2. Introducing Digital Public Mortuary Archaeology

DPMA is represented in a range of fora online. It includes popular summaries, synthetic reports, and in-depth detailed engagements with mortuary data, methods and ideas. Virtual environments online promote engagement with archaeological work in the field, laboratory, classroom and office. Moreover, DPMA need not focus on body-parts and fragments, but also graves, cemeteries, memorials, monuments and landscapes. DPMA includes media and resources designed for teaching the archaeology of death and burial: e-books and e-journals, archives and databases, project and society websites, wikis, blogs, online newspapers and specialist archaeological magazines. Overarching all of these resources are social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. We might go further and explore various fictional mortuary environments created for video games, TV shows and films, all of which are increasingly accessed online.

A large component of DPMA constitutes virtual replications of analogue media. For example, the UK Archaeology Data Service (ADS) hosts back-issues of journals, and Council for British Archaeology and English Heritage monographs. Yet many DPMA resources have no readily accessible analogue equivalent in either structure or content. The ADS again provides an example: it is the locus for hundreds of grey literature reports on cemeteries and burials, as well as project digital archives.

Archaeologists have become aware of the potential of digital media to enhance engagement with funerary projects. Recent examples of effective engagement from the UK include the University of Leicester's Richard III project website, which hosts a rich range of evidence surrounding the Leicester Greyfriars investigation and the discovery of remains interpreted as those of the last Plantagenet king of England (Buckley et al. 2013). There are also outreach and schools resources and publications, and many YouTube video links. In addition to the project's extensive media profile (Sayer and Walter forthcoming), the Richard III project succeeded in creating a coherent, varied and versatile digital presence with a static website as its focal point.

A second prominent example of effective DPMA is the MOLA (Museum of London) Crossrail project in London. While not primarily a mortuary archaeology project, the excavations have received wide publicity because of the funerary component. The project has a website acting as an archaeological dissemination hub to the public. A search using Google 'Trends' shows an increase in the search term 'crossrail' coinciding with the release of news stories with a mortuary archaeology focus (Figure 1). The archaeological excavations began in 2009; however, relative search interest increased steadily from early 2013, with the discovery in Charterhouse Square of skeletal remains suspected to be Black Death victims. Relative search interest peaked again in March 2014 with the Charterhouse Square DNA results confirming the Black Death link. Since the Charterhouse Square excavations there have been two further interest peaks. July 2014 saw the first peak, when human skeletal remains were found at Liverpool Street Station, and a second occurred in March 2015 with reports on the New Churchyard ('Bedlam') burial ground, Liverpool Street.

Figure 1
Figure 1: Graph displaying the relative search interest over time for the term 'crossrail' from January 2009 to April 2015 in the UK: The graph is normalised relative to the highest peak for the term against all searches during this time, from 0–100

These case studies demonstrate the power of digital media in disseminating and engaging the public with mortuary archaeology, though very few mortuary projects have public digital engagement as planned parts of their development. This may reflect wider issues in analogue public archaeology, where 'heritage interpreters' are rarely embedded into fieldwork teams or the archaeological workflow, often becoming an afterthought when results must be disseminated to 'the public' in a passive fashion (Perry 2015). Additionally, many other issues that arise in analogue public archaeology (such as audience diversity, collaboration with communities, and a lack of value afforded by professional archaeologists) have followed through into our digital practices as well (Richardson 2014; Walker 2014).

Even the University of Leicester's Richard III project and the MOLA Crossrail project have limitations in the specific attention to public engagement with mortuary archaeology. The projects have proven highly successful but were not in themselves geared to engaging the public with mortuary archaeology's broader parameters and approaches, current debates and ethics. Our aim is not to criticise these projects as such. Instead, we suggest potential categories and strategies for DPMA.