Sian Anthony 2015

Lunds Universitet, Sweden

Excavating the above- and below-ground materiality of a modern cemetery

Excavations within the modern cemetery of Assistens Kirkegård in Copenhagen created a new and more tangible aspect to the cemetery environment. 1000 burials and cremations and any surviving gravestones dating from the 1800s to the 1980s were recorded and analysed before the bodies were reburied.  The archaeological perspective includes the above-ground materiality and extends three-dimensionally into the below-ground contexts giving a rare integrated insight into funerary material culture of this period. The gravestones and plot decorations are interpreted together with the surviving burials highlighting differences in public and private material expressions of death combined with chronological change. This is an opportunity to challenge historical and ethnographic narratives on the materiality of modern death but it also reveals the physical consequences of cemetery maintenance practices. The work of the gravedigger lies within both worlds, above and below, tending to the burial plots but also handling of the older burials and creating charnel deposits to create new space. What happens to the discarded gravestones, the disturbed coffins, bodies and grave goods below-ground is an underexplored stage in the biography of modern cemeteries. By digging up the cemetery a new physical past was generated from what was meant to lie concealed underground, this helps to reconnect the visible expressions of death with the cemetery practices which enable death to be secured underground.


The Cemetery Research Group runs two events a year: in May and in November. Follow the links and send in an abstract