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Performing Death: Social Analyses Of Funerary Traditions In The Ancient Mediterranean

Organized by Nicola Laneri
The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago
February 17–18, 2006
1155 East 58th Street, Chicago, IL


Nicole Laneri (University of Chicago—Oriental Institute, USA)
“Introduction: For an Archaeology of Funerary Rituals”

Bio: Nicola Laneri is a Near Eastern archaeologist who is specialized on funerary practices in southeastern Anatolia during the Third Millennium BC. After he finished is PhD at the University of Naples ‘L’Orientale’ in 1999, ha spent a year as Fulbright scholar at Columbia University and three years teaching at ‘L’Orientale’. He also taught at the Middle Eastern Technical University ( Ankara, Turkey). His first book ‘I Costumi Funerari della Media Vallata dell’Eufrate durante il III Millennio a.C.’ was published in 2004. He is currently the director of the archaeological excavation at Hirbemerdon Tepe in southeastern Anatolia, and post-doc researcher at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

Ellen Morris (Columbia University, Department of Anthropology, USA)
“Human Sacrifice, Pageantry, and Power in at the Dawn of the Egyptian State”

If funerary ritual is indeed a formal representation of an ideological performance, as is a central tenet of this conference, then the very first royal burials of a pristine state should provide as dramatic an example of a script for such a performance as it is possible to find in the archaeological record. Large-scale retainer sacrifice, for example, is often observed at the death of a ruler of a newly formed state, as heirs seek—by the conspicuous consumption of human lives—to impress the divinity of kingship upon their newly inherited subjects. In Egypt, the retainer graves arrayed around the royal tombs and funerary palaces at Abydos attest to the formation of a hitherto unprecedented ideology, which held that hundreds of human lives were quite fittingly redeemable at the occasion of one exponentially more important personage’s death.

Retainer sacrifices in the First Dynasty are, interestingly, not limited to Abydos. They are also discovered once at Giza and at Saqqara in conjunction with monumental mastaba tombs. Likewise, a short distance from the Saqqara mastabas is a cemetery of approximately 230 graves, all datable to the reign of king Den. These graves are formally ordered in neat rows around three sides of an apparently open space, which has lead some to suggest that they constitute a northern parallel to the arrangements of slain retainers around some as yet archaeologically invisible funerary palaces at Abydos.

In this paper, I argue that in certain cases—and indeed perhaps in all instances of First Dynasty retainer sacrifice—discrete groups of social actors were interred in death in the same highly significant spatial order as they would have stood in their last moments of life at a royal funeral. Further, it is posited that the careful staging of specific categories of individuals around a member of the royal family (or his/her architectural stand in) for the funeral and for all eternity would have been of vital symbolic and national importance.

Bio: Ellen Morris is a lecturer in the Department of Anthropology and currently on a year’s leave of absence from her position as a lecturer (equivalent to U.S. Assistant Professor) in the Department of Classics, Ancient History, and Egyptology at the University of Wales Swansea. She has excavated at Abydos, Mendes, and the Valley of the Kings. Her first book, The Architecture of Imperialism: Military Bases and the Evolution of Foreign Policy in Egypt’s New Kingdom, was published by E.J. Brill in 2005, and her second book—an explicitly anthropological study of pharaonic imperialism—is due to be published by Blackwell in 2007.

Glenn Schwartz (Johns Hopkins University, Department of Near Eastern Studies, USA)
“Ideology and Memory in a Third Millennium BC “Royal” Cemetery at Umm el-Marra, Syria”

Elite mortuary monuments and attendant material culture can be studied as a materialization of ideology, where world-views associated with central authority are made manifest in the physical world. At Tell Umm el-Marra in western Syria, data from an elite mortuary complex of the mid-late third millennium BC on the site’s acropolis are employed to reconstruct the ideology and attendant rituals associated with the emergence of elite power in the period of the first complex societies in Syria. It is inferred that elite ancestor veneration was an important aspect of the rituals performed in this complex, and that this utilization of memory helped to legitimate elite control and naturalize social hierarchy. Sacrifices of animals and perhaps human infants were part of the ritual package. Along with evidence of veneration is its opposite, the intentional desecration and sealing up of certain tombs, presumably as the result of power shifting between different groups or families. In this we see a deliberate severing of the connections between the living members of the community and the dead ancestors of high rank. After the tombs fell out of use, the mortuary complex itself became an object of memory (and, perhaps, alteration of memory), when a circular monument was built atop it in the early second millennium BC, indicating the continued significance of the space as sacred landscape while its meaning and attendant rituals changed. In the history of the Umm el-Marra acropolis center, memory is utilized as a tool for social manipulation and negotiation and is altered and expunged for the same reasons.

Bio: Glenn Schwartz is a Near Eastern archaeologist whose research focuses on the emergence and early history of urban societies in Syria and Mesopotamia. His current field project at Tell Umm el-Marra, western Syria, concentrates on the problems of origins, collapse and regeneration of an early urban center. The results from the site, inhabited ca. 2700–1200 BC with some later reoccupation, include a remarkable intact “royal” tomb from the Early Bronze Age, ca. 2300 BC as well as diverse data from many other periods.

Schwartz’s previous excavation project (like Umm el-Marra, a joint expedition with the University of Amsterdam) was based at the small third millennium BC village of Tell al-Raqa’i in northeastern Syria. The research focus at Tell al-Raqa’i concerned the role of small rural communities in early urban and complex societies. The larger problem of rural archaeology was addressed in the book Archaeological Views from the Countryside: Village Communities in Early Complex Societies, co-edited by Schwartz and Steven Falconer.

Schwartz has also done work on Syrian chronology (A Ceramic Chronology from Tell Leilan: Operation 1), on the problem of the fourth millennium colonial “Uruk expansion,” and on pre-state and state societies in Syria and northern Mesopotamia. Together with department colleague Jerrold Cooper, he co-edited The Study of the Ancient Near East in the 21st Century: The William Foxwell Albright Centennial Conference. In 2003, Professor Schwartz and Peter Akkermans co-authored The Archaeology of Syria: From Complex Hunter-Gatherers to Urban Societies, ca. 16,000–300 BC, published by Cambridge University Press.

Bob Chapman (University of Reading, Department of Archaeology, UK)
“Mortuary rituals, authority and identity in Early Bronze Age Southeast Spain”

Changes in mortuary rituals have long been noted at the end of the third millennium BC, between the Copper and Early Bronze Ages of southeast Spain. The main change is from extramural, communal interment in monumental tombs to intramural, individual burials within domestic structures. Along with some marked disparities in the deposition of wealth items with Early Bronze Age burials, this change has been held to signify the emergence of hereditary leadership and social stratification. For this reason the region (along with such areas as the Aegean, central Europe, Brittany, Wessex and southern Scandinavia) is considered to be a key example of major social and political change from non-stratified to stratified and state society in Europe.

Central to recent research on the development of Early Bronze Age societies in southeast Spain have been the following arguments: (1) the inference of past socio-political relations is not the exclusive outcome of analysis of mortuary rituals, but of a multidimensional study that considers life and death, culture and biology, and the living and the dead; (2) evidence of the productive relations of these societies, that is of inequalities in access to production and consumption among the living, is as important to the inference of socio-political inequalities in the past as are the material remains of mortuary rituals; and (3) the temporal scale of analysis of these mortuary rituals in the archaeological record needs to be clearly defined in relation to the interpretive load being placed upon these rituals. On the basis of these arguments I will outline the recent research on Early Bronze Age mortuary rituals in southeast Spain, as well as what is known about these societies from other sources of evidence. Of particular interest are inferences on regional, socio-political authority and the role of more standardised mortuary rituals in the expression of that authority.

Bio: Bob Chapman studied at the University of Cambridge under David Clarke and joined the University of Reading (UK) as a lecturer in 1976. He is now Professor of Archaeology and Head of the Department of Archaeology. His main research interests are in later prehistoric societies and social complexity, as well as the inferences made from the material remains of mortuary rituals. His main research is in the Iberian Peninsula, where he has conducted fieldwork in the Balearic Islands and in the Vera Basin of southeast Spain. He has authored or edited seven books, most recently Archaeologies of Complexity.

Massimo Cultraro (Ist. per i Beni Archeologici—CNR, Italy)
“Combined efforts till death. Funerary Ritual and Social Statements in the Aegean Early Bronze Age”

The paper focuses on the funerary evidences of the Early Helladic Period from Mainland Greece, with specific references to the Early Helladic II-III (middle of the Third Millennium BC). This period has been selected because it shows a large variability in tomb architecture and in grave-goods. Both evidences are complementary and, in some instances, overlapping, thus, they reflect tensions and contradictions of the Early Helladic communities in the perception of death and attitudes of death.

The use of different tomb structure (tumulus, shaft-tomb, cist-tomb) and the variability of the burial practices (manipulation of deceased, ritual sequences) emphasize the related themes of innovation and conservatism in the Early Helladic funerary sphere, on the one hand, and the regional variation in ritual practice on the other. This variability is closely tied up with cultural identity and some of the changes in the Early Helladic funerary customs are related to social and political transformations, such as the emergence of complex societies in Argolid and the maritime projection of Kolonna on Aegina in the Aegean wide-range trade.

Mortuary practices in Early Helladic II-III cemeteries in Mainland Greece display strategies of social competition and emulation within local communities, showing the close relationship between social significance and symbolic meaning of mortuary forms. In terms of spatial organisation of cemetery and differences in grave-goods, and ritual practices, the articulated structure of the burial evidence provides a useful context for such an investigation in order to reconstruct social statements of the Helladic communities about both living and the dead.

Bio: Massimo Cultraro is a PhD. archaeologist and researcher of the Italian National Council of Researches (CNR). He is interested in the prehistory of the Aegean world and he works in the Italian excavations at Poliochni, the Early Bronze Age site in the island of Lemnos ( Greece).

He has worked for long time at Crete focusing on the Minoan pre-palatial period (Tholos Tomb at Haghia Triada) and since 2005 he collaborates with the Italian team at Prinias in the publication of the Early and Middle Minoan pottery assemblage.

Since 2002, in cooperation with P. Xella, M.C. Tremouille and M. Rocchi, he has carried out the scientific project of CNR about the study of Religion and Rituals in the Ancient Mediterranean.

He is the coordinator of the international project ARCANE on the synchronization of regional chronologies for the third millennium BC. in the Mediterranean area (

He is the author of many papers on scientific journals and he has also published two books on the Bronze Age Greece, L’anello di Minosse. Archeologia della regalità nell’Egeo preistorico (Milano, Longanesi 2001), and I Micenei. I Greci prima di Omero ( Rome, Carocci 2005).

Meredith Chesson (Notre Dame University, Department of Anthropology, USA)
“Early Bronze Age Mortuary Practices, Identity and Social Complexity on the southeastern Dead Sea Plain, Jordan”

In this presentation, I argue that our reconstructions of past mortuary practices, and by extension ritual, political, social, and economic structures of the past societies, benefit from an anthropological perspective in examining aspects of life and death through the lens of ethnography. Approaching mortuary practices from the perspective of the link between landscape, memories, and people, this paper explores the interplay between the dead and the living in conducting commemorative rites and reaffirming or rending the bonds among members of the living community. Third millennium BCE settlement and cemetery sites on the southeastern Dead Sea Plain in Jordan offer a fascinating case study of mortuary and settlement practices during a dynamic period in which people of the region invented a new kind of settlement system and made profound changes to their physical and social landscapes.

Bio: Meredith Chesson is currently Assistant Professor at the Department of Anthropology, University of Notre Dame.

Her area of specialization is anthropological archaeology, focusing on the integration of anthropological theory, ethnographic research, and archaeological practice in exploring the process of urbanization in the southern Levant (encompassing modern Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, and Jordan) during the Early Bronze Age (c.3,500–2,000 BC). She has directed excavations at Tell el-Handaquq South, el-Lejjun, and Khirbet el-Minsahlat (all located in Jordan) in order to investigate social, political and economic structures, and the negotiation and assertion of group and individual social identities in the early urban societies of this region. She is particularly interested in learning about the lives of the people living in these early EBA communities, and with reconstructing a sense of the connections between households and governance structures in these settlements. In order to explore issues of social organization, identity, and governance, she has concentrated on the analysis of the relationships between households, administrative, and ritual spaces in the early walled towns of the southern Levant, as well as the diverse set of mortuary practices of the Early Bronze Age people in the region. From a theoretical perspective, she has been very interested in mortuary practices, household archaeology, social memory and identity, archaeological theory and feminism and archaeological practice.

Alessandro Naso (University of Molise, Department of Ancient Studies and Archaeology, Italy)
“Etruscan style of dying. Funerary architecture, tomb groups and social range at Caere (Cerveteri) and his territory in the 7th-6th centuries BC”

From the Iron Age until Roman times, the inhabitants of Caere (corresponding to the actual Cerveteri and probably the most important Etruscan city) used the huge plateau of ‘La Banditaccia’ as their main necropolis.

The long-term use of the area as funerary area produced an impressive amount of tombs of several types (i.e. the fossa graves of the Iron age (9th–8th cent. BC), the monumental tumuli of Orientalizing period (7th cent. BC), the cube-tombs of Archaic time (6th cent. BC), and, finally the hypogeans dating from the end of 5th cent. BC).

The gentilice character, i.e. the long use by the same family, is typical of several tombs. Each type exhibits a range of elements that probably correspond to the social classes of the population living the city. Moreover, the spatial organization of the Orientalizing tumuli clearly highlights a spatial hierarchy between the largest and oldest tombs and the surrounding minor ones.

Furthermore, the tumuli and rock-cut tombs inspired by the models developed at Caere are well documented in the territory around the metropolis and in southern Etruria. Thus, it is possible to interpret these sepulchers as burials of members coming from the powerful families of the metropolis to control the natural resources of the land. In addition, composition of tomb groups and epigraphic evidences confirm the political hegemony imposed the metropolis’ elites to this territory.

Bio: Alessandro Naso ( Rome 1960) studied at the University of Rome La Sapienza, where he received both the PhD and a PostDoc degree. After two fellowships in Germany, in Mainz at the Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum and in Tübingen at the University with a Alexander von Humboldt Forschungsstipendium, in 1998 he become lecturer at the University of Udine. In 2003 he joined the University of Molise, where he teaches Etruscology and Ancient Italian Archaeology. Among his fieldwork experiences are excavations in Italy and Turkey. Since 2005 he is directing a field survey in Molise, corresponding to ancient Samnium. He published articles about both Etruscan and Italic archaeology, including Architetture dipinte (1996), I Piceni (2000), I bronzi etruschi e italici del Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum (2003) and ,as editor, the conference proceedings Stranieri e non cittadini nei santuari greci (2005). He is working on the publication of Etruscan and Italic finds in the Aegean and in the Levant. Alessandro Naso ( Rome 1960) studied at the University of Rome La Sapienza, where he received both the PhD and a PostDoc degree. After two fellowships in Germany, in Mainz at the Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum and in Tübingen at the University with a Alexander von Humboldt Forschungsstipendium, in 1998 he become lecturer at the University of Udine. In 2003 he joined the University of Molise, where he teaches Etruscology and Ancient Italian Archaeology. Among his fieldwork experiences are excavations in Italy and Turkey. Since 2005 he is directing a field survey in Molise, corresponding to ancient Samnium. He published articles about both Etruscan and Italic archaeology, including Architetture dipinte (1996), I Piceni (2000), I bronzi etruschi e italici del Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum (2003) and ,as editor, the conference proceedings Stranieri e non cittadini nei santuari greci (2005). He is working on the publication of Etruscan and Italic finds in the Aegean and in the Levant.

Michael Dietler (University of Chicago, Department of Anthropology, USA)
“A Relational Approach to Funerary Ritual and Colonial Encounters in Mediterranean Gaul: Performance, Persona, Politics, and Space-Time Comparison”

This paper examines transformations in funerary ritual that occurred during a series of colonial encounters in Mediterranean Gaul that began during the mid first millennium BC. It argues that synchronic analysis of burial practices within a single social entity has limited potential for understanding the social significance and meaning of funerary ritual. Instead, it attempts to demonstrate the utility of a relational perspective that examines changing regional practices in various ritual domains comparatively in both temporal and socio-spatial dimensions. Funerary ritual is not an isolated domain, it is merely one of many performative arenas in which politics and social competition may be played out and contested, and it must be understood as part of a larger set of inter-related fields of ritual action. One should expect shifts in the relative importance and meaning of the principal theaters of politico-symbolic action as well as transformations of ritual practices in response to strategic and tactical manipulation in local factional competition and in response to entanglements in larger fields of power. Data from excavations of indigenous and Greek colonial contexts in Mediterranean France are used to demonstrate this approach, showing especially the changing interrelation of funerary and commensal ritual in different regions over time.

Bio: Michael Dietler is associate professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. His research interests include particularly colonialism, politics, ritual, consumption, and material culture, and he has pursued these through archaeological research in France and ethnographic research in Africa. For the past decade he has been engaged especially in excavation of the Iron Age Celtic port town of Lattes, on the Mediterranean coast near Montpellier, and in the broader exploration of ancient colonial encounters in the Western Mediterranean. Recent publications include the books Feasts: Archaeological and Ethnographic Perspectives on Food, Politics, and Power (edited with B. Hayden) and Consumption and Colonial Encounters in the Rhône Basin of France: A Study of Early Iron Age Political Economy.

Stephen Harvey (University of Chicago, Oriental Institute, USA)
“Visiting The House on Earth: The Ancient Egyptian Domestic Nexus Between This World and the Next”

As is widely known, traditional Egyptology centers on temple and funerary data at the expense of the domestic sphere. This is in part, though by no means entirely, due to differential presentation of temples and mortuary monuments in the desert, as opposed to the general placement of settlements in the floodplain. More importantly, however, the evidential biases encountered by earlier Egyptologists have set the terms for how Egyptian religion has been regarded. An essential dichotomy has pervaded these studies, in which in my view too much separation has been emphasized between elite, formal religion and popular cult. Taking the example of a form nearly ubiquitous in Egyptian architecture, the false door and the texts and images which accompany them, this paper seeks to understand the role played in domestic contexts by such features, which serve as a point of comparison between cultic practices in house and tomb. Several aspects have previously clouded the proper appraisal of these significant features of ancient Egyptian practice.

The first is the lack of archaeological context for many domestic doorjambs, lintels, and frames inscribed with funerary texts, which has led to their likely misinterpretation as portions of tombs. In fact, well-preserved and in context examples from el-‘Amarna, Deir el-Medina and elsewhere abundantly demonstrate the proliferation of such texts in the houses of the living. A second feature is the resulting assumption that the individuals represented and invoked on these door elements are in fact already dead; this assumption can be corrected using evidence from el-‘Amarna, where in some cases an individuals’ unfinished tomb may be compared with the same person’s house, allowing us to understand the house as one portion of a cultic complex planned during life to proclaim identity during life, as well as to perpetuate the memory and efficacy of the individual after death. In the house as in the tomb, social identities were mapped spatially, allowing the display and reinforcement of gender, status, and family relationships. A third problem has been the tendency to treat the phenomenon of domestic false doors as purely architectonic features merely balancing actual doorways, a stance that does not adequately take into account their cultic implications. In contrast to this view, considerable textual evidence may be adduced to demonstrate that false doors were seen to have a real function in allowing the passage of the individual between earthly and non-earthly realms. This function is underscored by the prevalence of specific forms of the false-door in various types of royal structures (temples, palaces, and tombs), as well as in shrines, houses, and tombs of the non-royal elite during the New Kingdom. The importance of the re-evaluation of these domestic features should not be underestimated, as it requires the reappraisal of how we interpret aspects of ancient identity. For example, Egyptologists regularly invoke epithets following an individual’s name (such as maa-kheru, true of voice or justified) to indicate that he/she was deceased at the time of the making of the inscription, in contrast to terms such as di ankh, given life. Examples of inscribed domestic false doors indicate that this interpretation is frequently unsupported, and that the implication of the epithet true of voice likely relates to notions of initiation into religious practice, and the attendant transformation that this implies (a transformation not limited or directly attached to earthly death).

A further implication of this study is its importance for the perception of the ancient Egyptian landscape, since the domestic sphere must accordingly be taken into account as one portion of the cultic nexus between house and tomb. Well-documented ancient roads at el-‘Amarna connecting an individual’s house to his rock-cut tomb are interpreted in this light, and their function in cult practice will be related to the concepts underlying the separation of so-called mortuary temples and tombs at the royal level. The result of this model is a more holistic view of Egyptian religious practice, one that emphasizes this-worldly practice, procession, and commemoration, and one that curiously de-emphasizes the centrality of the tomb itself. That this aspect of commemoration is central to Egyptian culture during much of its history may be further underscored through consideration of other domestic means through which the identity of the deceased was maintained and celebrated.

Bio: Stephen P. Harvey is Assistant Professor of Egyptian Archaeology in the Oriental Institute and the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, The University of Chicago. From 1998 to 2002, Harvey was Assistant Director of the Institute of Egyptian Art & Archaeology and Assistant Professor in the Department of Art of the University of Memphis, TN. In Spring Quarter 1998, Harvey was a Visiting Assistant Professor at the Oriental Institute, where he taught courses in Egyptian art and archaeology. Harvey was Assistant Curator for Egyptian Art at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland from 1996 to 1998. He received his Ph.D. in Egyptian Archaeology in 1998 from the University of Pennsylvania, and his B.A. in Archaeological Studies from Yale University in 1987. Since 1993, he has directed excavation of the monumental complex of King Ahmose at Abydos, southern Egypt, under the aegis of the Penn-Yale-Institute of Fine Arts Expedition to Abydos. Harvey’s fieldwork in and around the pyramid complex of Ahmose (ca 1550–1525 BC) has provided important new insight into temple architecture and decoration at the outset of Egypt ‘s New Kingdom. In addition to extensive fieldwork at Abydos, Harvey has worked in Egypt at Giza and Memphis, as well as on archaeological projects in the United States, Syria (Tell es-Sweyhat), and Turkey (Gordion). Harvey was interviewed for the 2002 BBC/PBS documentary on the New Kingdom entitled Egypt’s Golden Empire, as well as for the introductory video for the major exhibition of objects from the Cairo Museum currently travelling in the United States, entitled The Quest for Immortality. He has been invited to lecture at a number of institutions in the US, as well as in Canada, England, Egypt, France, and this coming September in Australia and New Zealand. Harvey has also been a lecturer on tours to Egypt sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution, the Field Museum, and the Archaeological Institute of America.

Dina Katz (NINO, Leiden University, Holland)
“Funerary Rituals in Context”

Abundant dedication inscriptions, expressing the expectation to be rewarded for piety in life, suggest that afterlife offered no prospects, neither paradise nor hell. Yet, hundreds of Ur III administrative texts, recording expenditures of equipments, workers, food rations, goods and sacrificial animals for the construction and maintenance of funerary chapels, and for the funerary rites bear witness to the importance of the care for the dead. The important place of the dead in the life of the Sumerians left little imprint on the literary texts. The extant Sumerian texts did not yield a single comprehensive speculation about the netherworld, rather, incidental comments, especially in the laments over the young dying gods. The texts treat the netherworld in terms of actual reality, making the spoiled food their main concern. The interest in the netherworld seems to increase during the second millennium, exemplified by the transformation of the Sumerian Inana’s Descent into a narrative about the netherworld Ishtar’s Descent, and the newly created Nergal and Ereshkigal. A brief but comprehensive Akkadian topos describes the netherworld in terms of a grave, a place whose character is defined by dust and mud.

Two Sumerian literary texts containing the instructions for a funerary ritual also sketch, by implication, the mainstream concept of afterlife. The one, incorporated in a lament over a young dying god, was performed during the initial interment of the body, and the other was performed for the spirit of a man who died far away and was not properly buried. The rituals are operative as of the moment of death and, thereby, display the perception of the spirit and image of the netherworld. Ur III texts that detail expenditures for funerary rituals complement the literary sources. Actual and mythological realities unite in the list of sacrificial animals delivered for the rituals of Íu-ßin, and establish the historical relevance of the literary sources.

Bio: Dina Katz is actually a research fellow of the NINO, Leiden ( Holland)

She was born in Israel, and in between 1968 and 1976 graduated from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in Study of Biblical history (BA), Archaeology (MA) and Assyriology (MA).

In 1994 she received her PhD from Tel Aviv University, supervised by Prof. J. Klein, on the thesis The Concept of Death and Netherworld in Mesopotamia According to the Sumerian Sources.

Main Publications:
Gilgamesh and Akka, Groningen, STYX Publications, 1993.
The Image of the Netherworld in the Sumerian Sources, Bethesda, CDL Press, 2003.

Seth Richardson (University of Chicago, Oriental Institute, USA)
“Death and Dismemberment in Mesopotamia: Social Discorporation between the Body and Body Politic “

The ritual performance of burial is indeed critical to the construction of social boundaries, but funerals do not limit their transformative effects on boundaries and identities solely to changing negative events into positive ones, thereby reifying community ideals. Rather, as Pollock states, death is a contested realm, and social identity, as this generation of scholarship has argued, is created not purely by the projection of ideologies, but also by the establishment of social oppositions. This being the case, we are obligated to do more than establish burial as an ideal (and idealizing) type, but to investigate those instances in which the treatment of the body intends to discorporate social elements through disinterment, cursing, dismemberment, exposure, and display.

Such instances, of course, are not normally held to qualify as burials per se, but this paper will argue that the category funeral—like all other categories—achieves meaning partly through the conception and exercise of its opposite: custom, like other social forms, is an ambivalent form of power. Royal inscriptions offer the best window into this particular problem, and a survey will be made of some of the most important forms of discorpora found there. Allied evidence will be discussed, however, which shows that the inversion of normative depositional practices is attested outside the sphere of royal rhetoric.

Bio: Seth Richardson is Assistant Professor of Ancient Near Eastern History at the University of Chicago/Oriental Institute since 2003. His primary areas of research include Old Babylonian (especially 17th-c.) political and economic history; state collapse in antiquity; the editorial history of liver divination literature; scope-of-economy; and labor history. His works include Trouble in the Countryside ana tarœi Samsuditana (CRRAI 48), Axes Against Eånunna (OrNS 74), Ewe Should be so Lucky (Walker FS), and An Assyrian Garden of Ancestors (SAAB 13). He received his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 2002.

Susan Pollock (Binghamton University, Department of Anthropology, USA)
“Death of a Household”

The elaborate burial rites known from mid-third millennium BCE sites in southern Mesopotamia took place in a context of political, social, and economic ferment. Early Dynastic polities were engaged in struggles with one another over land, water, and political sovereignty; kingship was becoming established as a distinct form of leadership; and ‘great households’ or oikoi were coming to play a dominant role in the economic and social configuration of urban life. In this context it is not surprising that burial ritual—and most probably other facets of funerary rites—took on increasingly spectacular forms.

Two broadly differentiated categories of burial are attested archaeologically in Early Dynastic-period sites in southern Mesopotamia: burials below house floors and burials in cemeteries. Elsewhere I have suggested that burial below house floors represented the interment of members of families within their residences, whereas cemetery burial was reserved for members of the ‘great households.’ Here I extend that argument, with specific reference to the burials in the Royal Cemetery of Ur. I suggest that the elaborate Royal Tomb interments, with their inclusions of up to 74 ‘attendants’ who were sent to their deaths to accompany the principal deceased person, represented metaphorical deaths of the households themselves. I explore the implications of this interpretation as well as some of the possible reasons for a ritualized death of households.

Bio: Susan Pollock is Professor of Anthropology at Binghamton University.  She specializes in archaeology of the Middle East and has conducted fieldwork in Iran, Turkey, and Iraq.  Her research contributes to studies of political economy, ideology and representation, and archaeology in the media.  Her recent publications include Ancient Mesopotamia: The Eden That Never Was (1999) and the co-edited book (with Reinhard Bernbeck) Archaeologies of the Middle East: Critical Perspectives (2005).

Ian Rutherford (Florida State University, Department of Classics, USA)
“Achilles and the Sallis Wastais-Ritual: Performing Death in Greece and Anatolia”

The aim of this paper is to compare and contrast two texts describing cremation: the Royal Funeral or Sallis Wastais Ritual (SWR) from LBA Hattusa and Homer’s account of the cremation of Patroclus in Book 23 of the Iliad.

The SWR lasted 14 days and comprised several sections. The cremation took place on the night of the second day, and was followed next morning by collection of the bones which were then placed in oil in a silver vessel, transferred to a linen cloth, positioned on a chair and taken off to the “stone house” (the royal mausoleum). The latter part of the SWR was taken up by a sequence of micro-rituals apparently designed to secure the immortality of the deceased king, and the soon-to-be deified king actually takes part in these in the form of an effigy.

In Iliad 23 the hero Achilles performs a nocturnal funeral ceremony for his friend Patroclus, who has was in killed in battle a few days before.

The corpse is placed on a pyre and sacrifices, both human and animal, take place. Next morning, the bones are covered in fat and collected in an golden urn, which is covered in a linen-cloth, and stored temporarily in a hut, pending permanent burial at a future point.

As has been pointed out several times, the accounts of cremation and collection of bones in the two texts are broadly similar. However, there are also differences: in particular, while the SWR aims to deify the king, the purpose of Patroclus’ funeral is simply to allow him to enter Hades, i.e. fully to die (Iliad 23.71).

The paper aims to explore the similarities and differences between the accounts of mortuary practice in these two texts, and to assess whether or not they imply cultural interaction in respect of mortuary practice between Anatolia and the Aegean worlds.

Bio: Ian Rutherford is Professor of Greek at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida, USA. My university education was at Oxford, and my first teaching job was at Harvard. I have held research positions at the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington DC and the University of Cincinnati. I have published three books, and over 40 articles.

My main interests are:

  • Early Greek poetry: Greek lyric poetry and epic, particularly the “Catalogue of Women” attributed to Hesiod.
  • Ancient Religion, particularly pilgrimage.
  • Ancient Anatolia and Greek World: The cultures of ancient Turkey, particularly in the 2nd millennium BCE, and their relation to Greece.
  • Contacts between Ancient Egypt and Greece: Greek perceptions of Egypt, and mutual influence between Egyptian and Greek cultures, e.g. the relationship between the Petubastis/Inaros Cycle and the Greek novel), religious syncretism and bilingualism.

Anthony Tuck ( Tufts University, Department of Classics, USA )
“Burial Practices of Emerging Communities in Early Central Italy”

The remarkable wealth and opulence of the burials of Etruscan Italy have long fired the imaginations of visitors to Tuscany. However, the remarkable diversity of burial forms seen in so small a region is somewhat puzzling for an otherwise culturally cohesive region. While burial types throughout the Etruscan Iron Age are notably homogeneous, by the early 7th century BCE sites in Central Italy suddenly adopt funerary architecture that is markedly distinctive from site to site. As a result, contemporaneous burials at sites such at Tarquinia, Cerveteri or Vetulonia utilize specific forms and architectures that are unique to given sites. As these site specific funerary forms emerge, other indications of urban development, e.g. defensive works, specialized industry, political expression, are also increasingly visible in the archaeological record. As a result, it seems reasonable to posit that the adoption of site specific burial forms among the peoples of emergent Etruscan centers reflects an understanding within those communities of distinctive and separate concepts of citizenship within the framework of the urbanizing Etruscan world.

Bio: Anthony Tuck is Lecturer of Greek, Roman, and Etruscan Archaeology at the Department of Classics at Tufts University. He is also the Director of the archaeological excavation at the Etruscan site of Poggio Civitate in Central Italy. Currently a team of archaeologists, programmers, and photographers is working to create the first fully digitized excavation archive and database of such an Etruscan site.

John Pollini (University of Southern California, Department of Art History, USA)
“Ritualizing Death in Republican Rome: Religion, Portraiture, Class Struggle, and the Origin of the Aristocratic Wax Funerary Mask Tradition”

The tradition of ancestral wax masks (imagines) was an integral part of what it meant to be a Roman noble. Although none of these masks has survived, numerous ancient literary sources provide information about what they looked like and how they functioned in Roman society, especially in the context of funerary rites. We know, for example, that they represented males who had achieved high political office and were kept on display in the atrium, the formal and ceremonial room of the nobleman’s house, where the master received clients and friends on a daily basis and during special festivals. Serving a didactic purpose, they were intended not only to impress visitors with the prominence of the nobleman’s family but also to inculcate moral and civic values in members of the family, especially young males who were expected to emulate the illustrious achievements of their ancestors to bring further distinction to the family.

On the death of a prominent family member, the wax ancestral masks were worn by hired actors, who marched in the funeral procession dressed in the garments of the highest office held by the deceased, while carrying the insignia of his political office. During the public eulogy for the dead, this entire choros of mask-wearing actors took their seats on the Rostra (speakers’ platform) in the Roman Forum, where each ancestor was eulogized in chronological order by a male of the family. The care taken to choose actors who resembled the deceased in height and general appearance underlined a basic need to revivify the dead, for in donning the mask and clothes of the deceased, the actors took on the persona (also the Latin term for a mask) of the deceased.

Because a number of customs and insignia of political office appear to have been taken over from the Etruscans, scholars have attempted to seek the origins of Roman wax ancestor masks in Etruscan funerary practices. Although ancestor worship and various forms of portraiture were practiced among the Etruscans and other early Italic peoples, the wax ancestor masks themselves appear to have been a totally Roman invention to fulfill specifically Roman social, political, and ritualistic needs. It is unknown when the use of wax masks came about in Rome; however, I shall try to show, on the basis of a number of pieces of circumstantial evidence, that they were first created in the second half of the fourth century B.C., when various internal legal, political, and religious factors, as well as external foreign impulses, came together to give rise to this distinctively Roman creation.

As has recently been demonstrated, finally, Roman wax ancestor masks were not death masks, as had long been believed, but life masks. This new awareness of their nature has important implications for the Roman interest in realism and verism in portrait sculpture, which—like the ancestor masks—served a didactic role in portraying the virtue and character of an honored individual.

Bio: John Pollini is Professor of Classical Art and Archaeology in the Department of Art History at the University of Southern California, where he has also served as Chair (1990-93) and Dean of the School of Fine Arts (1993–96). In 2000 he was elected to the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut. Among his grants and awards are a Fulbright, Mellon Postdoctoral, ACLS, and two NEH Fellowships. His principal publications are The Portraiture of Gaius and Lucius Caesar (1987); Roman Portraiture: Images of Character and Virtue (1990); Gallo-Roman Bronzes and the Process of Romanization: The Cobannus Hoard (2002); The de Nion Head: A Masterpiece of Greek Archaic Sculpture (2003); and Terra Marique: Studies in Honor of Anna Marguerite McCann (2005). He is presently working on two other book projects: Dynastic Narratives in Augustan Art and Thought: The Rhetoric and Poetry of Visual Imagery and Christian Destruction and Desecration of Images of Classical Antiquity: A Study in Religious Intolerance in the Ancient World.

John Robb (Cambridge University, Department of Archaeology, UK)
“Burial treatment as structured transformations of bodily ideology: some risky generalizations”

What governs how dead bodies are treated in mortuary ritual? This paper investigates the possibility of a general answer to this in a way more guarded than in early processual approaches but more bullish than the cautionary tales and fragmented thematic interpretations offered by recent post-processualism. It is argued that:

  1. burial treatment derives from culture as a specific symbolic order;
  2. treatment of the dead is based upon a generalized cosmological narrative about how human bodies are composed, come into being, transform, and dissolve;
  3. this basic narrative is customized to underwrite specific kinds of persons, and circumstances of death, so that a society’s varied mortuary programme represents neither a monothetic reflex of status nor a fragmented palimpsest of unrelated practices, but rather a bundle, or conversation, of interacting, oppositional narratives;
  4. among the ways in which groups transform mortuary rituals to close alternative kinds of life-story, it is cross-culturally common to abbreviate, extend, invert, or completely negate the normative procedures; there may be common cross-cultural meanings to such tactics.

These generalizations are illustrated with examples from the prehistoric Central Mediterranean as well as from ethnographic cases.

Bio: John Robb is currently Senior Lecturer at the Department of Archaeology and is also editor of the Cambridge Archaeological Journal. Current research interests:

  • Neolithic Europe
  • Human skeletal studies
  • Archaeological theory
  • Agency theory
  • Central Mediterranean prehistory

Current research projects:

James Brown (Northwestern University, Department of Anthropology, USA)
“1966–2006: Approaches to the Social Dimensions of Mortuary Practices in the Third Millennium AD”

Bio: Professor James Brown is currently teaching in the Department of Anthropology at Northwestern University. His research interests are:

  1. Archaeology
  2. Quantitative Analysis
  3. Comparative Mortuary Studies
  4. Evolution of Cultural Complexity
  5. Eastern North America

For the past five years he has worked with Dr. John Kelly of Washington University, St. Louis, on a re-investigation of the old work of Gregory Perino at Mound 34, Cahokia (IL). The project focuses on documenting with greater precision the context and dating of the famous engraved marine shell pieces found there. They are important in fixing the cultural context for the burst of raft specialization that resulted in the art forms that are known by the name of the Southeastern Ceremonial Context. The context is in a period, the Moorehead Phase (A.D. 1200–1275), in which Cahokian society becomes distinctly more complex. With this research the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex more intelligible from a cross-cultural perspective by relating it to political, religious and economic changes taking place at this site.

Maurice Bloch (The London School of Economics and Political Science, UK)
“Conclusive Remarks: A Socio-anthropological Perspective”

Bio: Professor Maurice Bloch was trained at both the London School of Economics and Cambridge University. He has carried out fieldwork among irrigated rice cultivators and shifting agriculturalists in Madagascar, and in other parts of the world including Japan. Partly because of his French background he has combined British and French approaches and was instrumental in introducing the revival in French Marxist theory to British anthropologists. His interests have focused on the notion of ideology and he has written on ritual and language. He is now working on how to relate the findings of cognitive psychology with anthropology. Maurice Bloch has taught in the USA, France, and Sweden and is a Fellow of the British Academy.

Revised: March 10, 2009

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