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More than Metaphor. Approaching the Human Cadaver in Archaeology.

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  • History And Archaeology
  • Archaeology
  • Biology


Developments in body theory have had a strong impact on archaeology in recent years, but the concept of the body has tended to remain abstract. The term “body” is often used as a synonym for self or person, and the remains of bodies and body parts have often been approached theoretically as signs or symbols. While this has emphasized the importance of the body as a cultural construct and a social product, archaeologists have tended to overlook the equally important biological reality of the body. Bodies are more than metaphors. They are also biological realities. Maybe this becomes especially obvious at death, when the embodied social being is transformed into a cadaver, continuously in a state of transformation due to the processes of putrefaction and decomposition. In this transition, the unity of the mindful body and the embodied mind breaks down, and cultural and social control over the body can no longer be exercised from within, but instead has to be imposed from the outside. This article explores the friction between the culturally and socially produced body and the body as a biological entity at death. Through an approach that focuses both on the post mortem processes that affect the cadaver – and that can be seen as an ultimate materialization of death – and the practical handling of the dead body by the survivors, the author suggests a way toward an integrative and transdiciplinary approach to death and the dead body in archaeology.

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