Accepted Papers:

Themes of death and survival in Spanish Republican memory: implications for the exhumation of bodies as an investigative paradigm  


Layla Renshaw (Kingston University)

Paper Short Abstract:

In light of investigations into mass graves, this paper looks at alternative forms of repression enacted during Spain’s Civil War and dictatorship, particularly gendered violence and material destitution, to consider how to formulate an archaeological and commemorative response to the material traces of these experiences.

Paper long abstract:

This paper draws on ethnographic interviews conducted in two rural communities in the Burgos region of Spain as they underwent the long process of investigation into clandestine mass graves located nearby and containing the remains of local Republican civilians from these communities killed during the Spanish Civil War.

Using the concept of postmemory, developed to describe forms of memory amongst children of holocaust survivors, this paper will focus on the surviving descendants of the dead, who were young children at the death of their male relatives and in many cases were raised by their surviving female relatives. Some informants profess little firsthand memory of their male relatives, making the emotional experience of the exhumation and identification of these relatives potentially complex and ambiguous.

I will consider the degree to which the themes of family survival, female grief, and material deprivation are prevalent in informant accounts of the post war period. The strategies of repression inflicted on these families included extreme gendered and sexual violence against Republican women, and the systematic appropriation of their material goods, causing destitution and dependency. Informant accounts express the trauma inflicted by these strategies, and it is ethically important to find ways to give weight and recognition within the investigative process which centres upon the mass grave and the identification and reburial of the dead. It is politically important that the traumas inherent in endurance and survival under dictatorship, as well as violent death in war, are represented. This paper considers if archaeological approaches can reflect the full spectrum of repression experienced in these communities.

panel P37
Healing wounds, working together: archaeologists and social anthropologists in the study of traumatic events of the past