CAPA Conference and Mapping Deviant Burials

Over the past weeks I’ve been focusing on two things: mapping and deviant burial in Anglo-Saxon England. This is slightly tangential to my own research in this time period and region, but is still quite interesting.

This past weekend I was lucky enough to be invited to present a paper at the Canadian Association of Physical Anthropologists in Scarborough (and a big hello to the Bones Don’t Lie fans who came to see me talk!). The symposium was title “The Odd, the Unusual, and the Strange: Human Deviant Burials and their Cultural Contexts”. It featured some amazing talks from scholars in both the US and Canada. Scott introduced the session, discussing the history of the study of deviant burial and mortuary behavior. She focused particularly on the role of the media in both increasing its importance as a field of study, but also increasing the misconceptions of the public about this type of study.

CAPA Logo, via CAPA

CAPA Logo, via CAPA

Garvie-Lok discussed the finding of a potential ‘vampire’ burial in Byzantine and Ottoman Greece. This was interesting because she examined first the ethnographic and historical evidence for the belief in vampires and the behavior towards them. Next, she used this information to interpret a burial from Ottoman-era Mytilene that due to the presence of stakes through the skeleton may indicate that people believed the deceased individual was a ‘vampire’. Hosek discussed a similar topic, the fear of revenants- individuals who rise from the dead. She discussed historic legends of revenants and archaeological evidence from two fortified settlement sites in what is now the Czech Republic.  Several of these graves are consistent with the descriptions of potential revenants. Congram discussed the problems of interpreting burials within a deviant context- warfare and genocide. He describes the difficulties of trying to interpret what is normal during a short period of high stress and change from the 1990s war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Liston examined deviant burial in the Athenian agora, a talk which I have discussed previously but nonetheless is fascinating.

My talk was on Anglo-Saxon deviant burial practices, and while they have been studied comprehensively there are potential issues we need to examine. There are problems with interpreting deviance in cemeteries where there are both cremation and inhumation burial practices present. Following me, Reusch discussed castrate burials and how we can interpret these in the past. The burials of these individuals who were deviant in life, are interesting because they range from being deviant due to being lesser and unique due to being of higher status. Finally, Sadvari talked about the interesting and unique burials from the history of Çatalhöyük, including prehistoric to modern. This was interesting because it showed the variation in deviance over time.

This session was fascinating, and the continued research will hopefully be revealed at the next conference with a deviance session at the EAA conference. If you’d like to see all the abstracts from the CAPA conference, you can download the program here: CAPA 2013 Program.

What I’m working on now is a little different, but still related to the work I’ve been doing to examine deviant burial in Anglo-Saxon England. I’ve been playing (yes, I think play is the appropriate term for having some fun doing a nerdy and awesome map) with the data from my deviance presentation through CartoDB, a cartographic database that stores and share geospatial data. While I’m not going to share my arguments and conclusions just yet, I do want to share the map. It is only a small survey with limited data- but it is a test to see whether I can share maps in the future with you all!

You can check out the map here: (I did try to embed the map so you could view it here, but sadly that isn’t working right now)

10 responses to “CAPA Conference and Mapping Deviant Burials

  1. Actually, the skeletons I talked about in the Deviant Burial symposium at CAPA were a completely different set from the ones I discuss in my “Murder in the Agora” lecture, and have presented at the AIA meetings under that title. There are 19 wells that contained nearly 500 skeletons in the Athenian Agora. It’s a lot of material. I don’t need to repeat myself.
    Maria Liston

  2. Hi Katy, you might want to add Sutton Hoo near Woodbridge Suffolk to your map of deviant burials. I occasionally conduct ‘gruesome graves’ tours, for kids,of the Anglo Saxon burial mounds which include about 36 deviant burials dating from around the late 7th century among the royal burial mounds, these include decapitations, bodies bent double backwards, group burials, bodies buried face down, squatting/kneeling and or mutilated or with (apparently) hands tied. Check out the Sutton Hoo Society website or reference the Sutton Hoo Sand Bodies. The site was probably also the location of a contemporary gallows on the crossroads of two old path/roadways.

    • Thanks for sharing! That was originally on my list, but I know that a new publication and re-interpretation of the site is coming out so I didn’t want to do anything prematurely. In the next ‘deviant burial’ post I will make sure to add it. I’d love to take one of your gruesome grave tours! Ever think about doing a digital version? That could be a fun blog post! Let me know if you’re interested!

      • I lifted most of what I use from Martin Carver’s book on Sutton Hoo which briefly describes some of the ‘sandbody’ burials but doesn’t comment in detail as to their purpose or meaning. I therefore have to be wary of offering ‘answers’ and ask the kids why they think the bodies were treated so oddly and throw in what some ‘experts’ have suggested to keep things going. The gruesome bit is in getting the kids (depending on their age group) to consider whether the mistreatment of the bodies was before or after death, they usually have suitably horrible imaginations! Sadly, due to the local soil conditions, there was so little bone or other organic material left that it is virtually impossible to verify the cause of death of the sandbodies.

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