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 in Chartres (France) on 13, 14 and 15 May 2020. 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.
Rencontre autour des sépultures habillées (clothes in burials)

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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)

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

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

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Rencontre autour des enjeux de la fouille des grands ensembles sépulcraux médiévaux, modernes et contemporains (The issues of excavation of medieval, postmedieval and contemporary cemeteries)

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Rencontre autour de nos aïeux – La mort de plus en plus proche (our ancestors)

Six years after the Rencontre autour du cadavre (the corpse), the annual meeting of the Gaaf is back in Marseille, from may 25 to 27 2016, dealing with contemporary death and deads.

How is the archaeological study of recent deaths particular? In Marseille, archaeologists have just searched a cemetery of contemporary times; elsewhere in France and Europe, teams are called to work on recent sites such as the trenches of the First World War. However, the study of this chronological field is still marginal and for some useless, even disturbing, even though history or sociology have largely nourished it for decades.

Temporal closeness interrogates disciplines differently and if it raises ethical questions, it allows a rich approach of teachings that renews problems and methodologies, delivering new materials to research on death in the humanities and social sciences. The interest of this Rencontre will therefore be to highlight the heuristic potential of this research, by pointing out their contributions, their interest and the societal questions they raise. Different sources and objects will be confronted and put into perspective: soil archives, written and figurated archives, historical and cultural (even cultual) settings, not to mention law, ethical considerations, psychoanalysis…

How do reaserchers and the public confronted with these questions feel the scale of time, the close and the distant, when these discoveries refer to notions of identity, filiation, social belonging, religious, known or supposed? Although the search of a medieval or even modern cemetery no longer raises questions of legitimacy in France, the same does not always apply to the search of a more recent burial site. What about other cultural contexts of the Mediterranean and more broadly European area?

The organisers of the Rencontre, like the one around the corpse, wished an international and multidisciplinary meeting, combining archaeologists, historians, anthropologists, sociologists, ethicists, jurists, doctors, professionals of funeral homes, psychoanalysts (…), in order to allow a real confrontation of ideas and practices. It will feed into reflections on a more comprehensive and inclusive approach to death and the relationship to it, here and elsewhere.

Ritualiser, Gérer, Piller : Rencontre autour des réouvertures de tombes et de la manipulation des ossements (re-opening the graves)

After death, the integrity of the burial can be disrupted in many ways, including through the intervention of the living. Despite the fact that funeral space management can often be responsible for these upheavals, it is not the only reason for men to rearrange graves. Depending on the place, the periods and the places of burial, the motives are very diverse, without being synonymous with destruction or contempt. Professionals of archaeology are thus regularly confronted with these changes, the interpretation of which is often highly dependent on the conditions of the search, methods applied to the study of graves as well as knowledge provided by other types of sources (written, iconographic, ethnographic, etc.).

The aim of this Rencontre, which took place from May 10 to 12 2017 in Poitiers, was to open discussions on the reshuffling of graves by questioning the motivations of the living and the means available to the archaeologist to reach their understanding. This symposium is intended to be international and multidisciplinary in order to confront the experiences, the techniques of observation and the interpretations made by archaeologists. Discussion will focus on three sessions, each of which will address a type of sepulchrous reopening, from the prehistoric period to contemporary times. These types, without being exclusive to each other, group together the major actions that could lead to a reshuffle of graves, namely: actions around the management of the funerary space, those demonstrating a willingness to plunder and thus to take over furniture in structures and finally actions interpreted as cultural, often complex to identify.