ABSTRACT

Traditionally, one of the most magical, numinous, or consecrated kinds of space is a grave, which has the capacity to inspire all the feelings of reverence, affection, discomfort, or fear that humans associate with the dead of their own species. However, the contents of graves, including the bodies of occupants, also represent one of the most valuable sources of information concerning ancient societies. For most of the time since systematic inquiry into the ancient past began, this potential paradox was solved by denying the ancient dead any of the respect recorded to more recent burials. Since the 1990s, a number of challenges have been mounted to this approach, and a complex debate resulted that provides a window into contemporary attitudes toward death, humanity, the sacred, and the spirit of place. This article is designed to review and analyze that debate in a British context.

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