Burial Practices in Jordan from the Natufians to the Persians

By Al-Shorman, Abdulla; Khwaileh, Ali | Estonian Journal of Archaeology, December 2011 | Go to article overview

Burial Practices in Jordan from the Natufians to the Persians


Al-Shorman, Abdulla, Khwaileh, Ali, Estonian Journal of Archaeology


Introduction

Studies on burial practices appeared in the early 19th century by Worsaae (1843) on the burial mounds of Denmark, and followed by Hertz (1907) in an attempt to understand social organizations of past communities but with speculations (Kroeber 1927). 'Social persona' in burial practices was then introduced, which is "a composite of social identities maintained in life and recognized as appropriate for consideration after death" (Binford 1971, 17), therefore, the form of burial practices may mirror the complexity of the society as later proposed by Tainter (1978). He proposed that a greater amount of energy were expended at the burials of the higher social ranking individuals and supported by Frankenstein and Rowlands (1978) that grave goods may symbolize authority and thus ranking. The spatial dimension in burial practices was researched as well; Coles and Harding (1979) inferred the clustering of the Early Bronze Age cemeteries in central Europe to kinship, while Pader (1980) focused on the spatial distribution of artefacts and skeletons within graves.

The school of thought of evolutionism viewed death and its attributes as evolving cultural elements, which include the people themselves in their successive generations and disposing of the dead is the responsibility of the new generation (Tylor 1871; Frazer 1924; Bartel 1982; Metcalf & Huntington 1991). The sociological school viewed death as a social process not as an event (Hertz 1960), and as a transitory life scheme of rite de passage (Van Gennep 1960). For example, an extended mourning period is an adjustment for the living (Bartel 1982, 38). According to functionalism, death and its composites have a function within the society. For example weeping sustained the social ties with the dead (Radcliff-Brown 1964, 117; Metcalf & Huntington 1991, 44), which is like many other funerary rituals that are invisible archaeologically (Morris 1987). Symbolism considers death as a symbol for the living (Charles 1995). Constructing a fancy tomb for one's relative is a symbol for the high status of the builder. On the other hand, structuralism possesses that burial practices are reflected in the same structure that is found in the material remains (Levi-Straus 1976). The 'New Archaeology' or processualism relies on the scientific approach in studying burial practices and, at the same time, studies burial practices cross-culturally to extract mortuary variability and their functions among groups (Trigger 1989, 302; Saxe 1970, 49). Contrary to processualism, post-processualists claim that doing archaeology scientifically is complicated. For example, Hodder (1987) used a contextual approach; when people act socially they necessarily do so within a framework of meaning which is historically constructed and relative.

It is substantial that each extinct society had its own circumstances surrounding burial practices even in the presence of similar practices spatially and chronologically. A single school of thought is unable to set the burial practices in a context that centred on the human behaviour divorced from the surrounding environment and/or the nature of the culture itself. The latter is very dynamic and subject to change. On the other hand, the material culture from mortuary sites does not necessarily represent the entire elements of the culture. The burial practices as approached lately by processualists (Carr 1995; Pearson 2000) presented a direct relationship of cause and effect between the social structure of the living and the spatial organization of the dead, which might not be the case in many societies (Larsson 2003). These thoughts may shore up explanations to a particular mortuary element, such as weeping over the dead by the functionalism, but could not be justified archaeologically. Burial practices are composites of intertwined natural and social elements but not to the degree that, for example, proponents of the middle-range theory may claim (cf. …

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