Divergent Meanings: understanding the postmortem fate of human bodies found in Neolithic settlements from the Balkan area in light of interdisciplinary data
DivMeanBody project based at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge is designed as an exploration in the construction of the prehistoric body and identity, by studying the post-mortem fate of human remains discovered in Neolithic settlements in the Balkan area (between 7th-4th millennia BC). The two year research is undertaken by Dr Alexandra Ion as part of a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship, under the supervision of Prof John Robb.
These settlements have yielded collections of disarticulated, fragmentary, and scattered human remains. Traditionally such human remains have been either a focus of osteological studies, looking at them in a biological dimension, or subjected to cultural analysis. The project aims at taking a multi-disciplinary comparative perspective that cuts across the traditions of archaeology and osteology, towards the re-interpretation of such deposits. By developing a taphonomic perspective on the formation of these deposits I aim to establish whether these are deliberate depositions or more complex, including non-cultural processes, might explain this fragmentation.
The beginnings of settlements, agriculture and the Neolithic ways of life are marked by such funerary practices, and studying them is integral to understanding past ways of life and cultures. Through its aims, DivMeanBody will help us better understand how these past people were performing and dealing with the dynamic processes of life and death in their communities and the relation of these practices to the formation of archaeological deposits. In the same time, it will surpass the divide present in contemporary research between a biological body (studied by osteology) and a cultural body (by archaeology).
The results of DivMeanBody will bring an original contribution that can challenge contemporary distinctions between domestic-funerary space, whole bodies-fragmentary parts, the world of the living-the realm of the dead. It will also create links between categories of archaeological material which are otherwise interpreted separately and thus offer new insights into what being human meant in the past.
For updates on the project, follow the project blog: https://divmeanbody.wordpress.com/