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The University of Southampton
Lifelong Learning

Death and Burial

The British way of death: the archaeology of death and burial from prehistory to modern times


Archaeologists habitually engage with human remains.  It may be paradoxical but in many ways, much can be learnt about life through the study of death.  The dead, as famously noted, do not bury themselves.  The living largely enact the customs associated with death to benefit the living.  This module will introduce you to this fascinating topic. 

It will explore the ways that the inhabitants of the British Isles have elected to celebrate, commemorate, and dispose of the dead.  The module is multi-phase and investigates evidence from early prehistory to more recent times.  This will allow you to compare and contrast the burial customs of successive cultures. This module will enable you explore the vast array of practices employed in the celebration and disposal of the dead in both the distant and not-so distant past through a series of lectures, discussions, and activities. 

WEEK 1: Topic introduction.  Studying death and burial: how we study the dead, why we study the dead, the nature of the evidence, ethics, legal ramifications (reburial) etc.

WEEK 2: Studying death and burial (2): ways of thinking about death

WEEK 3: The Neolithic

WEEK 4: The Bronze Age

WEEK 5: The Iron Age and Roman Britain

WEEK 6: Anglo-Saxon England

WEEK 7: The Viking period

WEEK 8: The Norman period

WEEK 9: Medieval Britain

NOTE: Topics covered by each period-focused session might include mortuary customs, beliefs, grave assemblages, monuments and the architecture of death, and the landscape context of death and burial.

WEEK 10: Special theme/activity week: so much more than a random collection of objects (an in-depth exploration of the nature of grave assemblages; in addition to taught elements and class discussion, the inclusion of this session allows you to directly engage with the topic by selecting and assembling a collection of items and placing them in a grave context).      

WEEK 11: Modern times: Victorian era (gravestone typologies etc.); the customs of death and burial in modern Britain (for example, Parker Pearson's Cambridge Gypsy cemetery study)

WEEK 12: Summary and review: class discussion/ the cultural impact of death and burial and the future of mortuary studies in archaeology

Course date/time:

Tuesdays 7:00pm - 9:00pm, starting 2nd October 2012


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