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Posthumous Exhumation and Movement of Osteological Remains: An Innovative Iso-Histological Approach to Prehispanic Maya Mortuary Practices

The aim of the PHEMOR project is to reconstruct the posthumous movement of human remains from prehispanic (250 BCE to 1525 CE) Maya sites using an innovative iso-histological approach.


The results will transform understandings of mortuary practices and refine reconstructions of migration in prehispanic Maya communities. As the first project to integrate isotopic and histological methods for this purpose, PHEMOR will make methodological advancements that will have legacy benefits for archaeologists across the world.

A narrative of the role of posthumous movement in Maya mortuary behaviour will be developed by applying the novel method to over 100 individuals of both sexes from funerary and non-funerary contexts at 11 prehispanic Maya sites in Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico. Differentiating nonlocal individuals that moved during life from those who were moved after death is also necessary for accurate reconstructions of past migratory processes, as the sociocultural factors influencing each differed.

The results will therefore contribute to ongoing and emerging research themes in Maya archaeology, including the significance of deceased ancestors in the formation of identities and communities and the implications of nonlocal individuals in non-funerary deposits, framing future studies of Maya mortuary practices and migration.


While isotopic and histological techniques are well-established in archaeological science, this is the first project to integrate these methods to address postmortem movement of human remains in archaeology globally. This research further focuses on a yet untapped archaeological dataset – samples that have been altered after burial by diagenesis.

Thus, this project has major long-term benefits, as it provides a framework for unleashing the potential of underutilized datasets and for applying the cutting-edge iso-histological method to identify posthumous movement of human remains in other archaeological and forensic contexts.

Funded by a Marie Skłodowska Curie Actions Postdoctoral Fellowship guaranteed by United Kingdom Research and Innovation.

Principal investigators

Picture of Richard Madgwick

Dr Richard Madgwick

Reader in Archaeological Science

+44 29208 74239
Picture of Asta Rand

Dr Asta Rand

Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellow