A Study of Post-Depositional Funerary Practices in Medieval England.
AbstractPeri-mortem treatment of the body and the fate of the soul after death throughout the English medieval period (c.600-1550) have been extensively studied. However, the post-depositional fate of physical remains has been largely neglected, despite there existing substantial excavated and documentary evidence for a variety of post inhumation disturbances, customs and practices. To date, these activities have consistently been interpreted on a purely functional basis. Consequently, incidences of disarticulated, disinterred skeletal material are routinely dismissed as simply representing the by-products of liturgical activities, and hence are assumed to be devoid of meaningful purpose. This study catalogues and examines post-depositional disturbance and treatment of disarticulated remains, chronologically, from the advent of Christianity in England (c. 7th century), throughout the early medieval period (c. 7th to 11th century), into the later medieval period (c. 12th to mid-16th century), concluding with the Reformation period (c. 1550-1600). Reviews and analyses of translations and elevations, charnel houses and developments in cemetery management were undertaken, with differences and similarities between the early and later medieval period noted and discussed. This analytical method demonstrates that disturbances before the 10th to 12th centuries were less structured than after, but significantly, that the majority of post-depositional activities and forms of disturbance originated in the earliest years of Christianity, and were sustained throughout the entire medieval period. This thesis considers how skeletal material was perceived by contemporary medieval people, addresses modern attitudes and beliefs concerning archaeological disarticulated remains and discusses how these have influenced and hindered interpretations of medieval post-depositional mortuary behaviour, beyond pragmatic explanations. This research elucidated overwhelming evidence for misunderstood and frequently unrecognised medieval funerary practices where disarticulated, disturbed and disinterred skeletal remains were curated as opposed to being merely collected or conveniently relocated, and one where the dead were compassionately curated, both physically and spiritually, by the living.
Crangle, Jennifer Nancy (2016) A Study of Post-Depositional Funerary Practices in Medieval England. PhD thesis, University of Sheffield.