The Archaeological Study of Funerary Practices

  • John M. O’Shea
Part of the Interdisciplinary Contributions to Archaeology book series (IDCA)


The funerary remains of past cultures have long exerted a strong attraction on students of prehistory. Funerary sites typically are not only a rich source of intact and often exotic artifacts, but they also represent one of the few archaeological contexts in which we have direct access to specific individuals from the past. The individual may be a very specific one, in the case of literate societies in which the individual’s name may adorn the tomb, or it may be a more anonymous individual of deep prehistory. While the typical archaeological site could easily be mistaken for a complex geological deposit, in funerary studies the archaeologist confronts individual people and often the intentionally configured arrangement of those individuals’ final resting places. The intentional organization of a tomb or burial enables us to imagine the feelings and emotions of people in the past, in much the same way that we are enabled to do so by another variety of intentionally configured archaeological context, that of cave painting and rock art. The challenge for the anthropological archaeologist is how to use the patterned traces represented in the archaeaological record of funerary activities to gain a fuller understanding of the past culture, without falling prey to the fanciful speculation about the past that has characterized both earlier and postmodern archaeologies. In this chapter, I will briefly summarize the theoretical background and basis for the current social approach to the study of funerary remains and then describe the procedures and methods employed in this study.


Archaeological Record Archaeological Context Archaeological Study Past Society Social Distinction 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • John M. O’Shea
    • 1
  1. 1.University of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

Personalised recommendations