Poetics and burial: archaeological longing for meaning

Activity: Talk or presentation typesLecture and oral contribution


The conversation between archaeology and poetry is ongoing – each providing inspiration and metaphor for the other. As archaeologists, we are drawn to the image of reading the past – as if a hidden meaning to the archaeological record lies just out of reach. Ultimately, though, we are often frustrated – meaning can’t be read from the archaeological record as it can from a poem.

Instead, I use this paper to think about the poetics of burial – that is, how past burials come to have meaning for us in the present. I reflect on the similarities between the poetic voice and the imagined voice of the burial (or, more accurately, the shadowy figures doing the burying). This a productive space to occupy – we can learn from the poetic voice and from the spirit of literary analysis – but archaeological burials are also something of an unknowable space, dense with allusions and meanings beyond our grasp. Ultimately, I argue that archaeological poetics offers us a position that opens archaeology out; rather than authoritative narratives, the poetics of burial is an invitation to embrace ambiguity and even confusion as a productive core in our analyses.
Period17 Dec 2022
Event titleTAG 43: Revolutions
Event typeConference
LocationEdinburgh, United KingdomShow on map