Life after death: the post excavation biography of the Lowbury Hill skeleton

Morton, S and Plumbe, R (2018) Life after death: the post excavation biography of the Lowbury Hill skeleton. In: Object Biographies: II International Artefacta Conference, 2 - 3 March 2018, House of Science and Letters, Helsinki, Finland.


Within objects conservation the reversibility of treatments as best practice has been shown to be problematic, as it suggests our interactions with objects can somehow be undone (Ashley-Smith 1999). Engaging with the biography of objects therefore offers conservators a way of theorising their interactions with material culture in relation to what they add and what they take away. This is an approach that encourages an understanding of past treatments not as interventions to reversed, but as part of an ongoing biography of the object. In this paper, we examine this approach in practice through the case study of the conservation treatment of human remains from the Lowbury Hill burial that went on display at The Oxfordshire Museum in March 2017. Excavated in 1916, the grave contained the remains of an Anglo-Saxon male buried with high status grave goods. Previous archaeological studies of the remains focused on the information they could reveal about the life of the man buried on Lowbury Hill however, preparing them for display offered an opportunity to explore the post excavation biography of the remains through the materiality of the previous conservation treatments. Krmpotic et al. (2010) have suggested that human remains can be understood as having agency accrued from the material properties of human bone and from the bones as parts of human beings. What this project highlighted was that human remains can also accrue meanings and agency from past interventions and, as the many painstaking hours of removing the PVA coating demonstrated, we were interacting with both the bones as material and the materials added during previous treatment, the entanglement of which created a new narrative. As we discussed how to tell the story of this Anglo-Saxon man as a living person and interpret the post excavation biography of his remains, the tensions between remains as representative of a living person and as material object emerged, foregrounding that a linear biography in which meanings of the remains shift from person to object does not allow for instability in the boundaries separating subject from object (Pels et al. 2002, Mol 2002) and risks fixing their meaning (Hicks 2010). Therefore, as objects conservators, thinking about the life after death of the Lowbury Hill skeleton has raised some interesting questions around how we conceptualise the biographies of human remains, work with slippery combinations of life and matter and explore the issues that arise at the intersections of different meanings.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Subjects: A General Works > AM Museums (General). Collectors and collecting (General)
Divisions: School of Writing, Publishing and the Humanities
Date Deposited: 14 Aug 2018 16:09
Last Modified: 16 Mar 2022 12:15
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