Can Curiosity Kill the Corpse? An Argument for ‘Morbid Curiosity’

Thought provoking article Howard….some engaging ideas on the concept of the ‘morbidly curious’. Certainly the idea that museums can hold a pivotal role in the display, interpretation and education of mortuary archaeology is one that needs further study!


File:Chantier de fouilles à Morigny-Champigny en juin 2012 69.jpg Medieval skeleton from Morigny-Champigny. Source: wikimedia

I am sick to death with a worn-out archaeological cliche. In archaeological writing, and media discussions of mortuary archaeology, the ‘straw man’ we want to avoid is apparently the disgusting uneducated public showing ‘morbid curiosity’ in the archaeological study of ancient human remains, graves, tombs, cemeteries and other funerary traces. Of course there are manifold emotional, religious, social and political dimensions to digging up, displaying and interpreting mortuary remains in the modern world. It might be sometimes useful to contrast good archaeological and heritage practice with voyeurism and sensationalism as well as the flagrant robbing and destruction of mortuary contexts for economic gain. However, it is often bang out of order to criticise non-archaeologists for displaying morbid curiosity.

I am not alone. Faye Sayer and Duncan Sayer criticise this phrase’s use in archaeological literature in a forthcoming chapter in a book I am co-editing called Archaeologists…

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