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Article
Death warmed up: the agency of bodies and bones in early Anglo-Saxon cremation rites
Journal of Material Culture (2004)
  • Howard M. R. Williams, University of Chester
Abstract

It is argued that recent archaeological theories of death and burial have tended to overlook the social and mnemonic agency of the dead body. Drawing upon anthropological, ethnographic and forensic analogies for the effects of fire on the human body, together with Gell’s theory of the agency of inanimate objects, the article explores the cremation rites of early Anglo-Saxon England. As a case study in the archaeological study of the mnemonic agency of bodies and bones it is suggested that cremation and postcremation rites in the 5th and 6th centuries AD in eastern England operated as technologies of remembrance. Cremation encouraged distinctive forms of engagement with the physicality and materiality of the dead. It is argued that cremated bodies and ashes need to be theorized as more than osteological data, artefacts or symbolic resources, but as holding material agency influencing the selective remembering and forgetting of the deceased’s personhood.

Keywords
  • death,
  • agency,
  • memory,
  • cremation,
  • Anglo-Saxon,
  • mortuary practice
Publication Date
2004
Citation Information
Howard M. R. Williams. "Death warmed up: the agency of bodies and bones in early Anglo-Saxon cremation rites" Journal of Material Culture Vol. 9 Iss. 3 (2004)
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/howard_williams/41/