7. Conclusion

Sayer and Walter (forthcoming) rightly highlight the value of digital media for exploring public perceptions of archaeological activities. Yet the scope, standards, strategies and ethics of using digital media by archaeologists and heritage professionals require further investigation and critical reflection, especially for mortuary remains and contexts. DPMA has considerable potential for fostering the creation of new, virtual communities among the dead and about death, which can be situated in relation to tangible heritage sites and museums and the widespread intangibility of most mortuary sites in the contemporary landscape. This can be achieved by focusing not only on dead individuals and their osteobiographies, but also on wider corporeal and material communities revealed by assemblages of bones, graves, memorials, monuments and other spaces and material cultures. In so doing, DPMA can cultivate debate and engagement with human mortality using archaeological traces of mourning, mortality and commemoration in a variety of innovative fashions, giving mortuary contexts and remains a new lease of life as the 'virtual dead'. Likewise, DPMA activities such as blogging and the use of social media have the potential to engage new audiences (in terms of ethnicity, age, gender and religious faiths) beyond those already engaged in archaeological research and discoveries, including many whose interests relate to the funerary industry, mourning, commemoration and death rather than the past per se.

At one level, all digital engagements with mortuary remains constitute a dimension of DPMA, and yet only certain digital media have attempted to engage the public directly in the theories, methods and data of mortuary archaeology. A focus on human remains predominates. Fewer archaeologists still have established themselves as vocal and critical public intellectuals via digital media to act and react to set and transform agendas in the study of mortuary archaeology (see Giles and Williams forthcoming). Even fewer again have allowed digital media to become a mechanism by which the public themselves can participate in, and direct the acquisition, analysis and interpretation of mortuary data. The institutional and professional, particularly museological, reticence towards using DPMA needs to be particularly overcome by recognising that legal and ethical concerns should not create an oppressive online silence regarding the archaeological dead. Challenging both the fetishising of celebrity and freak cadavers, and writing bland normative narratives about death and burial in past epochs, DPMA requires critical appraisal and experimentations in linking analogue and digital death.

It is clear that DPMA, working in tandem with traditional analogue means, has considerable untapped potential for fundamentally shifting the parameters of mortuary archaeology itself, and its public engagements. The digital world offers new ways of exploring the human past and considering mortality in the present and future in relation to the archaeological dead. By creating and fostering new communities about (or for) the dead online, alongside new and fluid communities of the living, the future of mortuary archaeology is inextricably linked to the virtual dead.