Anthropology 290

“Everybody gets a turn.”  -Brian Nickels.

Materials for the term project:

  • formatting information for print materials term project F2019 Format for Print Materials
  • for privacy reasons (this is a public website) the list of group members for our term project is posted on our D2L page.
  • for inspiration, here are some resources from last year’s term projectt at the RBCM, where we hosted a Mock Egyptian Funeral in conjunction with the travelling exhibit
    • Here is the quiz built for our Egypt exhibit that helps you determine what companion animal to take with you to the Afterlife. The answer might surprise you!
    • Here is a link to the photos taken by Camosun’s photographer Alan Shook.

Other resources for assignments can be found on our D2L page.

We had a small amount of money left over from our collective class budget at the end of the F2018 term. It has been donated to Physicians for Human Rights, an organization that does forensic anthropology work (amongst other things). I felt that the work done by this organization fit in to the content of this course.

Here are resources that you might find interesting. I am adding to this often, so please send me anything that you think should be included here!

Death and bereavement in pop culture: here is a list of movies and TV series that present or address death. You might find these interesting. Feel free to send me additions to the list!

Topography of Dante’s Inferno: this is meant to be a useful study guide for Dante’s work, but the I find the visual representation of his take on the levels of hell to be quite fascinating. A huge amount of work went in to determining where each category of sinner would spend eternity, and what each of these spaces would be like. for example, “carnal malefactors” will spend eternity in the second circle and endure a merciless hurricane.

Here is a Google book that provides information about the “totenpasse”, the thin gold foil tablets found in a number of Greek (and a very few later, Roman) burials that are considered “passports for the dead”.  The book is called Instructions for the Netherworld: The Orphic Gold Tablets.

You will walk with me forever“; a short news article about cremation tattoos.

As mentioned in class, here is the podcast about Irish keeners. It is a BBC production and is 30 minutes long. I finally listened to it, it’s very interesting!

Other interesting BBC podcasts:

  • I Don’t Know What to Say: A year after the death of broadcaster Nick Clarke, his widow Barbara Want investigates the way we as a society deal – or fail to deal – with bereavement.
  • Face the Facts: Every week, councils across the UK fund and organise funerals for people who have nobody else to take care of their affairs. Often these are deaths which have remained undiscovered for weeks, months or even years. In an ageing society, it is an issue expected to get worse. So how can someone die and no one notice? John Waite investigates the background to some of these desperately sad cases and asks whether anything could be done to make them less likely.
  • Feed Me to the Wind: Tens of thousands of ashes remain uncollected or unscattered. Amanda Mitchison looks at the choices, conflicts and absurdity in the new British ritual of ash scattering.
  • Beyond Belief: The one reality of which everyone can be sure is that they will die. Most people say they want to die at home surrounded by their loved ones, but dying in hospital is the norm. Religious communities have traditional rituals around dying – do these transfer easily to a clinical setting? And what might the idea of Last Rites mean to those without a religious faith?


Analysis of the Ars Moriendi, texts and woodcuts from the European Middle Ages as instructions on preparing for death. Called the “Art of Dying”, this manual of sorts includes a section on the five temptations to resist while dying.

Here is a link to Jeffry Campbell’s graduate thesis on the Ars Moriendi, which includes a translation, collation and examination of these texts.



Thanks Sean for finding these short clips from the BBC documentary Mummifying Alan, the experimental archaeology documentary that I mentioned in class. I will ask the library to try to find it for us and then can arrange interested people to watch it together. Just a heads up that this is real footage, so you will see the real stages of mummification carried out on a real human being.

clip 1

clip 2

clip 3

clip 4

Information about the Japanese Buddhist monk practice of Shokushinbutsu, self-mummification as transcendence from the realities of a mortal body:

Dying to live forever: the reasons behind self-mummification. Not the most academic of resources, but it’s accessible as a short read and cites the book above by Ken Jeremiah.

Here is a short article written by Nancy Scheper-Hughes in 2013 that offers an update about the “angel babies” of the Brazilian Alto. It is really interesting to consider the original conditions and realities in the 1980’s and then revisit the region to consider how changes in access to medicine and social services may affect the psychological concepts of infant death and grief.

MAID (Medical Assistance in Dying)

  • CBC investigative journalism about accessing medically assisted death (MAID) in publically funded Catholic hospitals.
  • Currently there are many rules that govern access to MAID in Canada. From an ethics perspective have criteria is important, but it means that many people cannot access something that they feel is their right. Toronto Sick Kids hospital is grappling with MAID and young patients (current rules are that MAID is available for people over the age of 18 only), read about it here.  I am trying to access the essay mentioned in this article to get the original source for you, I will add it here if I can get it.
  • Jana Bulhmann shares her very personal perspectives on MAID
  • Dr. BJ Miller’s TED Talk is incredible. He is a palliative care physician with a first hand perspective on what living means and that making a distinction between necessary and unnecessary suffering is key to providing care to patients.

Death and Sustainability

  • Jae Rhim Lee’s Mushroom Burial Suit TED Talk offers an interesting angle on the human composting movement. Another one that came up in class was the Urban Death Project, recently rebranded as Recompose (great name), that seeks to build a giant composting unit to transform human bodies into compost that can be used by family members. I think the idea is much less unsettling to us now that we have considered many of the interesting and complex topics of this course. The founder, Katrina Spade, has done a TED talk about her concept, which may actually come to Seattle within the next decade.
  • For more information on green burials, this is an interesting article: A Different Way of Death 

Ghanan funerals

Ancient burial practices find new relevance in a modern world: Neolithic style tombs are being built and used in England for individual and family interment of ashes.