Reopening graves in the early Middle Ages

Reopening graves in the early Middle Ages: from local practice to European phenomenon
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 June 2021

Across Europe early medieval archaeologists have long recognised significant numbers of graves displaying evidence for the intentional post-burial disturbance of skeletons and artefacts. The practice of reopening and manipulating graves soon after burial, traditionally described—and dismissed—as ‘robbing’, is documented at cemeteries from Transylvania to southern England. This article presents a synthesis of five recent regional studies to investigate the evidence of and the motivations for the reopening of early medieval graves. From the later sixth century AD, the reopening of individual graves and removal of selected artefact types rapidly became part of the shared treatment of the dead across this wide area.

Received: 18 June 2020; Revised: 21 September 2020; Accepted: 7 October 2020

© The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of Antiquity Publications Ltd. This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives licence (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is unaltered and is properly cited. The written permission of Cambridge University Press must be obtained for commercial re-use or in order to create a derivative work.

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