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Cambridge Heritage Research Centre



The 23rd Cambridge Heritage Symposium took place on 11 and 12 May 2023 at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Cambridge and online on Zoom and included an online poster presentation which is available to view here until April 2024.

Download the Programme for the 23rd Cambridge Heritage Symposium



Encounters with human remains captivate the human psyche in a myriad of unique ways. While archaeologists usually approach human remains as a source of scientific data that illuminates how ancient people lived and died, others attribute tremendous cultural, spiritual, and political significance to them. Owing to these complex meanings and the unique symbolic power they embody, human remains often receive a prominent spotlight and public attention in various spaces. For example, museums around the world often display human remains for their educational and scientific value, whereas in attention-grabbing travelling exhibitions, anatomical human remains can be transformed into objects of morbid curiosity. Various forms of media including mainstream news media and social media further amplify this fascination and foster an increasing focus on death resulting in death-related aesthetics, literary movements, and even fashion trends. 

The spiritual, cultural, or personal desire to encounter the dead can mobilise masses of people to visit historic sites of conflict,  violence, and death as sites of tourism or as sacred sites where they can reflect on the magnitude of the loss of life and honour the dead. At the same time, mass graves as heritage sites encounter problems with visitors who do not respect the dead as the event in question recedes from memory. But what sort of behaviour is appropriate and should it be policed? Those who approach the dead from different epistemologies can place the dead closer to the realm of the living, maintaining their status as peoples and spirits and rejecting their relegation to mere curiosities.

In recent decades, a growing body of literature on human remains has examined how unique and complex the approaches to and encounters with the remains of the dead may be for various communities and within different heritage contexts. This conference seeks to explore these diverse perspectives and invites papers interrogating different forms of encounters with human remains and deathscapes under an ethical heritage lens. 


Keynote Speakers

The Cambridge Heritage Research Centre were delighted to host our distinguished Keynote Speakers for this Cambridge Heritage Symposium. 

Day 1: 10:00, Thursday 11 May 2023

Dr Layla Renshaw

Personhood and Human Remains in the Forensic Investigation of War and Political Violence

Layla Renshaw is an Associate Professor at Kingston University where she teaches forensic archaeology and anthropology. Her research focuses on post-conflict investigations, and the relationship between human remains and traumatic memory. She has worked as an assistant archaeologist for the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal in Kosovo. She has carried out fieldwork in Spain and is the author of Exhuming Loss: Memory, Materiality and Mass Graves of the Spanish Civil War. She has conducted ethnographic and family history work with the relatives of Anzac soldiers from WWI, exploring the link between DNA testing and memory. In 2019, she was principal investigator on the ISRF-funded group project Citizen Forensics: Materializing the Dead from Grave to Gene. Layla is currently co-investigator on Dr Esther Breithoff’s UKRI project Ecologies of Violence: Heritage and Conflict in More-than-Human Worlds.


Day 2: 10:00, Friday 12 May 2023

George Gumisiriza

Repatriationscapes: ‘Personhood’, Power, and ‘Otherness’ of Migrant Corpses

George Gumisiriza is pursuing a PhD in Social and Policy Sciences, funded by ESRC and the University of Bath. His PhD thesis Repatriationscapes: death and body repatriation among African diaspora in the UK focuses on Afrocentric perspectives on death. George has an MRes in International Development (distinction) (University of Bath 2021); an MSc in Social and Cultural Theory (University of Bristol 2020); and a Bed(Hons) from Makerere University, Uganda. George moved to the UK in 2011.




Day 1 - Thursday, 11 May 2023

09:30 Registration

09:50 Welcome Address

10:00 Keynote Lecture - Dr Layla Renshaw (Kingston University)

Personhood and Human Remains in the Forensic Investigation of War and Political Violence

10:40 Keynote Q & A

11:20 Refreshment Break

11:40 Session 1 - European Conflictscapes and the War Dead

13:20 Lunch Break

14:00 Session 2 - Necropolitics and Commemorating the Dead

15:20 Refreshment Break

15:40 Session 3 - Shifting the Narrative and Management of Human Remains

17:30 Drinks Reception (McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research)


Day 2 - Friday, 12 May 2023

09:30 Registration

10:00 Keynote Lecture - George Gumisiriza (University of Bath)

Repatriationscapes: ‘Personhood’, Power, and ‘Otherness’ of Migrant Corpses 

10:40 Keynote Q & A

11:20 Refreshment Break

11:40 Session 4 - Encountering Death in Museums: Ethics of Display and Public Perception of Human Remains

13:20 Lunch Break

14:00 Session 5 - Studying the Dead: Curation and Archival Research of Human Remains

15:40 Refreshment Break

16:00 Session 6 - Reflecting on Epistemology, Spirituality, and the Social Dead 

17:40 Closing Remarks



The annual Cambridge Heritage Symposium (CHS) was set up in 1996 as a forum for discussing and sharing ideas, questions, and case studies arising from working with or studying heritage. In short we wanted to provide an opportunity for talking and thinking together around topical issues within the wide framework of heritage studies. 

We soon learned that there were additional benefits. Chief among these are the new networks that emerged around each gathering; the opportunity of gaining glimpses into how heritage is debated within diverse fields has been immensely valuable to us as a research community. Another outcome has been the continuous challenge to our own perceptions of heritage studies are (or what they could be), and reflections on the position of this area within both academia and professional practice. 

The conferences have been instrumental to recognizing the varied forms of heritage, the wide-ranging interest in the field, and the many ways heritage is being studied and practiced – confirming the centrality of this field and the many areas it contributes to.

From the outset the Symposia have aimed to create an annual forum to bring together students, university and independent researchers, heritage practitioners and managers, to thinking critically and creatively about issues within the field. The themes of the Symposia have varied from exploring ‘Heritage that Hurts’ and ‘Heritage Methodologies’, and topics like the ‘Olympic Heritage’, ‘1914 Re-inherited’, ‘Packaging the Past’, ‘African Heritage Challenges’ and ‘Heritage and Revolution’. Over the years the organisers sought to retain the strong emphasis on discussion, and have aimed at days that focus on learning together.  


Previous Annual Heritage Symposia

  • CHS9 (2008) – Packaging the Past | report