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The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Vampires and Revenants: the Archaeology of the Undead

Archaeology is the study of the human past through material culture, or objects created, used, and left behind. Contemporary frameworks in archaeology focus on the materiality of not only physical objects, but also of human cultures and the systems of beliefs behind the creation of those objects in the past. This class will explore this phenomenon by focusing specifically on the materiality of beliefs surrounding the supernatural.

The world is divided between the living and the dead, but how strong are the boundaries between them? And more importantly, what happens when those boundaries are breached? Different myths and legends exist around the world for vampires and revenants, the dead that rise from their graves, but how have these stories been translated into material culture? This class will explore the archaeology of the undead across time and space, drawing connections between anthropologies of life, death, grief, and the material trappings of supernatural phenomena.

The course begins with a discussion of anthropology and the function of archaeology within this humanistic science. We will then consider the vampire in contemporary popular culture, before diving into the past to untangle myth from history.

After completing this course, students will understand how and why archaeologists study the living, the dead, and the undead. They will be able to talk about research in archaeology and anthropology and critically evaluate the role that vampires and revenants play in world cultures and social organization. In addition, students will be able to apply their knowledge to a fieldwork project that will reconstruct historical attitudes towards death and the afterlife via analysis of cemetery iconography.