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Archaeology meets criminology: An investigation of the parallels between modern clandestine graves and unusual body disposals in the

Karl Harrison, Nicholas MrquezGrant and Anastasia Tsaliki

To suggest a role for forensic archaeology in understanding non-normative burials in the archaeological record. To provide a prcis of current research in the field of non-normative burial archaeology. To critique the theoretical framework of interpretation that has dominated the study of patterns of non-normative burial. To outline other areas of research that this approach leads to.

Meyer-Orlac, 1997, 2; after Aspck, 2008




Identified subjects of nonnormative deposition

Judicial Killings Women dying in childbirth Unbaptised infants The diseased, disordered and deformed Feared revenants

Possible indicators of necrophobia (Tsaliki, 2008):

Skeletons with evidence of tied body parts Skeletons in prone positions Bodies buried unusually deep in the ground Burials being covered by rocks and other weights Bodies found cremated in an inhumation site Skeletons with evidence of decapitation Burials associated with evidence of rivets/stakes

Agencies of Death
Total societal construction Majority societal construction Agency of killing And/or burial

Partial societal construction

Extended group construction

Individual construction

Subject of non-normative burial

Archaeological burials covered by rocks and other weights

Merenda, Lesbos

Archaeological decapitation

Bandurria, Peru

Neonate skeleton retained in wardrobe. Neonate remains deposited in shallow burial within formal cemetery. Neonate skeleton deposited in water-tank in attic. Female adult bisected; upper half of remains deposited in duvet on compost heap, municipal allotments. Female adult buried on agricultural boundary; disturbed by suspect 14 months later, removing lower leg. Female adult, strangle with ligature. Buried in 2m deep grave in suitcase against building wall. Male adult, decapitated and dismembered, left exposed in undergrowth prior to burial.

Parallel forensic cases

Forensic infant disposal

Clandestine deposition at unusual depth

Observations & conclusions

Non-normative burials have been identified in the archaeological record through a range of anomalous characteristics. Burial archaeologists have considered the meanings behind this special status conferred in death.
Whatever decision is reached on the status, an assumption is maintained within burial archaeology that the special status of the deceased is one agreed by consensus within the burying society, or is decreed by a societal elite.

But forensic archaeology provides clear evidence to the contrary that within our own society, the most anomalous depositions are made by individuals or small groups operating without social consensus.

Further work
The purpose of this presentation is categorically not to suggest that non-normative burials of the archaeological record are the product of prehistoric crime waves.
Our aim is to suggest that the agency of deposition is as important as the subject of deposition. Whilst this realisation is standard within burial archaeology as a whole, it is less apparent in contemporary considerations of non-normative burials.

Further work
Reflection on the agency of non-normative burial in the archaeological record prompts a range of related research themes:
Control of the body and legal authority of disposal. Landscape of burial and clandestine depositions in the archaeological record. Non-societal burials: shame among the living or fear of the dead? Phenomenology of body handling and disposal.

The taphonomic fate of scattered remains; are they discovered and subject to late reinterment?

A model for definition and interpretation

Identified archaeological example Initial archaeological interpretation

Seek forensic parallels

Query forensic interpretation


Aspck, E., 2008 What actually is a deviant burial? Comparing German-language and Anglophone research on deviant burials. In E.M. Murphy ed. Deviant Burial in the Archaeological Record. Oxbow: Oxford Tsaliki, A., 2008 Unusual burials and necrophobia: An insight into the burial archaeology of fear. In E.M. Murphy ed. Deviant Burial in the Archaeological Record. Oxbow: Oxford