Abstract: Revisiting the Grave: Post-funeral Performances in Late Bronze Age Aegean Tombs

Lecturer: 

Mortuary data forms one of the primary sources for studying the Late Bronze Age in the Aegean.  It is often, however, examined in isolation from the complex, multi-staged processes and performances that made up the funeral and everything that followed it, given that the most popular tomb types, the tholos and chamber tombs, were used for multiple burials. The depositional sequence of these actions is most frequently overlooked, not least because of practical difficulties in identifying and reconstructing these events and the ephemeral and often ambiguous nature of the evidence. Despite these limitations, however, there are many clues, both direct – in the form of residual remains – and indirect – in the form of purposefully destroyed things – that hint at a whole range of funerary and post-funerary actions, involving the bodies and bones of those previously interred as well as the objects placed with them in the graves.

This lecture revisits the methodologies used in the identification of these actions and the interpretations that have been put forward to explain the post-funeral manipulation of bones and objects in Late Bronze Age tombs. ‘Essential’ as these actions may have been, because of the reuse of the tombs, scholarship may have actually conflated different sets of information to produce a rather homogeneous picture that is still extensively used in the reconstruction of ‘Mycenaean burial customs’. These post-funeral actions, however, may have actually entailed a number of different performances, which formed part of multi-staged episodes and of a more complex and nuanced web of social practice than previously thought.

How can we identify and reconstruct post-funeral manipulation? What did these processes and performances entail? What can we learn about the Aegean Late Bronze Age societies from the examination of their post-funeral practices? These questions are pertinent to current discussions in Mediterranean archaeology regarding the extent and significance of funeral manipulation of bones and objects and of intentional acts of fragmentation in the archaeological record.

 

Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

Cavanagh, W.G. 1978. ‘A Mycenaean Second Burial Custom?’, Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies 25, 171-172.

Cavanagh, W. and Mee, C. 1998. A Private Place: Death in Prehistoric Greece, Jonsered.

Wells, B. 1990. ‘Death at Dendra. On Mortuary Practices in a Mycenaean Community’, in Hägg, R. and Nordquist, G.C. (eds.), Celebrations of Death and Divinity in the Bronze Age Argolid, Stockholm, 125-140.

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