Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 9

Death, Burial, and Social Representation

Oxford Handbooks Online

Death, Burial, and Social Representation


Robert Chapman
The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of Death and Burial
Edited by Liv Nilsson Stutz and Sarah Tarlow

Print Publication Date: May Subject: Archaeology, Environmental Archaeology


2013
Online Publication Date: Aug DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199569069.013.0004
2013

Abstract and Keywords

Interest in the inferences that archaeologists could make about past societies from their disposal of the dead was an
integral part of processual archaeology. This chapter introduces the theoretical bases of this approach, which are
grounded in cross-cultural ethnographic studies, and presents examples of their use in archaeological analyses of
funerary sites. It then highlights problems with, and critiques of, these studies, which were made by scholars identified
with the processual archaeology tradition, and more stridently by those called postprocessual archaeologists. Whatever
one’s theoretical position on these debates, the chapter aims to demonstrate the historical importance of processual
archaeology’s approach to social representation, as well as its legacies for current studies of past mortuary practices.

Keywords: processual archaeology, mortuary practices, ethnography, social representation

Introduction

The dead have played a significant role in archaeology since the discipline's emergence in the 19th century. Often more
visible than settlements in the archaeological record, the cemeteries and burial mounds of the dead have supported
inferences of shared cultural traditions as well as, in the cases of monumentality and wealthy grave goods, the existence
of prominent individuals/groups and unequal societies in the past. But it was only in the decades of the 1960s and the
1970s that there was a greater and more coherent focus on these inferences, examining their theoretical bases and
exploring the analytical methods and interdisciplinary collaboration that gave rise to references to a ‘Mortuary
Archaeology’, an ‘Archaeology of Death’, or a ‘Burial Archaeology’, as if these were subdisciplines in their own right.

This interest in the inferences that archaeologists could make about past societies from the ways in which they disposed
of their dead was an integral part of what was called ‘Processual’ Archaeology. In this chapter my aims are (1) to outline
the bases of this approach, (2) to illustrate the main arguments and examples of the study of the dead within Processual
Archaeology, (3) to highlight some problems with these arguments, and (4) to recognize their legacy and challenges for
us in the early 21st century.

Archaeology, Theory, and Ethnography

Processual Archaeology is a name given to a ‘school’ of thought and practice that developed initially in North America
during the 1960s and it can be best studied in the work of Lewis Binford and his students at the University of Chicago
(e.g. Binford and Binford 1968, Binford 1972). At its basis was a specific, materialist view of culture, according to which
ideas and (p. 48) beliefs were regarded as inadequate to explain similarities and differences in human behaviour.
Instead the principles of systems theory, evolution, and ecology were used to structure analysis of the adaptation of
human behaviour to environmental (human and natural) constraints and changes. Human cultures were argued to be

Page 1 of 9

PRINTED FROM OXFORD HANDBOOKS ONLINE (www.oxfordhandbooks.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2015. All Rights
Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a title in Oxford
Handbooks Online for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy).
Subscriber: Brown University; date: 19 January 2016
Death, Burial, and Social Representation

tightly integrated, with all parts of our behaviour (whether subsistence, social organization, politics etc.) related to each
other, usually in some kind of balance and only disturbed by external stresses.

This view of culture contradicted the basic tenets of the culture history approach, by which change was the outcome of
some kind of interaction, whether it be the movement of people or that of ideas and beliefs. The emphasis on the
integration of culture also provided an opportunity to make inferences about aspects of human behaviour that many
archaeologists had thought could not be studied effectively with archaeological evidence. Great emphasis was placed
upon the use of ethnographic analogy, not just for the interpretation of specific features and practices seen in the
archaeological record, but also for understanding how all aspects of human behaviour were integrated within human
cultures. Cross-cultural studies of surviving, non-capitalist societies informed the proposed existence of evolutionary
types of societies (e.g. Service 1962, Fried 1967), situated in a history of two centuries of evolutionary Western thought,
and gave archaeologists models of how major changes in economic and technological behaviour could be linked to forms
of social and political organization: for example, ‘band’ societies were associated with an economic basis in hunting and
gathering, while ‘chiefdom’ societies had a mainly agricultural basis.

These models of social and political organization based on living, non-Western societies were taken as analogies that
archaeologists could use for the study of past societies. This raised a key challenge: how could archaeologists identify the
existence of ‘tribal’ or ‘chiefdom’ societies with the often poorly preserved and silent material remains that were the
object of their study? The answer to this question required that archaeologists challenge what was called their
‘methodological naivety’ (Binford 1968: 23): in other words, we had to develop methods of argument and analysis by
which we could extract more information from our data in order to build robust inferences about social and political
organization in the past. This could be done in a variety of ways. For example, we could study how our archaeological
record was formed, by participant observation in living, non-capitalist societies (e.g. Binford 1978). We could develop the
use of sampling methods to help us evaluate the extent to which our archaeologically known populations of artefacts,
cultural features, ecofacts, and sites were representative of those that existed in the archaeological record on a regional
scale (Binford 1964a). Quantitative methods would enable us to identify more robust patterns in our data, and new
methods of analysis might support our inferences. In the early publications of the Processual Archaeology, we can see
examples of these approaches, whether they be the study of pottery styles to make inferences on post-marital residence,
the analysis of settlement patterns to study environmental adaptations and the existence of social hierarchies, or the
classification of artefacts into broad categories according to what they might tell us about different aspects of human
culture (e.g. ‘socio-technic’ or ‘technomic’—see Binford 1962). In this context it is not surprising that there was also a
focus on the study of inhumations and cremations to infer the structure and organization of past societies. This forms the
focus of the next section.

(p. 49) Death and Social Representation

The key publication of Processual Archaeology on death and burial was Brown's (1971a) edited volume Approaches to
the Social Dimensions of Mortuary Practices. The authors were united by their study of death in a social context
(therefore giving the potential for making social inferences from the study of past mortuary practices), the exploration of
ethnography for both the understanding of mortuary rituals and the reconstruction of social types (e.g. egalitarian,
chiefdom, stratified), and the use of quantitative analyses of biological and cultural data from excavated cemeteries.

Binford (1971) criticized and rejected approaches to death and burial in anthropology, according to which similarities and
differences in the treatment of the dead were caused by ideas and beliefs, or degrees of inter-cultural contact, or
matters of style and fashion. In contrast he argued for the social context of the disposal of the dead and built on a lineage
of anthropological theory from key authors such as Durkheim, Hertz, and Van Gennep. This led him to propose the
following hypothesis: ‘other things being equal, the heterogeneity in mortuary practice which is characteristic of a single
sociocultural unit would vary directly with the complexity of the status hierarchy, as well as the complexity of the overall
organization of the society with regard to membership units and other forms of sodalities’ (1971: 14–15). Binford used
role theory to argue that, when an individual died, the living determined his/her treatment by deciding on the ‘social
persona’ (‘the composite of the social identities maintained in life and recognized as appropriate for consideration at
death’) in the wider context of the size and composition of the social group(s) that were engaged in social relations with
the deceased. He tested his hypothesis on an ethnographic sample taken from the Human Relations Area Files, using
subsistence as a proxy measure of social complexity, concluding that ‘these findings permit the generalization that the
form and structure which characterize the mortuary practices of any society are conditioned by the form and complexity

Page 2 of 9

PRINTED FROM OXFORD HANDBOOKS ONLINE (www.oxfordhandbooks.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2015. All Rights
Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a title in Oxford
Handbooks Online for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy).
Subscriber: Brown University; date: 19 January 2016
Death, Burial, and Social Representation

of the organizational characteristics of the society itself’ (1971: 23).

It is important to stress that Binford's primary research was ethnographic, not archaeological, and that he focused on
mortuary practices in general, not just specific types of disposal (e.g. burial) as found by archaeologists. Also he argued
that forms of disposal may be shared, but their symbolism may vary between cultures (cf. Ucko 1969). This emphasis on
(a) the processes that determine the choice of particular forms of disposal of the dead, (b) the functional relationships
between mortuary practices and the nature of the societies in which they were practised, and (c) the comparative, cross-
cultural study of these relationships in the ethnographic record was shared by Saxe (1970, 1971). A contemporary of
Binford's at the University of Michigan, Saxe came to similar conclusions about the relationship between the
heterogeneity of mortuary practices and the complexity of social organization. Whereas Binford studied an ethnographic
sample of 40 societies, Saxe focused in much greater, analytical detail on only three societies (from New Guinea, West
Africa, and the Philippines). Both had to confront deficiencies in the ethnographic record, most notably in the
measurement of social complexity and its division into stages. Saxe submitted eight hypotheses for testing against the
ethnographic record. The most famous of these was his hypothesis 8: ‘to the degree that corporate group rights to use
and/or control (p. 50) crucial but restricted resources are attained and/or legitimized by means of lineal descent from
the dead (i.e. lineal ties to ancestors), such groups will maintain formal disposal areas for the exclusive disposal of their
dead, and conversely’ (Saxe 1970: 119). Unlike his other hypotheses, here Saxe was trying to address the reason(s) why
the dead were deposited in particular locations and why it was thought appropriate to gather them together in
cemeteries in some areas and periods and not in others. This variation in spatial distribution of the dead had been
frequently noted by archaeologists. The work of both Saxe and Binford was exploratory rather than, as is sometimes
assumed, a fully finalized theoretical account of the relationships between life and death.

Although ethnographic analogy played a role in most of the papers in Approaches to the Social Dimensions of Mortuary
Practices (Brown 1971a), and all situated mortuary practices within their social contexts, their main focus was on the
archaeological analysis of burial mounds from the Mississippian period of the first half of the second millennium AD, in the
south-east of North America. Peebles (1971) began with the assumption that ‘persons who are treated differentially in life
will be treated differentially in death’ (1971: 68) and used Binford's (1962) distinction between artefacts that were more
or less symbolic (e.g. ‘socio-technic’, ‘technomic’) to structure his analysis of grave goods from Moundville. The
distances between cemeteries such as Moundville and the sources of such artefacts emphasized their differences in
value, the more exotic artefacts being argued to have had greater value for local communities. This assumption
underlined Larson's (1971) analysis of the Etowah burial mound in Georgia and Brown's (1971b) analysis of the Spiro
ceremonial centre in eastern Oklahoma. Quantitative methods were used to identify structure in the cultural and
biological data (e.g. age, sex, orientation, grave goods, burial location, and degree of body articulation) from the burials.
This structure was interpreted as representing different social groups and the degree of ranking of such groups in a kind
of society similar to that which was known in the ethnographic record. On this basis, Larson interpreted the Etowah
burials as those of a high-ranking descent group with inherited social position in a stratified society, Peebles
reconstructed Moundville as the centre of a chiefdom society and Brown proposed the existence of ranked statuses at
Spiro. Each author cited the seminal work of the neo-evolutionary anthropologist Elman Service (1962).

In contrast Deetz and Dethlefsen (1971) used historical rather than ethnographic sources to develop arguments linking
the disposal of the dead to its social contexts. Their data consisted of evidence for age, sex, social status, wealth,
community affiliation, and inter-marriage represented in gravestone art from colonial New England. They analysed the
chronology and diffusion of gravestone designs in urban and rural Massachusetts’ cemeteries during the 18th century AD
in terms of stylistic traditions and local status groups.

The papers assembled in Approaches to the Social Dimensions of Mortuary Practices marked a distinct and novel
attempt to understand the social contexts of the disposal of the dead and thereby use archaeological evidence to
reconstruct the structure and organization of past societies. They exemplified the ‘archaeology as anthropology’ maxim
of Processual Archaeology and showed how quantitative methods could be used to search for patterning in the large
bodies of cultural and biological data found in cemeteries. The reconstruction of past social organization was no longer
straining the limits of archaeological interpretation. We now need to document its impact and the criticisms that it
attracted.

(p. 51) Contributions and Critiques

Page 3 of 9

PRINTED FROM OXFORD HANDBOOKS ONLINE (www.oxfordhandbooks.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2015. All Rights
Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a title in Oxford
Handbooks Online for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy).
Subscriber: Brown University; date: 19 January 2016
Death, Burial, and Social Representation

Those archaeologists who were unconvinced, or even antagonized, by Processual Archaeology (and usually dismissed as
being ‘traditional’) rejected the approaches to mortuary practices proclaimed in Brown (1971a). In contrast, the
supporters of these new approaches made attempts to (a) evaluate and strengthen the cross-cultural ethnographic
arguments, linking the treatment of the dead to a wider social context and (b) develop archaeological analyses of
cemeteries and burial mounds. This also involved some internal debate and critique, but there was general support for
the theoretical arguments proposed by Binford and Saxe.

Two examples illustrate attempts to develop ethnographic arguments. Goldstein (1976) used a sample of 30 non-state
societies to reformulate Saxe's hypothesis 8. While Goldstein's larger sample supported the proposal that the presence
of a ‘permanent, specialized, bounded area for the exclusive disposal of the group's dead’ suggested the likely
existence of corporate group rights over ‘crucial but restricted resources’ legitimized by ‘lineal descent from the dead’,
the reverse was not necessarily the case. Thus such corporate group rights may be ritualized in other ways than through
cemeteries of burial mounds (e.g. through domestic shrines). Tainter (1975) used a sample of 93 societies to propose
that energy expenditure on mortuary practices could be taken as a measure of the social status of the deceased
(although Goldstein 1976 pointed out that this did not account for individuals who had ‘parallel’ rankings). He also noted
that less than 5 per cent of his ethnographic sample signified status distinctions by the inclusion of grave goods, a warning
against overreliance on this part of the mortuary rituals.

Some of the research contained in the papers in Brown (1971a) had begun more than five years before its publication,
so it is not surprising to see case studies in social inferences from cemeteries and burial mounds during that time. Binford
(1964b) published his Galley Pond Mound analyses, which included inferences on individual and group statuses, as well
as on post-marital residence and descent. Stickel (1968) and then King (1978) and Wright (1978) debated the extent to
which particular hunter-gatherer groups in California and the Near East were ‘egalitarian’ or not through burial analyses.
Shennan (1975) drew on the theoretical arguments of Binford and Saxe and undertook quantitative analyses of the Early
Bronze Age cemetery at Branč in Slovakia, aiming to trace the development of social hierarchy and stratification through
the recognition of patterning in artefact associations and distributions, as well as the correlation of cultural and biological
data. She concluded that the evidence for ascribed wealth at birth indicated the existence of social stratification in this
region in the later third millennium BC. Peebles and Kus (1977) combined the refinement of the chiefdom model of society
proposed by Service (1962) with the development of means of measuring chiefdom organization and ‘levels of socio-
political complexity within this class of societies’: these ‘means’ included the mortuary rituals practised at the
Mississippian site at Moundville. Chapman (1981) took Saxe's hypothesis on corporate groups and formal disposal areas
as the starting point for a study of the cemeteries and megalithic tombs of Mesolithic hunter-gatherers and Neolithic
agriculturalists respectively in north-west Europe. Central to the analysis was the study of the ‘crucial but restricted
resources’, which were thought to be behind the decisions of corporate groups to dispose of their dead in these
locations.

(p. 52) The 1970s also saw the more profitable integration of cultural and biological analyses of death with the change
in the role of the human osteologist from passive technician to a colleague who could inform the design of research
projects that recognized the complex relationships between social organization, demography, biological distance, health,
and diet (e.g. Buikstra 1976). Part of this change was about a more holistic approach to mortuary analysis by
understanding how such issues as health and diet may determine, or be determined by, the social positions of individuals
and groups: this enabled the patterning observed in the disposal of the dead (e.g. grave goods, burial container) to be
compared against complementary lines of biological data in the proposal and evaluation of processual interpretations of
past societies. It also stimulated interest in the development of new analytical methods (e.g. strontium analysis) that could
extend archaeological inference. Inferences on post-marital residence based on human osteology (Lane and Sublett
1972) were also proposed as a complement to the interest of Processual Archaeology in this topic (e.g. papers in
Binford and Binford 1968).

While there was much theoretical unity in these analyses of cemeteries and burial mounds, there were also signs of
disagreement and debate. Both Goldstein (1976) and Tainter (1977) criticized the use of burial evidence to attribute
societies to a particular evolutionary type imported from anthropology: this approach underestimated the degree of
variation and change in both modern and past societies. Goldstein (1976) was also critical of the mechanical use of the
expenditure of energy in mortuary rituals (see Tainter's work, above) to infer a society's range of ranks and statuses.
Braun (1981) developed this critique, pointing out that different burial types could represent different stages in a
programme of mortuary rituals for individuals of the same rank. The relationship between the expenditure of energy in
the funerary rituals as a whole, as opposed to that witnessed in the archaeological record, need not be direct and

Page 4 of 9

PRINTED FROM OXFORD HANDBOOKS ONLINE (www.oxfordhandbooks.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2015. All Rights
Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a title in Oxford
Handbooks Online for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy).
Subscriber: Brown University; date: 19 January 2016
Death, Burial, and Social Representation

required further study. In retrospect it is noteworthy that this whole approach was framed in terms of the expenditure of
energy, rather than social labour, which has to be allocated in relation to other demands on it (i.e. it is a relative rather
than an absolute concept). Braun (1981) was also critical of the compatibility of the analytical methods used in mortuary
analysis with the questions that were being asked, and made the case that some archaeologists were interpreting Binford
and Saxe's theoretical arguments in a mechanical way. O’Shea (1981, 1984) demonstrated how the ethnographically
based arguments of Binford and Saxe, which dealt with the disposal of the dead in living societies, had yet to be matched
by robust arguments linking the disposal of the dead with the data available for archaeological study (e.g. the extent to
which means of horizontal and vertical social differences would be preserved in the archaeological record).

More aggressive criticisms came as part of a wider-ranging critique of Processual Archaeology as a whole and,
interestingly, they also began with the ethnographic record. Hodder used the burial practices of the Mesakin Nuba of
Sudan to criticize the proposal that ‘patterns in death directly and fairly simply reflect patterns in the life of a society’
(1980: 163). He argued that Nuba burial practices were an ideal, not a direct reflection of where people lived or what
their social groupings were. ‘Practical social relations’ could be inverted or distorted because of culturally specific
attitudes to death shown in ideas and symbols of purity and fertility (see also Hodder 1982). The neglect of symbolism and
meaning, in other words of culture, meant, as far as Hodder was concerned, that the materialist programme of Binford
and Saxe, as part of the wider Processual Archaeology, was theoretically flawed.

(p. 53) The role of ideology in expressing or concealing the ‘real’ relations of power within a society was further
developed by Parker Pearson (1982), who argued that the living could manipulate the dead for their own interests. For
this reason the costs of the funerals might bear no relation to the wealth or rank of particular groups in society (a
contrast to the basic assumptions of Processual Archaeology). His analysis of funerals in Cambridge, England in 1977
was employed to support this argument. He then expanded his study to note the increasing investment of wealth in
funerals in Victorian England, followed by a decline in the late 19th and 20th centuries. He concluded that ‘social
advertisement in death ritual may be expressly overt where changing relations of domination result in status re-ordering
and consolidation of new social practices’ (1982: 112). Thus the living played active roles in the design and pursuit of
culturally specific ritual activities such as mortuary practices, and patterning in cemeteries and burial mounds could not
be assumed to reflect in any mechanical way the distribution of status, rank, power, etc. in living societies.

This is not the place to pursue a detailed presentation of the often acrimonious Processual–Postprocessual debate that
occupied archaeology during the decade of the 1980s. But if, as is often erroneously assumed, this decade marked the
end of Processual Archaeology, then it is worth asking how the proponents of mortuary analysis influenced by Binford and
Saxe have responded (theoretically and practically) to these criticisms, what their legacy has been for contemporary
archaeology, and what challenges their work still poses.

Legacy and Challenges

Brown (1995) responded to the critiques of Hodder and Parker Pearson by recognizing the central part played in the
disposal of the dead by the living, who do not sit down and work out finely graded funerals according to the relative social
position of the deceased. Instead, he argued, decisions are made within a wider context of ideological constraints,
political manipulation, and economic transactions. Thus decisions about the time, effort, and resources to be devoted to
funerary rituals have to be taken in relation to what can be mobilized, at that time, from the social groups to which the
deceased and their living relatives belong. Funerary rituals are not simply a means of direct, social record, as they have
often been studied as part of the ‘representationist’ arguments of Binford and Saxe. However, Brown argued that the
Processualist and Postprocessualist positions on death are not mutually exclusive: ‘the controversy over the use of
burials as symbolic representations of the social order or as objects symbolizing political manipulation is not a problem of
the exclusive legitimacy of one or the other perspective in mortuary analysis …they are two perspectives to symbolic
representation that are potentially coextensive’ (1995: 21).

The theoretical debate on mortuary practices has continued to be built on the basis of ethnography (e.g. Carr 1995,
Parker Pearson 1999), although opinions are still divided on the extent to which cross-cultural generalizations can be
discerned. Archaeologists are more widely aware of some of the deficiencies of the ethnographic record of mortuary
practices (e.g. sample sizes studied in time and space, and their distribution in relation to social groups). They also have
access to an impressively wide range of what we may call, for want of a better description, ‘death studies’ in classical
studies, medieval and modern history, art (p. 54) and art history, and in sociology (for examples, see Chapman 2003).

Page 5 of 9

PRINTED FROM OXFORD HANDBOOKS ONLINE (www.oxfordhandbooks.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2015. All Rights
Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a title in Oxford
Handbooks Online for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy).
Subscriber: Brown University; date: 19 January 2016
Death, Burial, and Social Representation

The majority of these have been published since 1980, providing both historical data with which archaeologists can work
and information on the social, economic, and political contexts of death in state societies. This is a very different
intellectual context from that of early Processual Archaeology.

In addition to theoretical arguments, there have continued to be a variety of detailed, cemetery-specific analyses in the
tradition of those undertaken in the 1970s, as can be seen, for example, in O’Shea and Zvelebil's (1984) study of the
Mesolithic cemetery of Oleneostrovski mogilnik in northern Russia, which challenged the standard interpretation of an
egalitarian society for local foragers. A larger-scale analysis by O’Shea (1996) of Early Bronze Age cemeteries in the
Maros valley in south-eastern Hungary recognized the critical importance of placing individual cemeteries within their
regional context (cf. Beck 1995).

The need to move from an ethnography of death to an archaeology of death, as recommended by O’Shea (1981, 1984),
implies that we develop a good understanding of the nature of funerary data so that we do not ask unsuitable or over-
ambitious questions and we are able to evaluate the reliability of our interpretations. The scales of funerary data in time
and space form an interesting area for study. We have long been aware of problems such as regional and local variations
in artefact circulation times and the heirloom effect when constructing relative chronologies of burials (e.g. Rowe 1962).
This has recently been elegantly documented by Olivier (1999) in showing how objects deposited in the Early Iron Age
tomb at Hochdorf in Austria had different life histories, circulation times, and intensities of use: this was not the ‘closed
find’ usually imagined of a burial. In cases where we have radiocarbon dates for burials in cemeteries, we may still not
have sufficient, well-chosen samples (especially at a regional level) to distinguish more fine-scale variations in mortuary
practices and their symbolism. An example of how this problem can be approached is given for the Early Bronze Age of
south-east Spain by Lull (2000) and Chapman (2005).

These are important issues for studies of death and burial whatever their theoretical basis. Archaeologists working within
both the Processual Archaeology (e.g. Chapman et al. 1981) and Postprocessual (e.g. Parker Pearson 1993) traditions
accept that the dead should not be studied in isolation. But if we are to compare social, economic, and political
differences as they impacted on people's everyday lives with those represented symbolically in the treatment at death,
then we need to ensure that we are comparing like with like: can we be sure, for example, that the treatments of
particular burials or groups of burials date from the same period of time as the evidence for production and consumption
of households under study within associated settlements? How close can we get to a comparable level of resolution in
the dating of settlement and funerary contexts and how will this affect our interpretations of past societies? These are
critical questions for scholars who wish to take forward the archaeological study of the dead, no matter what questions
we ask of them.

Clearly there have been a lot of changes in archaeology as a whole, let alone that part of it which studies the remains of
the dead, since the 1960s. The discipline is more fragmented, with a wider range of theoretical approaches (the famous
‘isms’), materialist and idealist approaches oppose each other, there are different conceptions of society (from large-
scale, long-term structures to small-scale, everyday practices of social agents, from the individual body up to regional
landscapes), and problems under study include gender, social position, health, ethnicity, social identity, ancestors,
cosmology, and emotional responses to death. Our analytical methods have multiplied. None of this would have been
possible (p. 55) without the mortuary analyses of the Processual Archaeology. It brought social thinking to the forefront
of archaeological research, rather than leaving it on a rather precarious and inaccessible high rung of the ladder of
archaeological inference. It stressed the need for theoretical and methodological rigour. It demonstrated the importance
of working back and forth between complementary sources of evidence, whether they be burials and settlements, or the
cultural and biological sides of death. The challenge now is not just to introduce new ‘isms’, or to develop new analytical
methods, but to devise research in which the theory is more coherently articulated with analytical practice in the pursuit
of productive questions.

Suggested Further Reading

Suggested Further Reading

Beck, L. A. (ed.) 1995. Regional Approaches to Mortuary Analysis. New York: Plenum.

This edited volume consists of a series of case studies that expand mortuary analysis from the site to the regional scale

Page 6 of 9

PRINTED FROM OXFORD HANDBOOKS ONLINE (www.oxfordhandbooks.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2015. All Rights
Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a title in Oxford
Handbooks Online for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy).
Subscriber: Brown University; date: 19 January 2016
Death, Burial, and Social Representation

and consider how this enables us to ask new questions of the archaeological evidence.

Binford, L. R. 1971. Mortuary Practices: Their Study and Potential. In J. A. Brown (ed.) Approaches to the Social
Dimensions of Mortuary Practices. Washington, DC: Memoirs of the Society for American Archaeology 25: 6–29.

A critique of idealist approaches to death and disposal, coupled with a cross-cultural ethnographic study relating
variation in mortuary practices to differences in social complexity.

Brown, J. A. (ed.) 1971a. Approaches to the Social Dimensions of Mortuary Practices. Washington, DC: Memoirs of the
Society for American Archaeology 25.

This was the first published collection of archaeological analyses of mortuary practices, guided by the theoretical
perspectives of Binford and Saxe.

Brown, J. A. 1995. On Mortuary Analysis—with Special Reference to the Saxe-Binford Research Program. In L. A. Beck
(ed.) Regional Approaches to Mortuary Analysis. New York: Plenum Press: 3–26.

A perceptive and balanced discussion of theoretical approaches to mortuary analysis which avoids the polemics of the
processual-postprocessual debate.

Chapman, R., Kinnes, I., and Randsborg, K. (eds) 1981. The Archaeology of Death. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press.

A collection of North American and European case studies in the archaeology and bioarchaeology of mortuary analysis.

Hodder, I. 1982. Symbols in Action: Ethnoarchaeological Studies of Material Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press.

One of the key texts of postprocessual archaeology, which includes the use of ethnoarchaeological fieldwork to critique
the approaches to mortuary analysis stimulated by Binford and Saxe.

O’Shea, J. M. 1984. Mortuary Variability: An Archaeological Investigation. New York: Academic Press.

A detailed approach to the development of an archaeological theory of mortuary differentiation using ethnographic
sources.

Parker Pearson, M. 1999. The Archaeology of Death and Burial. Stroud: Sutton Publishing.

The most comprehensive presentation, for students and newcomers, of different approaches to, and examples of, the
archaeological study of death and burial.

Saxe, A. A. 1970. Social Dimensions of Mortuary Practices. Doctoral dissertation: University of Michigan.

Like Binford (1971), this is a seminal application of ethnography to test hypotheses on the relationship between the
nature and complexity of society and variation in the disposal of the dead.

Additional References

Binford, L. R. 1962. Archaeology as Anthropology. American Antiquity 28: 217–25.

——– 1964a. A Consideration of Archaeological Research Design. American Antiquity 29: 425–41.

——– 1964b. Archaeological Investigations on Wassam Ridge. Archaeological Salvage Report no. 17. Carbondale, Ill.:
Southern Illinois University Museum.

——– 1968. Archaeological Perspectives. In: L. R. Binford and S. R. Binford (eds) New Perspectives in Archaeology. New
York and Chicago: Aldine: 5–32.

——– 1972. An Archaeological Perspective. New York: Academic Press.

——– 1978. Nunamiut Ethnoarchaeology. New York: Academic Press.

Page 7 of 9

PRINTED FROM OXFORD HANDBOOKS ONLINE (www.oxfordhandbooks.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2015. All Rights
Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a title in Oxford
Handbooks Online for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy).
Subscriber: Brown University; date: 19 January 2016
Death, Burial, and Social Representation

——– and Binford, S. R. (eds) 1968. New Perspectives in Archaeology. New York and Chicago: Aldine.

Braun, D. P. 1981. A Critique of Some Recent North American Mortuary Studies. American Antiquity 46: 398–416.

Brown, J. A. 1971b. The Dimensions of Status in the Burials at Spiro. In: J. A. Brown (ed.) Approaches to the Social
Dimensions of Mortuary Practices. Washington, DC: Memoirs of the Society for American Archaeology 25: 92–112.

Buikstra, J. E. 1976. Hopewell in the Lower Illinois Valley: A Regional Approach to the Study of Human Biological
Variability and Prehistoric Behavior. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Archaeological Program, Scientific Papers 2.

Carr, C. 1995. Mortuary Practices: Their Social, Philosophical-Religious, Circumstantial and Physical Determinants. Journal
of Archaeological Method and Theory 2: 105–200.

Chapman, R. 1981. The Emergence of Formal Disposal Areas and the ‘Problem’ of Megalithic Tombs in Prehistoric
Europe. In: R. Chapman, I. Kinnes, and K. Randsborg (eds) The Archaeology of Death. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press: 71–81.

——– 2003. Other Archaeologies and Disciplines: Mortuary Analysis in the Twenty-First Century. In: R. J. Jeske and D. K.
Charles (eds) Theory, Method and Practice in Modern Archaeology. Westport, Conn.: Praeger: 3–13.

——– 2005. Mortuary Analysis: A Matter of Time? In: G. F. M. Rakita and J. E. Buikstra, L. A. Beck, and S. R. Williams (eds)
Interacting with the Dead: Perspectives on Mortuary Archaeology for the New Millennium. Gainesville, Fla.: University
Press of Florida: 25–40.

Deetz, J., and Dethlefsen, E. N. 1971. Some Social Aspects of New England Colonial Mortuary Art. In: J. A. Brown (ed.)
Approaches to the Social Dimensions of Mortuary Practices. Washington, DC: Memoirs of the Society for American
Archaeology 25: 30–8.

Fried, M. H. 1967. The Evolution of Political Society. New York: Random House.

Goldstein, L. G. 1976. Spatial Structure and Social Organisation: Regional Manifestations of Mississippian Society.
Doctoral dissertation: Northwestern University.

Hodder, I. 1980. Social Structure and Cemeteries: A Critical Appraisal. In: P. Rahtz, T. Dickinson, and L. Watts (eds)
Anglo-Saxon Cemeteries. Oxford: British Archaeological Reports 82: 161–9.

King, T. F. 1978. Don’t That Beat the Band? Nonegalitarian Political Organization in Prehistoric Central California. In: C.
Redman et al. (eds) Social Archaeology: Beyond Subsistence and Dating. New York: Academic Press: 225–48.

Lane, R. A., and Sublett, A. J. 1972. Osteology of Social Organization: Residence Pattern. American Antiquity 37: 186–
201.

Larson, L. H. Jr. 1971. Archaeological Implications of Social Stratification at the Etowah site, Georgia. In: J. A. Brown (ed.)
Approaches to the Social Dimensions of Mortuary Practices. Washington, DC: Memoirs of the Society for American
Archaeology 25: 58–67.

Lull, V. 2000. Argaric Society: Death at Home. Antiquity 74: 581–90.

Olivier, L. 1999. The Hochdorf ‘Princely’ Grave and the Question of the Nature of Archaeological Funerary Assemblages.
In: T. Murray (ed.) Time and Archaeology. London: Routledge: 109–38.

O’Shea, J. M. 1981. Social Configurations and the Archaeological Study of Mortuary Practices: A Case Study. In: R.
Chapman, I. Kinnes, and K. Randsborg (eds) The Archaeology of Death. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 39–52.

——– 1996. Villagers of the Maros: A Portrait of an Early Bronze Age Society. New York: Plenum.

——– and Zvelebil, M. 1984. Oleneostrovski Mogilnik: Reconstructing the Social and Economic Organization of Prehistoric
Foragers in Northern Russia. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 3: 1–40.

Parker Pearson, M. 1982. Mortuary Practices, Society and Ideology: An Ethnoarchaeological Study. In: I. Hodder (ed.)
Symbolic and Structural Archaeology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 99–113.

Page 8 of 9

PRINTED FROM OXFORD HANDBOOKS ONLINE (www.oxfordhandbooks.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2015. All Rights
Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a title in Oxford
Handbooks Online for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy).
Subscriber: Brown University; date: 19 January 2016
Death, Burial, and Social Representation

——– 1993. The Powerful Dead: Archaeological Relationships between the Living and the Dead. Cambridge
Archaeological Journal 3: 203–29.

Peebles, C. S. 1971. Moundville and Surrounding Sites: Some Structural Considerations of Mortuary Practices II. In: J. A.
Brown (ed.) Approaches to the Social Dimensions of Mortuary Practices. Washington, DC: Memoirs of the Society for
American Archaeology 25: 68–91.

——– and Kus, S. M. 1977. Some Archaeological Correlates of Ranked Societies. American Antiquity 42: 421–48.

Rowe, J. H. 1962. Worsaae's Law and the Use of Grave Lots for Archaeological Dating. American Antiquity 28: 129–37.

Saxe, A. A. 1971. Social Dimensions of Mortuary Practices in a Mesolithic Population from Wadi Halfa, Sudan. In: J. A.
Brown (ed.) Approaches to the Social Dimensions of Mortuary Practices. Washington, DC: Memoirs of the Society for
American Archaeology 25: 39–57.

Service, E. R. 1962. Primitive Social Organisation: An Evolutionary Perspective. New York: Random House.

Shennan, S. 1975. The Social Organisation at Branč. Antiquity 49: 279–88.

Stickel, E. G. 1968. Status Differentiations at the Rincon Site. Los Angeles: University of California, Archaeological
Survey Annual Report 10: 209–61.

Tainter, J. A. 1975. The Archaeological Study of Social Change: Woodland Systems in West-central Illinois. Doctoral
dissertation: Northwestern University.

——– 1977. Modelling Change in Prehistoric Social Systems. In: L. R. Binford (ed.) For Theory Building in Archaeology.
New York: Academic Press: 329–51.

Ucko, P. J. 1969. Ethnography and Archaeological Interpretation of Funerary Remains. World Archaeology 1: 262–80.

Wright, G. A. 1978. Social Differentiation in the Early Natufian. In: C. Redman et al. (eds) Social Archaeology: Beyond
Subsistence and Dating. New York: Academic Press: 201–23.

Robert Chapman
Robert Chapman is Professor of Archaeology at the University of Reading (UK). His interest in the social context of mortuary rituals
began with studies of communal burial in Western Europe (particularly the western Mediterranean) and was stimulated by early
processual archaeology. He co-edited The Archaeology of Death (Cambridge, 1981). His main research has subsequently focused on
communal and individual burials in the later prehistory of south-east Spain, where he has collaborated with colleagues from the
Universitàt Autonoma de Barcelona on the excavation, dating and analysis of such burials in relation to their contemporary
settlements, all within the context of an historical materialist approach to archaeology.

Page 9 of 9

PRINTED FROM OXFORD HANDBOOKS ONLINE (www.oxfordhandbooks.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2015. All Rights
Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a title in Oxford
Handbooks Online for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy).
Subscriber: Brown University; date: 19 January 2016