisible inside the grave? In this specific context, the aim of the archaeologist is to reconstruct what did not survive, from the body to the textiles, the funerary architecture, the perishable objects and all the organic elements doomed to decay. In other words, the task is to reveal the components of the grave that have become so decayed they are no longer caught by the trowel, whether they are too small to be seen, too fleeting or too confused to be identified.
For funerary archaeology interpretation of indirect evidence is central. Taphonomic study of graves is a key way to highlight “the archaeological invisible”. It focuses on skeletal order and disorder, on the consequences of constraints on the remains, on the spatial distribution of the artefacts that barely left traces …
The aim of the 2024 Gaaf Meeting is to change the scale of our observations by including inputs from  various disciplines such as life and earth sciences, physic, chemistry and imaging. Taken together, these disciplines expend the range of remains that can be recorded. The conference will give the opportunity to discuss recent and future developments, but also the various approaches stemming from archaeosciences, whether they are now standard or still prospective. We are particularly interested in two-way papers that will combine archaeology and archaeosciences.

Although methodology issues can be addressed, the conference will strongly be focused on the rediscovered materiality of biological or organic elements that have all but disappeared, regardless of whether they are from inhumation graves, cremations, primary or secondary contexts. Where possible, speakers will be asked to consider the contribution of these “archaeological invisibles” to an understanding of the burial, based, for example, on a visual reconstruction of the grave. Graphic reconstructions are also welcome.
Archaeosciences have shaped new ways to analyse burial practices. They will be explored and discussed during the conference: how can they be combined with other data and soil archives to revise grave typologies? What does the composition of the graves, now less incomplete, reveal about burial practices or the status of the deceased? What do these fleeting traces of the corpse’s journey express? And what about the function and trajectory of the objects accompanying the deceased? Or why not bring into the discussion the sensitive materiality conveyed by the organic elements, such as odours, textures, colours, emotions… thus enhancing our perceptions of ancient funerary realities?

The conference will be organised around four themes: the corpse, the elements used to build the grave, the organic elements, and the sensory perception of the grave. To this end, the conference will be open to other documentary sources: texts, iconography, history, anthropology and ethnology.


I – The corpse and its materiality

II – The architectural elements used to build the grave

III – The organic material placed in the grave

IV – And when ‘the archaeological invisible’ becomes visible


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

Exceptionally, due to health issues that forced to postpone this Meeting to be held in 2020, it was held in videoconference in 2021.

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.

Contact: gaaf2020chartres@gmail.com

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)

Please see the publication page

Rencontre autour du cadavre (the corpse)

Please see the publication page.

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.