In the Catholic areas of Europe, the human remains (both their bones and the fabrics they touched) of persons considered to have been exceptional are usually stored for transformation into relics. The production and the reproduction of the object-relic takes place within monasteries and is carried out firstly on the material level. In this article I intend to present in detail, from an anthropological standpoint, the practices used to process such remains, the role of the social actors involved and the political-ecclesiastical dynamics connected with them. Owing to obvious difficulties in accessing enclosed communities, such practices are usually overlooked in historiographical and ethno-anthropological analyses, while they should instead be considered the most important moment in the lengthy process intended to give form and meaning to remains, with a view to their exhibition and use in ritual.
Florence Carré, Aminte Thomann, and Yves-Marie Adrian
In Normandy, near Rouen, in Tournedos-sur-Seine and Val-de-Reuil, two adult skeletons thrown into wells during the Middle Ages have been studied. The wells are located at two separate sites just 3 km apart. Both sites consist of clustered settlements inhabited from the seventh to the tenth century and arranged around a cemetery. The backfill of the well shafts contains animal remains, but also partially or completely articulated human bodies. In Val-de-Reuil, the incomplete skeleton of a man, probably representing a secondary deposition, had traces of a violent blow on the skull, certainly with a blunt weapon. In Tournedos-sur-Seine, a woman thrown in headfirst had several impact points and bone fractures on the skull that could have been caused by perimortem mistreatment or a violent death. After a detailed description of the two finds and a contextualisation in the light of similar published cases, we will discuss the possible scenarios for the death and deposition of the individuals as well as their place in their communities.
Adrien Douchet, Taline Garibian, and Benoît Pouget
The aim of this article is to shed light on the conditions under which the funerary management of human remains was carried out by the French authorities during the early years of the First World War. It seeks to understand how the urgent need to clear the battlefield as quickly as possible came into conflict with the aspiration to give all deceased an individualised, or at the very least dignified, burial. Old military funerary practices were overturned and reconfigured to incorporate an ideal that sought the individual identification of citizen soldiers. The years 1914–15 were thus profoundly marked by a clash between the pragmatism of public health authorities obsessed with hygiene, the infancy of emerging forensic science, the aching desire of the nation to see its children buried individually and various political and military imperatives related to the conduct of the war.
The case of the management of the dead related to COVID-19
This article studies one of the humanitarian challenges caused by the COVID-19 crisis: the dignified handling of the mortal remains of individuals that have died from COVID-19 in Muslim contexts. It illustrates the discussion with examples from Sunni Muslim-majority states when relevant, such as Egypt, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco and Pakistan, and examples from English-speaking non-Muslim majority states such as the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Canada and Australia as well as Sri Lanka. The article finds that the case of the management of dead bodies of people who have died from COVID-19 has shown that the creativity and flexibility enshrined in the Islamic law-making logic and methodology, on the one hand, and the cooperation between Muslim jurists and specialised medical and forensic experts, on the other, have contributed to saving people’s lives and mitigating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in Muslim contexts.
Until the beginning of the twentieth century, in the Kabye country, some heads of enemies – those of men foreign to the group – were buried in a mound of earth referred to as hude, meaning ‘manure’. In each locality, this mound is situated inside a wooded sanctuary where the spirit of the mythical founding ancestor resides. In order to understand this practice, this article examines how it fitted within the overall logic of the male initiation cycle, contextualising it in relation to past and present practices. Because it was a highly ambivalent element of the bush, the head of an enemy renewed the generative power of this original ‘manure’ prodigiously, so as to ensure the group’s survival in their land. The burial of the heads of strangers appears to be an initiatory variant of other forms of mastery of the ambivalence of wild forces, entrusted in other African societies to the chief and his waste heap.
Chapter 3 investigates various theories all of which interpret an interest in
the past as being conditioned by phenomena in the present. It describes the
discourse, which first appeared in the 1970s, in which an alleged abuse of
the past is exemplified by references to ancient Egypt. A discussion of the
development and context of some compensatory interpretations follows: the
heritage industry as a result of industrial decline in the West;
musealisation as a reaction against modernisation; chronic nostalgia as a
consequence of modernity; preservation and material memory as a reaction
against secularisation and mortality; and monumentalisation as a reaction to
change and threats in society. By way of conclusion, the author argues for
the role of the past in creating and maintaining social communities.
Heritage may be used creatively in order to generate meaning for the benefit
of human beings.
Chapter 6 investigates the background of the creation of the World Heritage
Convention, with a growing number of World Heritage sites. World Heritage is
analysed as an innovation, looking at the ratification by different states
over time. This innovation has been criticised both from inside and outside
UNESCO, and it has been challenged by attempts to create other lists.
However, the convention has been astutely managed and adjusted to criticism
and new demands. In view of the global governmental consensus around the
convention, it must be deemed a great success. Heritage sites are being
modernised in order to achieve the status of World Heritage, and already
inscribed sites are being modernised in order to adapt to tourism and other
needs. The creation of a clearly defined and distinguished category of World
Heritage is interpreted as a reaction against the expansion of non-defined
heritage. Finally, the status of World Heritage is viewed as an example of a
modern enchantment, to be favourably compared with the sacred in other
Chapter 4 investigates central concepts including time, change, duration,
progress, decay, modernity, postmodernity, hypermodernity, and fluid
modernity, and argues for a new perspective on modernity. The chapter begins
with an exploration of the concept of time, creating a context for an
understanding and a questioning of David Lowenthal’s famous claim that “The
Past is a Foreign Country”. It goes on to discuss the relationship between
progress and decay, whereupon it presents different views on what modernity
is, has been, or ought to be. The theoretical and societal context of the
concept and perception of modernity is mapped. The ambiguous relationship
between different expression of modernity and tradition is explored. So is
the persistent discourse by means of which scholars and intellectuals
criticise contemporary society, modernity in particular. The author regards
the concept of modernity as a collection of contradictory narratives,
proposing an enlightened modernity that combines progress in both technology