Deep in the heart of North Yorkshire, at a place called Walkington Wold, there lies a rather unusual burial ground, an Anglo-Saxon execution cemetery. Twelve skeletons were unearthed by archaeologists, ten without skulls, later examination of the skeletons revealed that their owners were all subjected to judicial execution by decapitation, one of which required several blows.
Similar fates have befallen other wretched souls, the undignified burial of suicides - in the Middle Ages, the most profound of sins - and the desecration of their bodies, go largely unrecorded. While plague pits, vast cemeteries where victims of the Black Death were tossed into the ground, their bodies festering one on top of another, are only today betraying their secrets.
Although unpalatable to some, these burial grounds are an important part of our social heritage. They have been fashioned as much by the people who founded and used them, as by the buildings, gravestones and other features which they contain. They are records of social change; the symbols engraved upon individual memorials convey a sense of inherent belief systems, as they were constructed, adapted or abandoned depending on people’s needs.
Burying the Dead explores how these attitudes, practices and beliefs about death have undergone continual change. By studying the development of society’s funerary spaces, the author reveals how we continue to reinforce our relationships with the dead, in a constant and ongoing effort to maintain a bond with them.