November 9, 2020

1.1 Archaeology of the Roman West: Tomb Disturbance, Violation and Plundering

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Dr. Cristina Murer, Universität Bern

Murer, C. 2018.  From the tombs into the city: grave robbing and the re-use of Roman funerary material in late antique Italy', ActaAArtHist 30: 115-137.

Murer, C. Forthcoming.  Transforming the Past: Tomb Plundering and the Reuse of Funerary Material in Late Antique Italy.

There is some really fascinating research going on right now into the plundering of Roman period tombs. I spoke to Dr. Cristina Murer of the university of Bern about her research on plundering in late antiquity. Ornaments from tombs, sometimes called the spolia, were reused and recycled as artefacts, in any number of different ways. But this wasn’t merely grave robbing. There was often a high degree of organisation, and in some cases it wasn’t outlawed. It was officially sanctioned. 



Dr. Liana Brent, Kenyon College

Brent, L. 2017. Disturbed, Damaged and Disarticulated: Grave Reuse in Roman Italy’,  TRAC 2016 Proceedings of the Twenty-Sixth Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference: 37-50.

Brent, L. 2020. 'Sealed and revealed: Roman grave opening practices', Journal of Roman Archaeology 33: 129-146.

This paper addresses questions about Roman encounters with bodies after funerary rites
were carried out and completed. Why did Romans reopen burials? Relatedly, how did the
state of the corpse or skeletal remains at the time of grave reopening influence the manner of reuse or post-depositional manipulation? My primary interest is what happened in post-burial
encounters with intentionally or accidentally exhumed individuals, as well as the types of
evidence that we use to understand these experiences. This paper explores how post-depositional
activities affected decomposing and disarticulated human skeletal remains through a
case study from the Roman cemetery at Vagnari. I argue that the addition of individuals and
the manipulation of human skeletal elements were often the creation and maintenance of corporeal
connections between the deceased and the living, rather than acts of tomb violation,
as we might be tempted to understand these phenomena from epigraphic and legal sources.


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Each episode I talk with pioneering and influential archaeologists about their journal papers, books and research projects.

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