Session 117: Ystafell 9
Death, burial and exhibition

Chair: Katherine Leach

Identifying kin groups in Early Medieval Welsh cemeteries

Ciara O'Brien Butler
Prifysgol Caerdydd (Cardiff)

This research will investigate the structure and populations of Early Medieval Welsh cemeteries. The project is in its early stages and this poster presents an introduction.

In previous years, the representation of family groups in Welsh cemeteries of the Early Medieval has been hypothesised based on patterns in cemetery organisation. I will assess the osteological evidence for kin groups within cemeteries, and investigate whether this evidence relates to aspects of burial culture such as grave structure or location. Focal features (for example, elaborate graves or mortuary enclosures), around which later burials cluster, have been identified as a key element of Early Medieval burial in Wales. Spatial organisation of graves can be used by living communities to emphasize a particular identity, through a connection with individuals or lineages. The osteological analysis will establish any biological basis for these connections. The question of identities will be considered within a wider frame of mobility and migration. This will be achieved through a comparison of the burial archaeology to that of other areas around the Irish Sea, which have evidence of a shared 'Celtic' identity.

This research will be grounded in analysis of biodistance based on dental metrics. This will assess relatedness between individuals within a cemetery population and will be combined with targeted isotope analysis to further investigate population mobility. These analyses on the growing corpus of Early Medieval cemeteries from Wales will make a valuable contribution to our understanding of these communities.

Of mice and mounds: tumuli in the medieval Welsh literary imagination

Brigid Ehrmantraut
University of Cambridge

This paper will analyze depictions of prehistoric landscape features and structural remains in Latin and vernacular literature from Medieval Wales. I will begin by discussing the Vita Cadoci’s mysterious 'pulcherrima subterranea domus, antiquitus fabricata' (‘very beautiful, underground house, constructed long ago’) inside of a tumulus where a mouse helps the saint find grain during a famine. The literary structure has numerous archaeological analogues, both in terms of Roman grain storage facilities and, at least externally, prehistoric burial mounds in the vicinity of Llanspyddid, where the episode takes place. Both tumulus and mouse have parallels in the Third Branch of the Mabinogi when Manawydan threatens to hang the mouse that has been plundering his crops atop Gorsedd Arberth, as well as in a short leonine hexameter by Rhygyfarch, 'Carmen de messe infelici'. I will also examine instances of the earth swallowing evil-doers in hagiography (invariably alluding to the Biblical story of Dathan and Abiron), often end with the creation of new landscape features (such as the visible fossa or 'ditch' in the Vita Cadoci). Ultimately, I will question medieval Welsh attitudes towards the instantiation of cultural memory in physical geography and the mythologization of earlier monuments in the landscape.

Human remains in museums: visitor interaction with ‘sensitive collections’

Veronika Gufler

Museum visits are among the most important leisure activities, and sometimes unexpected confrontations between visitors and human remains in a variety of manifestations are common. My talk concerns the methods of presenting human remains in museums, especially in archaeological (and Celtic) contexts.

I am less interested in the long-running ethical debate as to whether such objects and ‘sensitive collections’ should be displayed at all (as objects of research or entertainment), but more in clarifying what ‘appropriate’ presentation and meaningful education might look like, and to establish how this affects communication with, and the perception of, the visitors. A further question is how ‘new media’ affects the perception of human remains, following the principle, 'the right presentation is the reference base for all further activities’.