This panel explores the encounters people have with human remains and asks what it is about remains that gives them an affective presence and an emotive materiality. What factors influence these affective or emotive qualities? And how do the demands of the dead influence these encounters?
Rarely do social relationships end with death; rather, people the world over continue to engage and have encounters with the deceased. Social anthropologists have had a long and varied interest in the ways people relate to the dead. More recently, these studies have grown from a focus on death and mourning rituals to encompass the repatriation, mobility, agency and politicisation of human remains. While social anthropologists have tended to study the relationship between others and their dead, archaeologists frequently have direct encounters with the dead as they excavate and analyse human burials and remains. For archaeologists, human remains are not a representation of the past but are in themselves the objects of study—a past other. The papers in this panel explore the encounters people have with the remains of humans—their bones, flesh, memorials, ghosts, and spirits—and seek to understand what it is about human remains that gives them an affective presence and an emotive materiality. What can bodies do to those who encounter them? Moreover, these papers ask how the emotive materiality or affective presence of human remains is shaped by time, genealogy, the condition of a corpse, scientific testing, shared or foreign cultural values, or location. What is the affect of anonymity or an identity, partiality or wholeness, in encounters with human remains? And, ultimately, how do the demands made by the dead upon the living—whether it be reburial, solitude, remembrance, or companionship—influence these encounters?