• Susan Elaine Jones

Death, Dying and Disposal


Last month was a conference in Bath, called Death, Dying and Disposal 14 (the 14th time it has happened, not happening in 2014, I'm not THAT far behind on my blog!)

It is another of the growing movement of interdisciplinary get-togethers where fantastically useful or weird cross-overs between researchers can occur. I wouldn't attempt to try to summarise all that went on in the massively packed programme, but key notes that I made include:

  • We cannot ask for consent from (historic) human remains, but we can acknowledge our debt to them and show respect for their sacrifice

  • Those convicted of "self-murder" (suicide) in Medieval Britain were often buried at crossroads, and even staked into the ground, NOT as a superstitious precaution against zombies/vampires, but as a simple punishment to the guilty after death (note before you worry too much about these poor people, many committed suicide in order to avoid being executed, and so "robbed the hang man")

  • Museum visitors choose to learn during their visit, but often engage most with things they have prior knowledge of, so reinforcing things they already know about. My note on this is how hard I should try to learn about a totally new thing when I go to a museum!

  • A unintended message coming through from one museum display on death that talked about conserving objects gave the implicit death denial message that things could be eternal!

  • A totally left-field talk on legal judgements in Australia - often fights between spouse and parents of the deceased, which offered the lovely quote "you don't stop fighting with your family just because someone died"

  • The distressing experiences of breathlessness, especially in terminal care, as described by a very engaging consultant. And the question from an elderly audience member "what about positive breathlessness - like free diving, and orgasm?". Breathlessness studies can indeed be separated into "the agony" and "the ecstasy"

  • One child, when asked what should be done with archaeological skeletons after the science, replied, quite memorably "BURN IT, BURN IT WITH FIRE!"

  • Sue Black's keynote speech, which noted that her job is NOTHING LIKE Bones or CSI on TV.

  • And that 40% of dead bodies are found by dog walkers.

  • And that most of Forensics' work is to give the person back their name and identity.

  • And finally, that there is very strong feeling from the new wave of funeral directors who put ethics, caring, environment and the personal connection at the heart of their work. Which lead to a very heated question and answer session.

The conference also had a display of my photos, including some of the new work with skeletons (rather than skulls) and the map projections to show the 3D relationships between the bones of the skull, which both went down very well with the conference delegates. (I must get restocked and put some up on Etsy)

#deathdyinganddisposal #sueblack #skullmap #skeletoncage #thingstolearnaboutdeath #dogwalkersfinddeadbodies