Death and Archaeologists: A Conversation of Reciprocity – ROUND TABLE

Death and Archaeologists: A Conversation of Reciprocity

Emily Wright (University of Cambridge,

Archaeologists have an inevitable relationship with death in that it provides us with our data. While the work of Karina Croucher has demonstrated the value of our unique perspectives on death outside the discipline, the rise of the positive death movement, the increasingly popular ‘Death Café’ format, and the development of the Church of England’s own ‘GraveTalk’ initiative suggests a growing understanding of the social need for dialogue on death, dying, and bereavement.

This session will offer a similar conversation for archaeologists, about how we engage with death professionally and personally, and about how our professional and personal experiences intersect. While the importance of objective rigour in archaeological theory is not questioned, the emergence of theoretical approaches to memory, emotions, affect, and anxiety (for example) suggests that consulting our experiential subjectivity should also be valid. In theorising culturally conditioned responses to death and human remains, we should not ignore our own conditioned responses as archaeologists to the mortuary origins of our data – and how these responses translate back into our personal lives and experiences of death.

This round table aims to explore the tensions between individual and group knowledge, personal and professional life, and objectivity and subjectivity when theorising funerary experiences.

Further Details

There will be no individual papers; conversation will be guided by the Chair and facilitated by Discussants. All attendees are welcome to participate, but there will be no obligation to speak.

Prospective Discussants are invited to submit a response to at least one of the prompt questions provided below:


  • If you have been to a Death Café or GraveTalk event before, what was your experience of the occasion?
  • What was you first awareness or experience of death?
  • Why do we go to funerals? Why do we have funerals?
  • From your personal experiences, what have funerals done well? How? Why?
  • What did you not appreciate at a funeral you have attended?
  • How might your personal experiences of death have shaped or affected any aspect of your work in archaeology?
  • How might your professional experiences of death have shaped or affected any aspect of your personal experiences of death?
  • Is there anything about our professional experiences that makes death “different” for archaeologists?
  • How helpful or harmful have you found scientific perspectives in your personal experiences of death?
  • How helpful or harmful have you found artistic/literary/musical perspectives in your professional experiences of death? Examples to discuss and display, digitally or in print, are welcome.
  • Are there any words, written or spoken, about death that you have found helpful, personally or professionally? Again, examples are welcome.
  • In talking about death, both professionally and personally, how conscious are you of your language choices?
  • What does a ‘good death’ mean to you?
  • What does life after death mean to you?
  • What do you think happens when we die?
  • How would you explain death to a 5 year old?
  • When and how do you discuss death with family and friends? Does your work in archaeology help you do this?
  • Do you know the funeral plans of your relatives?
  • Do you have a plan for your own funeral? What would you like at your own funeral? How important is this to you? Who knows this? Do your plans matter?
  • What would you like to happen to your body when you die? What do you think will happen?
  • Would you prefer to be buried or cremated? Why?
  • Where would you like your remains to be disposed of?
  • Would you like your remains to be left undisturbed?
  • Do you have a will? An advanced directive? A donor card? Would you consider donating your body to science?
  • What is your most favourite possession, and who are you leaving it to?
  • When thinking about your own death, how much do material possessions play a role in your concerns? Are you conscious of the materiality of your own death or the deaths of others you experience personally?
  • Would you like anything included in your coffin? Have you added something to someone else’s coffin?
  • From your personal and professional experiences, do you think we are all equal in death?
  • What was your first experience of grief?
  • Do we ‘recover’ from grief?
  • How do emotions shape your personal and professional experiences of death?
  • How have your personal experiences of death differed emotionally?
  • Is there anything from your professional experiences of death that you would offer to someone in mourning?
  • What is the greatest comfort you have received at a time of a personal experience of death?
  • What life experiences do you value most?
  • What is it that makes your life worthwhile?
  • How would you like to be remembered?
  • Would you like to be forgotten?
  • What scares you?
  • Before I die I would like to…


Keywords: death; personal experiences; professional experiences; intersections; subjectivity