Stripping the earth
It gets you every time … they were there, so close, just below the surface, as if beneath the membrane of life … present and invisible, like the strange world of layers and walls interspersed with cavities, canals and tendons that live beneath our skin. And in fact, within a few hours, just as a wound might, the stripped earth will have lost colour and dried out, or else darkened and filled with water. (Olivier 2015 : 39)
In his study of The Dark Abyss of Time Laurent Olivier conjures the emergent power of the past as it resurfaces into
representation, use of body parts and modification illustrate a range of ideas relating to ancestry, mortality and power that were far from universal. These heads shrines (as well as other votive sites) blurred the boundaries between martial and sacred power. The means and ends of taking life were brought into a sanctified setting where this life force could be presented and ceremonially consumed. The tête coupée was thus, Armit ( 2012a ; cf. Harrison 2012 ) argues, not just a way of humiliating an enemy by defaming or abusing their corpse; it was a means of controlling
non-human features, which Latour calls actants, constitute an active
power in the dynamics of negotiation.
For many archaeologists, the notion of a mutual, active, agential force
between human agents and non-human (including animal) physical phenomena is not difficult to endorse, as varieties of this perspective have
accompanied archaeological thinking for several decades (Gillberg and
Jensen, 2007: 11), for example via the post-processual ideas regarding
the mutual relationship between subject and object as formulated by Ian
Hodder (e.g. Hodder, 1986
From the earliest antiquarian letters to the poetic evocations of Heaney, the words used to describe bog bodies conjure their remarkable yet unsettling power. They are ‘entire and uncorrupted’ (Leigh 1700 : 65), found as ‘in a common posture of sleep’ (de la Pryme 1870 : 983), ‘as fresh as if death had occurred the preceding day’ (Gear 1883 , cited in Cowie et al. 2011 : 8). Yet the bog has inevitably altered and stained these remains; they are described by Low as ‘rolled up in their own leather’ (cited in Anderson 1879 : liii) or ‘tanned
will encounter human remains and confront mortality (Giles 2009 : 95). Visiting such a museum hopefully creates an experience where we emerge more grateful for the power of antibiotics, mindful of diverse beliefs, impressed by ancient skills (the beauty of grave goods for instance, the impressiveness of a funeral), yet more aware of the human capacity for violence and self-reflective about our own privilege (Schofield 2008 ). Some would argue that a copy, a simulacrum, a reproduction will suffice, avoiding the perturbing effect of actually seeing a ‘corpse’. Yet
. Its blindness to the boundaries of prehistory and history, of matter and text and its willingness to foray into folklore and journalism as much as ethnography, invigorates the evidence upon which archaeologists can draw. From peat cutting or farmer’s mantlepiece to conservation laboratory, archive shelf and museum store, this book will trace that journey into the public light of the gallery and on into the images and ideas about the dead that can inspire or disturb – what Heaney ( 1999 : 4) deems their unique ‘riddling power’.
The subjects of this book are thus
preservation, the dead will not simply ‘speak’ to us; their stories are filtered through beliefs of the day, which determined whether they were reburied, kept or curated. This historiographic approach also reveals the poetics of encounter, helping us to understand the shifting, peculiar power of these remains.
‘Such a cry about a corpse’ … stories of the marvellous dead
The poem of St Erkenwald was composed around AD 1400, and judging by its dialect, it was written by a native of Cheshire or someone living close to the north border of Wales, around the time of the
was found at Wanderup in Germany (Coles and Coles 1989 : 191) and finely worked wooden items were found at Fuglsøgaarde Moss (Denmark) along with pieces of white quartz, useable as ‘strike-a-lights’ but also redolent with other meanings of power and fertility. The site of Lisnacrogher in Ireland has yielded an extraordinary array of Iron Age objects, including an iron sickle, a billhook, an axe and adze. There is some debate about whether this is a true ‘bog’ find: Fredengren ( 2007 ) makes a cogent argument that at least some of these objects were associated with
, ‘ritualised’ character, appearing socially sanctioned and publically executed. The chapter will then evaluate the competing explanations of bog bodies, favouring a multiplicity of interpretations (see Hutton 2004b ; Giles 2009 ; Joy 2009 ) argued on a case- by-case basis, setting these in context with wider evidence for violence in the Iron Age and early Roman era.
The many different ways to die
Accidental death, suicide and murder
The bog undoubtedly wrought its mercurial and merciless power over a number of victims who appear to have died accidentally. The
). According to Pharaonism, Egypt is primarily a country with its own period of greatness and identity – and only after that period did it become an Ottoman or Arab country. After the transfer of power in 1952, however, Pharaonism was of less importance: Egypt was now presented as a leading Arab country. But a continued focus on the pharaohs, Ramses II being the most powerful, also suited the republic with its presidents, most of whom had a background in the military. The Islamic opposition notably compared the president to a pharaoh, in a derogatory sense.
Abu Simbel also