Death, dying and burial produce artefacts and occur in spatial contexts. The interplay between such materiality and the bereaved who commemorate the dead yields interpretations and creates meanings that can change over time. Materiality is more than simple matter, void of meaning or relevance. The apparent inanimate has meaning. It is charged with significance, has symbolic and interpretative value—perhaps a form of selfhood, which originates from the interaction with the animate. In our case, gravestones, bodily remains and the spatial order of the cemetery are explored for their material agency and relational constellations with human perceptions and actions. Consciously and unconsciously, by interacting with such materiality, one is creating meaning, while materiality retroactively provides a form of agency. Spatiality provides more than a mere context: it permits and shapes such interaction. Thus, artefacts, mementos and memorials are exteriorised, materialised, and spatialized forms of human activity: they can be understood as cultural forms, the function of which is to sustain social life. However, they are also the medium through which values, ideas and criteria of social distinction are reproduced, legitimised, or transformed.
This book will explore this interplay by going beyond the consideration of simple grave artefacts on the one hand and graveyards as a space on the other hand, to examine the specific interrelationships between materiality, spatiality, the living, and the dead.
The chapters in this book were originally published as a special issue of the journal Mortality.
Introduction: The materiality and spatiality of death, burial and commemoration
Christoph Klaus Streb and Thomas Kolnberger
1. Post-medieval burial customs in Germany – an archaeological perspective on materiality and spatiality
2. Charnel practices in medieval England: new perspectives
Elizabeth Craig-Atkins, Jennifer Crangle, P. S. Barnwell, Dawn M. Hadley, Allan T. Adams, Ian Atkins, Jessica-Rose McGinn, and Alice James
3. Material specificity and cultural agency: the mummies of the Capuchin Catacombs in Palermo, Sicily
4. Embalming and the materiality of death (France, nineteenth century)
5. Ephemeral materiality: a place for lifeless infants in cemeteries
Philippe Charrier and Gaëlle Clavandier
6. The unnaturalness of natural burials: dispossessing the dispossessed
Anna-Katharina Balonier, Elizabeth Parsons and Anthony Patterson
7. Materiality and the body: explorations at the end of life
Thorsten Benkel and Matthias Meitzler