Professor Christopher Knüsel

Research interests

 

Christopher Knüsel’s research interests link social archaeology and skeletal biology/osteoarchaeology, especially with regard to activity-related bone change and orthopaedic disabilities; funerary archaeology, with an emphasis on Europe and the Near East from the Palaeolithic to the Later Medieval periods; palaeopathology and palaeodemography. This approach aims to marry the cultural, social, and political aspects of burial with the bio-anthropological study of the deceased. Current research centres on the use of biological anthropological data within its archaeological context to provide insights into past social organisation: the development of social inequality, violence and warfare, élites and ritual specialists, and the definition of archaeological patterning and bone assemblage modification relating to the performance of past funerary rites.

He is co-editor of Blood Red Roses: The Archaeology of a Mass Grave from Towton, A.D 1461 (with Veronica Fiorato and Anthea Boylston), Social Archaeology of Funerary Remains (with Rebecca Gowland) and co-author of Velim: Violence and Death in Bronze Age Bohemia (with Anthony Harding, Radka Sumberovà, and Alan Outram). The research at Velim Skalka (funded by the Leverhulme Trust and British Academy) led to the creation of new research protocols for recording fragmented and commingled human and animal remains. The results highlight the importance of considering time-specific circumstances and events in the interpretation of the patterning and appearance of disarticulated and fragmented remains. The unusual funerary treatment and weapon-related injuries of these individuals serve as the sine qua non of violence and warfare in the past. This approach, with grant funding provided by the British Academy now forms a joint project between the Human and Faunal Remains Laboratories (in conjunction with Jacqui Mulville and Jennifer Jones) at the Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük (Turkey) directed at comparing the processing and taphonomic signatures of human and animal remains at the site.

By employing an osteobiographical approach to research on the individual as an agent of social change in the past, he has re-analysed and re-interpreted the ‘Princess of Vix’ and undertaken a reconsideration of the burials of the Merovingian leaders Childéric and Clovis, the latter in Social Archaeology of Funerary Remains. As part of two recent collaborative projects, he has been involved in the bioarchaeological analysis of the remains of Gristhorpe Man, a Bronze Age oak-log coffin burial originally excavated in 1834 and on display in Scarborough’s Rotunda Museum for over 150 years, and the medieval St. Bees Lady, the skeletonised remains found next to the famously well-preserved St. Bees Man. In these works human remains are interpreted as part of material culture- in addition to being biological entities- with the body and its treatment as an artefact of and canvas for symbolic and social expression. Both of these treatments have now been published in Antiquity and Medieval Archaeology, respectively, with the latter receiving the Martyn Jope Award 2010 for the best novel interpretation, application of analytical method or presentation of new findings published in the journal Medieval Archaeology. Gristhorpe Man: A Life and Death on the Bronze Age, co-edited with Nigel Melton and Janet Montgomery (Durham University), has been published by Oxbow Books, Oxford (see: http://www.oxbowbooks.com/oxbow/gristhorpe-man.html).

These projects further the goal of displaying human remains in a museum setting in order to highlight how much more can be learned about past people and their societies when integrated with their archaeological contextual information. The Gristhorpe Man Project has contributed a display centrepiece in Scarborough's renovated Rotunda Museum (see: http://www.scarboroughmuseumstrust.org.uk/our-venues/rotunda-museum/exhibitions/24-gristhorpe-man.html). The St. Bees Lady Project is now featured in the St. Bees Priory Church 'History Corner', and the publication features in the wikipedia entry citations (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Bees_Priory). Most recently, as part of an AHRC-funded REACT Project, in conjunction with Dr. Stephany Leach and Paul Davies of ImageMarkers, Okehampton, Devon, the 'Ivory Bangle Lady' now features in an augmented reality gallery in the Yorkshire Museum, York (see: http://www.yorkshiremuseum.org.uk/Page/ViewCollection.aspx?CollectionId=26).

An interest in activity-related morphological change has produced studies of osteoarthritis, spondylolysis, shoveller’s fractures, the influence of slipped capital femoral epiphyses and club-foot deformity on infra-cranial skeletal morphology and, most recently, the social significance of humeral medial epicondylar avulsion fractures. He also has research interests in congenital conditions as reflected by cranial dysmorphies and fluctuating asymmetry, stature and body proportional differences. Complementing these are studies of bilateral asymmetry and biomechanical analysis based on cross-sectional properties and entheseal changes of the limbs and pectoral and pelvic girdles to elucidate hand preference and limb use in strenuous activities, including those that relate to long-term training for and participation in armed conflict.

The theme of conflict as understood from the analysis of human remains in their archaeological context features in The Routledge Handbook of the Bioarchaeology of Human Conflict (see: http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415842198/), to which he is a contributor and co-editor with Martin Smith (Bournemouth University). He is currently writing a book, entitled Funerary Archaeology: A Bioarchaeological Synthesis (Cambridge University Press), funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

Research collaborations

Christopher Knüsel is currently Co-Head of the Human Remains Team, with Prof. Clark S. Larsen (Ohio State University, USA) at Neolithic Çatalhöyük, near Konya, central Anatolia, Turkey, excavated under the direction of Prof. Ian Hodder of Stanford University, USA. This has led to a vast array of collaborative research, with examples being analysis of the KOPAL trench mixed human and animal bone assemblages with Jacqui Mulville and Jennifer Jones (Cardiff University, UK), under the auspices of a British Academy Small Grant. With Scott Haddow (Cranfield University, UK) and Josh Sadvari (Ohio State University, USA) of the Human Remains Team he is engaged in a series of projects, including one on the excavation, recording and analysis of a cranial (and mandibular) retrieval, as well as on deviant burials at the site through time. In conjunction with Bonnie Glencross (Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada) he is studying cranial traumatic injuries at the site, and with Barbara Betz of the Human Remains Team, Ashley Lingle, Head of the Conservation Laboratory, and Katy Killackey, Site Illustrator, he is studying the human handprints at the site in order to elucidate aspects of the social identity of their makers.

 

Collaborative research, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, USA, (https://securegrants.neh.gov/publicquery/products.aspx?gn=RZ-50924-08) with Ernestine Elster (UCLA), Drs. John Robb, Tamsin O’Connell (University of Cambridge), Maryanne Tafuri (Università “La Sapienza” di Roma), Eugenia Isetti (Istituto Italiano di Archeologia Sperimentale), and Antonella Traverso (Soprintendenza Archeologica di Genova) at the Middle Neolithic site of Grotta Scolaria, Puglia, Italy, originally excavated by Marija Gimbutas but never published, documents funerary processing that includes defleshing of corpses. Using a zonation method of recording fragmentary archaeological remains first pioneered at the Middle Bronze Age site of Velim Skalka (Bohemia, Czech Republic) (see above), the human remains analyses will be published as part of a synthetic volume, Scaloria Cave: Ritual and Landscape in the Mediterranean Neolithic by the Cotsen Institute at UCLA in 2014.