Dr Edeltraud Aspöck

Visiting Research Fellow

­­­­As a kid I was always fascinated by the idea that one can find something by digging in the ground. Once I even buried a box of treasure in the back garden for myself to find - I dug for it unsuccessfully the following year…


I am a post-doctoral researcher, currently involved in research projects on the Late Bronze Age ‘Urnfield culture’ of Central Europe at the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Prehistoric Commission (since November 2010). 

My main research topic is mortuary archaeology. I specialise in the investigation of differentiated treatment at death (different body treatment and disposal), the concept of ‘deviant burial’, burial taphonomy, the reopening of graves and grave-robbery in the past. I am also interested in the ethics of mortuary archaeology, and I have an ongoing interest in how archaeological evidence, finds and reconstructions are illustrated.

The periods and regions I have studied include the early medieval period (main focus), the late Iron Age to the middle Anglo-Saxon periods in southern England (the focus of my PhD research), and the Bronze Age period in Continental Europe (the focus of my current research position).  

During and between my academic studies I have also been working as a field archaeologist, mainly for commercial projects in Vienna, but also in the United Kingdom (Silchester) and in Turkey (Belevi, Ephesos). 


Deviant burials – the relativity of normality

I finished my thesis entitled ‘The relativity of normality: an archaeological study of deviant burial and different treatment at death’ at the Department of Archaeology, University of Reading in 2009. The starting point of this research was the concept of deviant burials. Through reviewing concepts of deviant burials in Anglophone and German-language archaeology and trying to apply them to ethnographic case studies, I quickly realized that the key is how we define what is normal in funerary practices. As the thesis title implies, what is normal in funerary practices depends on the perspective taken. Variety in mortuary practices seems to be more of a norm rather than uniformity. In any case, the study of ethnographic records of mortuary practices was one of the most interesting and eye-opening parts of my research career so far. Finally, I developed a method of analysis for different and sometimes deviant mortuary treatments and ways of disposal in the archaeological record (based on practice theory and ritual theory). I defined deviant practices as mortuary practices, which may have been meant to mark a dead individual in a negative way. My case study area was Winchester and its surroundings from the late Iron Age to the middle Anglo-Saxon period. I carried out small-scale analyses (individual cemeteries and sites with human remains) and I also developed a long-term perspective of continuity and change in different and deviant mortuary practices. I am still in the process of publishing papers based on this research.


Reopening graves, grave-robbery

The topic of my Master dissertation at the Department of Pre- and Protohistory, University of Vienna (2002) was early medieval grave-robbery. The research included a discussion of the possible reasons to reopen graves, including information in early medieval written sources. I carried out a detailed analysis of the taphonomy of reopened graves at a 6th-century AD cemetery in Austria (Brunn am Gebirge). The analysis of the grave-robbery revealed patterns, which showed that the grave-robbery at this site was not (only) random plundering. I plan to follow up this research in a forthcoming post-doc project on reopened graves in eastern Austria (currently under review).


Late Bronze Age – Urnfield culture, cremation graves

Currently I am involved in projects of the research group on Late Bronze Age ‘Urnfield culture’ in Central Europe at the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Prehistoric Commission (since November 2010). Among other things, I am carrying out a statistical analysis of a cremation cemetery (Franzhausen-Kokoron) and I am moderating an online UK Forum on ‘Urnfield culture’ cremation cemeteries - and cremation cemeteries in general:

Published work

Aspöck, E. forthcoming: ‘(Deviant?) burial- and post-burial treatment of bodies at the mid Anglo-Saxon cemetery Winnall II: Troubles among the living or between the living and the dead?’’, in Devlin, Z.L. and Graham, E.J. (eds.), Death embodied: archaeological approaches to the treatment of the corpse, Oxford: Oxbow Books.

Aspöck, E. 2011: ‘Past “disturbances” of graves as a source: taphonomy and interpretation of reopened early medieval inhumation graves at Brunn am Gebirge (Austria) and Winnall II (England)’, Oxford Journal of Archaeology 30.3: 299–324

Aspöck, E. 2008: What actually is a deviant burial? Comparing German-language and Anglophone research on deviant burials, in Murphy, E. (ed.), Deviant burials in the archaeological record: 17-34. Oxford: Oxbow Books.

Aspöck, E. 2005: Graböffnungen im Frühmittelalter und das Beispiel der langobardenzeitlichen Gräber von Brunn am Gebirge, Flur Wolfholz, NÖ, Archaeologia Austriaca 87: 225-265. [Study of re-opening graves (’grave robbing’) in the Early Middle Ages]

Aspöck, E. and Stadler, P. 2005: Die langobardenzeitlichen Gräber von Brunn am Gebirge, Flur Wolfholz, NÖ, Archaeologia Austriaca 87: 169-224. [Analysis of the Lombard-period cemetery at Brunn am Gebirge, Lower Austria]

Aspöck, E. 2002: Merowingerzeitliche Grabfunde aus Fischlham Hafeld. Reste eines baierischen Reihengräberfeldes, Jahrbuch des Oberösterreichischen Musealvereines 146, 1: 235-266. [Analysis of Merovingian-period grave goods].Excavation reports

2003c (With Russ, D.): Ausgrabungen im Bereich einer frühbronzezeitlichen Siedlung am südlichen Ortsrand von Stoitzendorf, Fundberichte Österreich 42: 486-493. [Excavations of an early Bronze Age settlement south of Stoitzendorf, Austria]

2003d (With Russ, D.): Weitere Rettungsgrabungen in Platt, Siedlung Brunnfeld, Fundberichte Österreich 42: 480-485. [Further excavations at Platt, Siedlung Brunnfeld, Austria]

2003e (With Schmitsberger, O.): Rettungsgrabungen im Bereich einer prähistorischen Siedlung am nördlichen Ortsrand von Stoitzendorf. Fundberichte Österreich 42: 494-499. [Excavations north of Stoitzendorf, Austria; Linearbandkeramik houses]


In Preparation

Aspöck, E. ‘The relativity of normality: an archaeological and anthropological study of deviant burial (Sonderbestattungen) and different treatment at death’ PhD thesis, prepared for publication in ‘Mitteilungen der Prähistorischen Kommission’ (Austrian Academy of Sciences).

Weiss-Krejci, E. and Aspöck, E. ‘Tod und Bestattung in Kulturanthropologie und Archäologie’ [Death and burial - the cultural anthropology and archaeology, working title] Introductory book on the study of death and mortuary practices. Böhlau Verlag, Vienna.

Aspöck, E. ‘The relativity of normality: on the concept of deviant burials’:

Aspöck, E. ‘Early Anglo-Saxon deviant burials and rites of passage’: An article exploring anthropological aspects of early Anglo-Saxon mortuary practices.

Aspöck, E. ‘Deviant burials and different treatment at death: The late Roman cemetery at Lankhills’: An article which presents a methodology for the study of different treatment at death.

Aspöck, E. ‘Differentiated treatment at death from the late Iron Age to the middle Anglo-Saxon period: a long-term view from southern Britain’, Report for a volume resulting from European Science Foundation Exploratory Workshop on out-of cemetery human remains in Winchester in 2007.