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Mortuary Traditions: Memory, Protocols, Monuments
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Mortuary Traditions: Memory, Protocols, Monuments

6/18/2014 to 6/20/2014

When: 6/18/2014
Where: Maison Archéologie & Ethnologie
Nanterre  
France

Details

Organised by Grégory Delaplace and Frédérique Valentin

In many respects, the question of mortuary traditions is a commonplace of archaeology, history and anthropology. Actually, the study of the practices, ideas and artefacts mobilised by a given society to the death of one of its members is a classic topic –a topos– of these disciplines. Sometimes, the sepulchres that past societies gave to their deceased are the only traces left today to study them. Because they reflected an index of social organisation and what economic activities and daily life were like, funerary traditions have de facto been the chief topic of archaeological research from the very start. Historians and anthropologists took advantage of simultaneous access to the remains and testimonies to study in a comparative perspective "the funerary ideology” (Vernant 1989) of past and present societies; the form of the sepulchre and the discourses about death and the afterlife then translate the importance conferred to death in a given society.

In fact, in another sense, the subject of funerary traditions is also an actual "common place” of these disciplines in that it is simultaneously considered in different theoretical and methodological perspectives by archaeology, history and anthropology. Although each of these disciplines benefits from the results obtained by the others for its own research, this "common place” has seldom resulted in actual common discussions. When they did take place, these discussions generally turned out to be more dialogues bringing disciplines together in pairs: archaeologists and historians (Gnoli and Vernant 1982), historians and anthropologists (Gordon and Marshall 2000) or archaeologists and anthropologists (Humphreys 1981; Thévenet, Rivoal, Sellier, Valentin, in print).

At its annual conference, the Maison Archéologie & Ethnologie offers to take up the challenge of discussing the issues of funerary traditions between archaeologists, historians and anthropologists throughout human societies. This conference will provide a new overview of the research on this issue by crossing the different approaches of the disciplines represented in our institution while serving as a starting point for further comparative perspectives between them. Three lines of inquiry are proposed:

Memory and regime of visibility of the sepulchre

Several anthropological works suggested that human sepulchres were not always intended to be used to support the memory of the deceased. As a matter of fact, many societies in Amazonia (Taylor 1993) as in Mongolia (Delaplace 2011) use sepulchres as a way to forget, as it allows erasing all traces of the deceased and helps to wipe out his memory. The idea that the monumentality of a sepulchre isn't necessarily related to the prestige of its occupant and that a rapid fade of memory could be intentional (without the deceased being banned) provides an opportunity for a general reassessment of the relationship between death, remains and memory. If we admit that the grave is not necessarily the best place to celebrate the memory of the deceased, or even that remembering isn't a categorical imperative of funerary practices, then it is necessary to consider how memory and forgetting combine with the different regime of visibility of sepulchres and monuments – the less visible not necessarily being the least prestigious. To what extent can these contemporary examples "talk" to historians or archaeologists, whose research depends on traces (written or constructed) left by past societies?

Rituals, protocols, practice

Even though some societies forget about the remains of their deceased, or even erase them totally like various populations of Bali (Sebesteny 2013), upstream nevertheless, what will become of the body and soul is still a key preoccupation (Hertz 1907; Thomas 1985). Care and treatment of the deceased in all its aspects mobilise and engage to varying extents relatives and the community around a set of gestures, rituals and protocols that have a variable duration. What relationships can be established between biological transformation of the corpse (thanatomorphose), human manipulation of the body (preparation, storage, destruction) and rite of passage?

Under what conditions can we infer ways of doing and protocols, from what the archaeologist find after an excavation as a result of these transformations and/or manipulations? Under what conditions can the testimonies of historians and anthropologists inform about the ways of doing of societies of the distant past? In the comparative perspective of a dynamic analysis of the traces left by the sepulchres, we will particularly question the interpretations of sepulchral staging and the reconstructions of sequences of gestures and their meanings.

Spaces of death: (dis) placing human remains

The treatment of the deceased body and the form given to the sepulchre confers to the remains of the deceased a place, a space, more or less sustainable and localized, before its total oblivion or its inscription in other systems. Beyond the classic question of the "place of the dead" throughout human societies, which is bound to be discussed anew by crossing archaeological, historical and anthropological perspectives, attention will focus on the problems of displaced or ill-placed deceased bodies, and generally to situations where the place of the dead is not obvious anymore. From the denial of burial (Polynices to Mohamed Merah) to moving the remains of fallen or rehabilitated characters (Verdery 1999, Zempleni 2011) or even the interventions of the state to legislate on the dignity or indignity of certain treatments of the dead (Esquerre 2011), the idea is to bring a new light on the question of spatialization of death.

Contributions developing interdisciplinary approaches and collaborations between researchers will be preferred. Abstracts (200 words) should be sent before December 20, 2013 to Grégory Delaplace (g.delaplace@yahoo.fr) or Frederique Valentin (frederique.valentin@mae.u-paris10.fr).

 
 

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