Grave Goods – Mary-Ann Ochota.

What five items would you take to the grave? We ask anthropologist, writer and broadcaster Mary-Ann Ochota. She’s the author of Britain’s Secret Treasures and Hidden Histories: A Spotter’s Guide to the British Landscape, which was shortlisted for Current Archaeology’s Book of the Year Award 2017.

Twitter – @MaryAnnOchota

Mary-Anne Ochata.
Mary-Ann Ochota, storytelling in a roundhouse.

Tools of the Trade – a tool/implement without which you’d be lost, whether it’s a pen, trowel, notepad, bottle-opener or scanning electron microscope.

As a TV presenter specialising in archaeology and anthropology I’m lucky to be quite light on essential tools – normally it’s just my curiosity and my big mouth, so I can ask my interviewees lots of questions about their research. A notebook and pencil would be good so I can record the conversations I have, and maybe jot down all my genius ideas, and perhaps do a bit of doodling. Eternity might be a long time.

Food for the Journey – a favourite portable snack, or a portion of something from your funeral feast.

I expect my mourners will have feasted well, so I’ll take a little picnic snack with me from the funeral table. Perhaps a flagon of cider, a hunk of hog roast and some apple sauce. I’ll also take a jacket potato and some mead as an after-dinner-after-death extra snack. The humble potato has fallen from fashion these days, with the competition from quinoa and orzo and exotic squashes, and from folk shunning ‘carbs’ altogether. But I’ve got an exciting journey ahead of me – there’s a ferryman to pay, plenty of sins to atone for and all sorts of arduous tests and ordeals. I need a good bellyful of food for all that! Can’t think of a better way to set myself up for the journey than with a spud.

Memento Vivere – a memento of a companion/event to bring you cheer (can be an image).

Tricky one, this, because I’m not sure if something that reminds me of my loved ones will bring me cheer, or fill me with deep sadness. I’ll take a punt and ask to keep my wedding ring, and then bring with me a little box of cloths that each smell of the essence of the people I love. I’d have a little scruffy cloth that smells of the top of my dog Harpo’s head (warm fur and woodlands). I’d have a soft little cloth that smells of my little boy when he’s asleep cuddled in my arms. I’d have a rough, colourful cloth that smells like a spicy mixture of the awe-inspiring, exciting places I’ve travelled to with my mum, and I’d have a smooth, fine wool sample from my husband’s favourite suit. He’s a smart chap, unfailingly calm, clever and kind, so something that reminds me of his unwavering togetherness might come in pretty handy. My little box of cloths should mean that if I need it, I can immerse myself in the multisensory memories of a very happy, full life. Hopefully that’ll give me the courage to get on with the job of being dead! Best (skeletal) foot forward.

Ex Libris – the book or text you are least likely to tire of reading.

This is probably absolute literary crime, but I think I’d like one of those old fashioned Reader’s Digest compilations containing lots of abridged famous books. So I’d get a bit of The Art of War, a book of the Bible, some Don Quixote, Merry Wives of Windsor, Sense and Sensibility, Jeeves and Wooster, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Fifty Shades of Grey and Harry Potter. A literary tombola. It means I’d have something for every mood! It might be a bit frustrating to not be able to immerse myself in the full depths of a fabulous book, though.

If I had to have just one I think I’d go for Middlemarch by George Eliot. It has wit, pathos, and real humanity. And it’s quite long.

Lucky Deposition – a bonus selection chosen by the guest – can include transport.

A horse. They’re such noble animals, useful for travelling long distances, getting out of trouble fast, and it would be lovely to have someone to share the journey with. I’m not sure I’d be keen to have the poor thing slaughtered just for my grave, or even worse, walked in and buried alive like it seems the horses in the Pocklington Iron Age chariot grave might have been. So I suppose when it looks like I’m about to snuff it, I’d put a message on facebook and ask people to keep an eye out for a dead horse that might be available to join me for the afterlife.

A Message from Beyond the Grave
 – an entirely discretionary option – leave a note for a future generation to find.

‘I’m sorry for the mess we’ve left the planet in. I hope your generations have better responses than ours did, and for once, we learn from the past.’

Mary-Anne Ochata at Stonehenge.
Mary-Ann Ochota at Stonehenge.

Mary-Ann’s series Mystic Britain is currently on Smithsonian Channel (Freeview 99, Sky 195, Virgin 295). Mary-Ann and Clive Anderson travel the length of the country exploring the strange corners and darker archaeological recesses of our ancestors’ activities – from mummification to shamanism to dealing with the living dead.

1 thought on “Grave Goods – Mary-Ann Ochota.”

  1. michael walter williamson

    Fascinating–a lucky find when I’m half awake.

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