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Cremation and present pasts: A contemporary archaeology of Swedish memory groves

by Howard Williams
Mortality ()

Abstract

I present a case study in the contemporary archaeology of death: an investigation of the minneslunden ('memory groves') of present-day Sweden. In recent decades, memory groves have been adapted and condensed from their original suburban cemetery locations and added to rural churchyard settings. Eschewing individual memorials with text or images, memory groves serve as architectonic environments that facilitate the staging of the presence of the cremated dead and encouraging ongoing relationships between the living and the dead through personal commemorative practice. I argue that memory groves choreograph commemoration through the diffusion and sublimation of ashes into landscape utopias with implicit, and sometimes explicit, archaeological themes. In rural churchyards, memory groves serve as 'present-pasts', newly-created ancient monuments and primordial sacred micro-landscapes, affording the cremated dead with a collective, emotive and mnemonic material presence and simultaneously serving to revitalising the commemorative use of traditional churchyard space within a largely secular and mobile contemporary society. Using memory groves as a case study, the paper seeks to demonstrate the potential in the archaeological investigation of contemporary death and its material culture.

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