Digging the dead in a digital media age

Sayer, D orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-2769-1281 and Walter, T (2016) Digging the dead in a digital media age. In: Archaeologists and the Dead: Mortuary Archaeology and Contemporary Society. Oxford University Press (OUP), Oxford, pp. 367-395. (Unpublished)

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A number of recent events inside and outside of the heritage sector have triggered a lively and largely constructive debate about the excavation, display and conservation of human remains in the UK (see Sayer 2009, 2010a; Moshenska 2009; Parker Pearson et al. 2011; Jenkins 2008, 2010; Giesen 2013). These events focus on two areas, the reburial of human remains prompted by requests to museums from the Pagan community, and independently of these requests the Ministry of Justice decided to revisit its conditions for the excavation of human remains (Parker Pearson et al. 2013). In the short term these issues seem to have been resolved through open consultation and campaigning by archaeologists. British archaeologists consider that they have public support; public-facing archaeology develops strong links within local communities, the portable antiquities scheme engages members of the public in the discovery of metal objects on a national scale, and TV and Radio programmes regularly include archaeology or excavation as their central theme. There are various ways to consume archaeology outside of a traditional museum environment; people can shift soil or sit back and read about it in numerous academic and popular books, in magazines and digitally on the internet.

This chapter discusses this new digital environment by describing and analyzing three events in British burial archaeology which deliberately sought coverage online and within global media. These are: 1) the burial campaign which was instrumental in raising the profile of the reburial problem in England, 2) the discovery of a cow and woman buried in the same grave in a fifth and sixth century cemetery at Oakington, Cambridgeshire, 3) the investigation of King Richard III's final resting place in Leicester, Leics. One of us was instrumental in publicizing the first two events; neither of us was involved in the third. We will refer also to a recent case in East Anglia where negative media publicity came unsought by the archaeologists concerned.

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