Death and society: A Marxist approach

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Abstract

MoTtuary practices have been studied by arc:haeologists from d 1j]eren.t .and sometimes conflicting points of view. This article is a critical review of the doml.nant appmaches to the strzdy of mortuary practices in archaeol.ogy. A dJ!ferenl approa. ch, baBe.d on llistoricaJ materialism, is presented in this paper. Key-1Nords: mort-uary pr s approach Burial siles haye always bee11 a stflr attraction in archaeology. However it must be remembered that traditional archaeology considered burial and all its trappings as part of the intang-ible domain of religio us belief (Piggoll 1973}, and had misgivings as Lo whelh!3r any .direct rela-tionship could be established between the bmial rites aud Lhe world of the living (Ucko 1969). Adherents ofthls p osiUon emphasized the dif-ficulty of evaluating social aspects on the ba-sis of burial sites and preferred to use these data to make inferences on relative chronol -ogy and to put for·ward interpretations in terms ofirleology basHd on historical or anlhropgi-r.al analogies. Finds were also employed to defino culluraliilios.y:ucrasics and, in extreme cases, elhn ic boundaries. To s um up. trudilionalw·chaeology's approach can be characterized us follows: 1 B urialremains ~u·e an express ion o£ the in-tangible world of teligious belief. 2 There was widespread sceptlc::i.sm with re-gard to the possi.biU ty of l'inding any cri-teria for reconstruction of tho living s oci-ety from burial remains. 3 The variability of items found and their patterns. of association were usually in-terpreted through ideological metaphors. 4 ,Simple and accessible interpretations. were made .by means of formal analogy drawn frem historical and anthropolot,rical sources and from the experiencB of everyday life. 5 Extensive corpora of objects from burial sih~s wem assembled and used for the descrip-tion and chronology of 'culLW'es'. since they were ·often froru d osed c;onlexts and generally well preserved. 6 There was an emphasis on formal deserip-tion and a lack of quantitfltive analysis. b1 contr.ast,-otJ1er reseflrchers fl lready felt there was a clear link between burial practices and the world of the 1i vi11g. V. Gordon Childe, for exa.~ple, considered ritual and its. :religious references as simple mechanisms Lhal ensm ed the c.:nnd itions allowingreprodnclion oJ social systems. Thus, in the forties tH)44; 1946) he put forward lhe view that the mos t stable and progressive societies in Lerms of social wealth, cons tuned few goods o1·

Author-supplied keywords

  • Burial
  • Marxist archaeology
  • Mortuary practices

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Authors

  • Vicente Lull

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