Strand 3: Placing the Criminal Corpse

Strand Researchers: Professor Sarah Tarlow and Dr Zoe Dyndor, University of Leicester

Led by Professor Sarah Tarlow, Strand 3 complements the research of Strand 2 by tracing the journey of the criminal corpse towards the contexts of display on the gibbet and in the museum, and through to its ultimate burial. After execution, transport, dissection or exhibition, where does the body end up? Archaeological and landscape studies of these questions help us to examine popular and non-discursive beliefs about the criminal body.

Pirate HIC
Captain Kidd hanging in chains at the water's edge
Gibbet visit
Viewing executed offenders hanging in chains

Strand 3 addresses two key areas:

1. Hanging in chains. The historical geography of gibbet sites will be mappedHIC for English counties, with the aim of determining which features informed site choice. Variables such as the location of the crime, relationship to parish boundaries, local topography and viewsheds will all be recorded. The particular landscape of gibbets and scaffolds in London will also be examined, where the factors informing the location of display might have been different.  Where locations of gibbets can be established, field study and historical cartography will be used to record natural, political and historical features of the site. Key questions here are what factors determined the location of a gibbet, and how did the presence of the gibbet affect the personal and social geographies of those who encountered them?

2. Burying the criminal corpse. Only very few human remains which haveOxford bones been subject to anatomical dissection or gibbeting are known archaeologically: what happened to the rest? The second part of this Strand aims to locate the final resting places of executed criminals and asks which factors determined the ultimate destination of the criminal corpse? It will consider the significance of personal and social identity, nature of the crime, manner of death, physical characteristics of the body and other variables.

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