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Making the dead visible : problems and solutions for “big” picture approaches to the past, and dealing with large “mortuary” datasets.

Bradbury, J. and Davies, D. and Jay, M. and Philip, G. and Roberts, C. A. and Scarre, C. (2016) 'Making the dead visible : problems and solutions for “big” picture approaches to the past, and dealing with large “mortuary” datasets.', Journal of archaeological method and theory., 23 (2). pp. 561-591.


There can be few “bigger” questions than the nature and development of human experience and self-awareness and few better ways to study it than through the changing treatment of the dead over time. Funded by the John Templeton Foundation, the ‘Invisible Dead’ project (Durham University) is exploring diachronic changes in mortuary practices across two regions: Britain and the Levant. In doing so, it uses archaeology as a way to approach fundamental questions about the human condition. This paper explores the principal difficulties faced during the construction of a database for this project and their wider relevance for the development of robust and successful methods for the study of large “mortuary” datasets in the future. It discusses the issues and biases identified within the mortuary record and how the project has sought to mitigate some of these. By adopting a flexible and ultimately expandable approach to data entry and analysis, value can be added to legacy datasets and “grey” literature, allowing us to make comparisons between regions which are both geographically and chronologically distinct.

Item Type:Article
Keywords:Mortuary archaeology, Death and disposal, Database management, Bioarchaeology, Britain, Levant.
Full text:(AM) Accepted Manuscript
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Publisher statement:The final publication is available at Springer via
Date accepted:06 March 2015
Date deposited:27 April 2015
Date of first online publication:16 May 2015
Date first made open access:16 May 2016

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