Mittwoch, 15. November 2017, 17:30

Fuel for Thought: Thermal Modification of the Corpse in Cross-Cultural Perspective

Estella Weiss-Krejci (Institute for Oriental and European Archaeology, Austrian Academy of Sciences)

One interesting aspect of our past history is the change in our treatment of the dead. The reasons for multiple transitions from inhumation to cremation (and vice versa) as well as the parallel existence of both practices within societies are still poorly understood. Were the transitions from inhumation to cremation caused by changes in religious beliefs? Were they caused by societies themselves or by the arrival of new groups of people – and why did people invent cremation in the first place? These are just some of the questions that have troubled archaeologists in the past. The advances in anthropological and chemical studies of burnt bones that will be discussed at the international conference ‘New Approaches to Burnt Human Bones and Teeth’ will probably one day provide us with the tools to answer some of these questions. Since the conference will focus primarily on technical and methodological aspects of the investigation of burnt bones and teeth, this keynote lecture will provide a more holistic approach to the subject and will look into the question of funerary thermal modification of the corpse from the perspective of ethnography and ethnohistory. Archaeologists often understand inhumation and cremation as two opposing funerary treatments of dead bodies, thereby forgetting that there is a wide array of primary and secondary funerary rites that make use of fire and leave behind burnt bones in varying quantities and degrees. The lecture provides a brief cross-cultural overview of these traditions. The importance of ideology, concepts of purity, cosmogony and properness for funerary treatments will also be discussed as well as aspects of age and social identity and the meaning of teeth.