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The distortion of archaeological realities through objects: a case study

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Most archaeologists agree that funerary practices are directly connected with beliefs in the existence of an afterlife, and that objects placed in graves are sometimes extremely helpful in reconstructing past social systems or other types of identities (economic, cultural, ethnic, racial, etc.). However, this assertion is only partially valid, because the archaeological context offers only a slice of past realities. The aim of this paper is to explore the significance of the grave goods associated with human skeletons from Sultana – Malu Roşu cemetery, in relation to the archaeological contexts and various post-depositional processes that affected them over time. Originally published in Homines, Funera, Astra 2 Life Beyond Death in Ancient Times (Romanian Case Studies) (ed. Kogălniceanu et al.) ISBN 9781784912062, Archaeopress 2015. This version published in Archaeopress Open Access 2015, available here. For more information regarding Archaeopress Open Access please visit the Archaeopress website.
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67
The distortion of archaeological realities through objects: a case study

Muzeul Naţional de Istorie a României, Bucureşti, România

Muzeul Naţional de Istorie a României, Bucureşti, România
Abstract
Most archaeologists agree that funerary practices are directly connected with beliefs in the existence of an afterlife, and that objects
placed in graves are sometimes extremely helpful in reconstructing past social systems or other types of identities (economic, cultural,
ethnic, racial, etc.). However, this assertion is only partially valid, because the archaeological context offers only a slice of past realities.
The aim of this paper is to explore the significance of the grave goods associated with human skeletons from Sultana Malu Roşu
cemetery, in relation to the archaeological contexts and various post-depositional processes that affected them over time.
Key words
Romania, Eneolithic, cemetery, grave goods, identity
Introduction
Funerary discoveries have always been an attraction for
archaeologists, and the study of the funeral inventory took
a special place within this framework.
Over time, in the scientific literature, various approaches
and analyses of the funeral inventory have been
developed by representatives of different theoretical and
methodological movements.
Thus, beginning with the traditional cultural historical
interpretations, through New Archaeology and continuing
with post-processual approaches, along with Marxist and
evolutionary theories to which we can add some specific
trends developed by the German and French schools
of archaeology, funerary items benefited from various
interpretations and reinterpretations (Saxe 1970; Binford
1972; Tainter 1975; 1978; Shanks and Tilley 1987; 1988;
Hodder 1995; Fox 1996; Lull 2000; MacDonald 2001;
Parker Pearson 1999).
The purpose of this article is to analyze the inventory
objects discovered within the Sultana Malu Roşu
Eneolithic cemetery (Romania) and, based on them,
to discuss various types of identity (social, economic,
cultural, ethnic, etc.).
Grave goods will be explored in terms of typology,
functionality and statistics. The diverse meanings of this
category of materials will also be addressed.
We will also take into consideration the degree of
preservation of the graves, and the taphonomic and post
depositional processes.
The Site

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Homines, Funera, Astra 2: Life beyond Death in Ancient Times
The Sultana Malu Roşu cemetery is located in the
northern area of the Balkan region, in the southeast of
Romania, on the right bank of the old Mostiştea River, at
about 7 km from the Danube River, near the border with
Bulgaria (Figure 1). Administratively, the site is located
in the Sultana village, Călărași County (Lazăr et al. 2008;
2009).
Regarding the cultural framework, the cemetery was used
by two communities belonging to the Eneolithic period,
more precisely to the Boian and Gumelnița cultures. The
general chronology of these two cultures covers the period
from the end of the 6th millennium BC up to the beginning
of the 4th millennium BC (Lazăr, Voicu and Vasile 2012).
The cemetery’s period of use can be estimated to the
chronological interval 5071 - 4450 cal BC with a 95.4%
probability, based on the AMS radiocarbon data obtained
so far (n = 5). From a cultural-historical perspective this
indicates that the graves can be attributed to the Vidra
and Spanţov phases of the Boian culture, respectively the
A1-A2 phases of the Gumelniţa culture (Lazăr, Voicu and
Vasile 2012).
The Sultana Malu Roșu cemetery is a typical Eneolithic
extramural cemetery similar to other cases from
southeastern Europe (e.g., Durankulak, Goljamo Delčevo,
Vărăști-Grădiștea Ulmilor, Vinica, etc.) (Todorova et al.
1975; Radunčeva 1976; Comșa 1995; Todorova 2002).
A total of 67 graves have been excavated between 2006
and 2012 (Figure 2). Most of them are single primary
inhumations with simple, irregular oval shaped pits,
without other traces of funerary constructions, with
the deceased laid out in the foetal position on the left
side, E-W oriented. Secondary burials and graves with
deliberate removal of some skeletal materials (especially
skulls) were also documented (Lazăr et al. 2008; 2009;
Lazăr, Voicu and Vasile 2012).
Methodological aspects
One of the most disputable issues raised by the study of
artefacts discovered within graves regards the terminology.
Over time, various terms as grave furniture, burial goods,
burial offerings, burials gifts, funeral goods, mortuary
offerings, mortuary furniture, grave goods have been
used by archaeologists to describe different artefacts or
materials discovered within graves (Sprague 2005, 115).
Each of these terms was defined by different authors,
indirectly reflecting the archaeological research stage or
the interpretative vision derived from various theoretical
approaches.
It is clear that the question of objects found within
graves is not so simple. This involves some theoretical
and contextual aspects with regard to the archaeological
excavation and the correct registering of the data in the
field. It is necessary to distinguish clearly between the
archaeological materials discovered within the graves
(artefacts, fragments of artefacts, faunal remains, ochre,
etc.) for the correct understanding of their context and
meaning.
Starting with these premises and addressing various
specialized studies (Sempowski 1986; McHugh 1999;
Parker Pearson 1999; Sprague 2005, etc.), we have divided
the archaeological materials discovered within the graves
from Sultana – Malu Roșu cemetery into three categories:
grave goods = all artefacts that were intentionally
deposited in association with the dead body;
funerary offerings = all faunal and/or plant remains
that were intentionally deposited in the grave;
grave inclusions = all archaeological materials
(artefact fragments, animal bones, rocks, etc.)
that were present in the grave, without a clear
connection with the dead body.
For the first category, grave goods, we took into
consideration the distinctions made by Mike Parker
Pearson (1999) concerning the contextual meaning of the
archaeological materials discovered in graves,
1
but in our
case it is difficult to make a valid difference.
The artefacts will be typologically and quantitatively
analyzed, taking notice of the particular place within the
grave where the object was found and its relationship with
the body. Also, the artefacts will be grouped according
to the raw materials they were made of, keeping in mind
some other elements, such as: broken versus complete,
local versus exotic materials, etc.
The second category, funerary offerings, refers to the
materials that may be considered food offerings (plants
or animals), including the symbolic meaning of these
elements. In our analysis we will take into consideration
the species represented, the quantity of bones, wild versus
domestic species, and the exact place where they were
discovered within the grave in relation to the body of the
deceased.
We included in the last category, grave inclusions, the
archaeological materials present in the grave, especially
those found into the filling of the funeral pit that do not
present a direct relationship with the deceased body. They
will be presented typologically and according to the raw
material of which they were made.
All three categories will be related to sex groups and age
categories of the deceased individuals.
The graves goods
Unfortunately, the Sultana Malu Roșu cemetery is not
very spectacular in terms of funerary inventory. Only 18
1
Material culture items found: on the body = clothes; of the body =
deposition; off the body = burial goods (Parker Pearson 1999, 9).
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tălin Lazăr and Mădălina Voicu: The distortion of archaeological realities through objects
graves contained grave goods (Figure 2), and in most of
the cases they were quite modest.
The categories of grave goods identified in the cemetery
consist of lithic, ceramic, and clay artefacts and adornments.
Lithic artefacts are present in six graves (Table 1) and
consist of a total of eight pieces.
Grave
no�
Type Dimensions
blade axe
length
(cm)
maximal
width (cm)
maximal
thickness (cm)
1
3.7 1.4 0.3
14.5 4.1 1.7
11 15.5 2.6 0.7
12 4.8 1.5 0.4
34
5.7 1.2 0.1
4.4 2.0 0.4
45 5.9 2.4 0.5
60 9.1 2.7 1.4


Grave
no�
Type
Location of the artefacts
legs area hands area head area
1
blade
axe
11 blade
12 blade
34
blade
blade
45 blade
60 axe


Typologically, the artefacts from this category are
represented by flint blades (graves 1, 11, 12, 34 and 45)
and two polished stone axes made of limestone (graves 1
and 60) (Figures 3 and 4).
The position of the lithic artefacts in relation to the body of
the dead is presented in Table 2.
The raw materials used for making the lithic artefacts cannot
be considered exotic. They are local, most probably from the
Pre-Balkan Platform or Dobrudgea Plateau.


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Homines, Funera, Astra 2: Life beyond Death in Ancient Times
The flint blades are typical for the Eneolithic period, with
bilateral or semi-abrupt retouches. Most of the blades are
fragmented. Only the long blade from grave 11 (Figure 4)
was complete (Lazăr et al. 2008).
The two polished stone axes are unperforated and have a
flat and slightly trapezoidal shape with a rectangular cross-
section and an oblique arched cutting edge. Both axes are
complete and present accidental flaking negatives on the
surfaces, re-polish attempt traces, and use-wear marks
(Figure 3).
From a functional perspective, the lithic artefacts can be
both tools and weapons.
The second category of grave goods consists of ceramic
pots.
Only two graves (nos. 6 and 64) contained this type of goods.
They have a truncated form and are of small dimensions.
The clay from which they are made is not of very good
quality. The firing does not appear to be complete, which
is why the pots are brittle. Their shape seem to indicate
a resemblance with the pots found within the settlement,
but their manufacture is less careful. Apparently, they were
made with the sole purpose of being deposited in graves.
The vessels are complete, although they show cracks and
are highly fragmentary. This is due to post-depositional
processes and the manner in which they were made.
The raw materials used to make the two pots (clay and
water) can be considered local, not exotic.
The pot from grave 6 was placed near the head of the
deceased (Figure 5), upside down, while that from grave
64 was found in the hip area, in normal position.
From a functional perspective, the two vessels cannot be
considered containers mainly due to their manufacturing
technique. This fact can only lead us to think that they had
a symbolic function.
Clay artefacts represent the third category of grave
goods. A complete clay weight was discovered near
the human bones only in grave 27.
2
The dimensions
are: length = 8.9 cm; maximum width = 4.9 cm;
height = 0.38 cm and hole diameter = 0.7 cm. This artefact
was made using a local raw material. From a functional
point of view this object can be interpreted as a loom
weight (frequently found in Eneolithic settlements).
The last category of grave goods is represented by
adornments. They were found in nine graves (1, 13, 14,
36, 43, 46, 48, 62 and 67)
3
(Beldiman, Lazăr and Sztancs
2008; Lazăr et al. 2008; 2009).
Typologically, they consist of beads, pendants and rings
made of various raw materials (Table 5). Some of the raw
materials, such as marble, malachite or shells (Spondylus
and Dentalium) can be considered exotic (Figures 6 and
7), due to the fact that they cannot be found in neighboring
areas, and come from long distance sources. The ornaments
made of bones come from local sources.
Regardless of the raw material of which they are made,
the shape of the beads is cylindrical and tubular, followed
by prismatic, biconvex and bitruncated with various sizes
(Table 3). The pendants have a bi-lobed or circular shape,
and the ring has a circular shape.
Beads’ type
Dimensions
item
height
(cm)
item
diameter
(cm)
perforation
diameter (cm)
cylindrical 0.1-0.3 0.2-0.6 0.2-0.3
tubular 0.6-2.9 0.4-0.6 0.2-0.3
prismatic
biconvex
0.1-2.9 0.2-0.6 0.2-0.3
0.5-0.9 0.5-0.7 0.2
bitruncated 2.0-2.7 0.5-0.6 0.2-0.3


2
Grave number 27 is a secondary burial, which contained only a few
bones. They were lodged in the pit, and a loom weight was discovered
among the displaced bones.
3
In a previous article (Lazar, Voicu and Vasile 2012), we have presented
a smaller number of graves containing adornments (only four).
Meanwhile the sediment from other graves has been sieved, this action
leading to the identification of new adornments. To them, we can add the
ones discovered in 2012 (in graves 59 and 67).


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tălin Lazăr and Mădălina Voicu: The distortion of archaeological realities through objects
Grave no� Type Quantity
Raw materials
Spondylus
shell
Dentalium
shell
Bone Malachite Marble Other rocks Indet�
1 beads 131
13 beads 19
14 beads 2
36 beads 3
43
beads 3
pendant 2
46 beads 2
48
beads 15
pendant 1
62 beads 7
67
ring 1
pendant 1


Grave
no�
Location of the artefacts
hip area hands area
neck/chest
area
head area
1
13
14
36
43
46
48
62
67



From a quantitative point of view most of the graves
contain only a few adornments (Table 5). Graves 1 (with
131 pieces), 13 (with 19 pieces) and 48 (with 16 pieces)
are the only exceptions (Table 5).
The position of the adornments in relation to the body of
the dead is presented in Table 4.
From a functional perspective, the assembling of beads
and pendants on strings, to form necklaces (graves 1, 48
and 62) or bracelets worn at the wrist and/or the forearm
(graves 1, 13 and 48) is suggested by the location of the
pieces, and the amount and pattern of their association.
The beads found near the hip area (graves 1, 13, 14 and
48) were probably sewed/attached as decorative items on
clothes or formed a belt.
The beads and the ring made of bone found in the skull
area were probably elements of hair decoration. It should
be noted that some pieces were discovered in a secondary
position, perhaps a result of some post depositional
processes (Beldiman, Lazăr and Sztancs 2008; Lazăr et al.
2008; 2009).
Regarding the degree of preservation, 83% of the pieces
of adornment are complete and 17% are fragmentary.
In the latter case the fragmentation is in part due to
post- depositional events, however, some pieces were
fragmented during their use-life, which demonstrates their
reuse.
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Homines, Funera, Astra 2: Life beyond Death in Ancient Times
The funerary offerings
This category was identified in five graves (nos. 2, 19, 26,
28 and 65)
4
and consists of animal bones. Generally, they
are not numerous; the situation in terms of quantity and of
anatomical elements per species is presented in Table 6.
All the species present in the graves belong to the Mammalia
class, with both domestic and wild individuals. The latter
belong to the wildlife native to the surrounding area. From
the perspective of the anatomical elements represented it
is noticeable that they are from areas low in meat, which
raises questions regarding their interpretation as funerary
offerings. It is likely that their role in the funerary context
was purely symbolic.
The animal bones from most of the graves are fragmentary.
The complete horn in grave 28 is an exception.
Grave
no�
Anatomical
element
Quantity Species
2
R. horncore 1 
L. metatarsus 1 
19
Long bone
diaphysis
1
Indet. large
mammal
26 R. radius 1 Bos taurus
R. phalanx III 1 Bos taurus
28 L. horncore 1 Bos taurus
65 Mandible 1 Bos taurus


Concerning the positioning of the animal bones in relation
with the human body we mention that in grave 26 they
were found near the hip area and in grave 65 they were
found in the upper limbs area. In the case of grave no.
2, because of the precarious preservation of the child
skeleton, we cannot make any judgments in this regard. In
the case of graves 19 and 28, which contained redeposited
human bones without anatomical connection, we also
cannot come to any conclusion.
The grave inclusions
In 30 of the graves from Sultana Malu Roșu cemetery,
various archaeological materials were discovered that
could not be related to the body of the deceased.
In terms of context, these were discovered within the fill
of the funerary pits, rarely at the edge or at their bottoms.
We did not include in this category the archaeological
materials found in animal burrows.
The types of materials included in the category of
archaeological inclusions are presented in Table 7.
4
In some of the previous articles dedicated to the Sultana Malu Roșu
cemetery (Lazar et al. 2008; Lazăr, Voicu and Vasile 2012), we mentioned
animal bones in some other graves (no. 12, 31, 33 and 34). In these cases
the animal bones represent grave inclusions and not funerary offerings.
Quantitatively, the archaeological materials identified
within the graves are not very numerous. Thus, in the case
of flint tools, Spondylus beads, river clams, snails and rock
we are dealing with a single piece. There are no more than
two-three potsherds, pieces of burnt adobe, and animal
bones in each grave, all of them fragmentary.
The same observation is valid for the other categories
of archaeological materials. The only exceptions are the
shells in graves 12 and 19, as well as the snails in graves
15, 17, 21, 22 and 24, which were complete.
In these circumstances, we can accept the assertion of
Chapman, that the ‘the incorporation of incomplete objects
in culturally significant contexts is a widespread social
practice’ (Chapman 2000, 53).
Regarding the interpretive perspective, these
archaeological materials must be sharply differentiated
during their analysis.
According to some opinions in the literature, objects
discovered within the fill of funerary pits represent the
result of certain ritual practices related to the participants
at the ceremonial burial (King 2004). However, we should
not ignore other explanations. For example, the presence
of these parts may be due to various post-depositional
occurrences. This interpretive hypothesis may include the
snail shells belonging to Helix pomatia (graves 15 and
24) and Cepaea vindobonensis (graves 17, 21, 22 and 49),
their presence in graves being accidental, unrelated to the
funerary context.
On the other hand, the shells of freshwater mussels (Unio
sp.), rocks, ceramic fragments, pieces of flint, etc., based
on the data recorded in the field,
5
could not accidentally
get into the graves. In these circumstances, we can accept,
at least hypothetically, the theory that these archaeological
materials reflect some symbolic gestures of the participants
at the burial ceremony.
Discussion
Most of the graves in the Sultana Malu Roşu cemetery
are devoid of grave goods. Only 18 graves contain grave
goods and another five graves contain funerary offerings
(Figure 8).
We can add the 30 graves containing grave inclusions
(Figure 9), but they cannot be safely considered to have
a connection with the respective funerary contexts, which
is why we will not consider them in the interpretive
discussions.
This situation seems to indicate that, in quantitative terms,
the cemetery is not very rich in inventory objects. It seems
5
We highlight again that the archaeological materials found in animal
burrows were not included in our analysis. All the discussed materials
were found in the pits of the graves, particularly in their fill, but without
a direct link with the bodies.
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tălin Lazăr and Mădălina Voicu: The distortion of archaeological realities through objects
to fit into the class of typical cemeteries for the Eneolithic
sequence in the Balkan area (e.g., Vărăști Grădiștea
Ulmilor, Vinica, etc.), but without being comparable to
some cemeteries which are considered to be very rich (e.g.
Varna I, Durankulak, Devnja) (Todorova-Simeonova 1971;
Ivanov 1978; 1988; 1989; 1991; Todorova 2002; Slavchev
2010). In our opinion this observation is not valid because
most of these extremely rich cemeteries have not been fully
investigated (Lazăr 2011). This situation creates a first false
criterion for discrimination between various Eneolithic
cemeteries, which actually distorts the past reality. The fact
that none of the Balkan Eneolithic cemeteries have been
fully excavated means that we cannot be certain that they
do not also contain very rich graves, as is the case at, for
example, Varna I, Durankulak, and Devnja cemeteries. On
the other hand, even in the cases of these very rich cemeteries
(at least for Varna I and Durankulak), the proportion of very
rich graves is not very high in terms of the total number of
investigated graves.
Grave
no�
Grave intrusion type
Potsherd
Spondylus
shell bead
Flint
Animal
bone
Indet� burnt
bone
Fresh water shell Snail Burnt adobe Rocks
4
10
12
13
15
16
17
19
20
21
22
23
24
27
28
29
31
32
33
34
36
37
40
44
46
47
50
52
54
56


 = 67).

 = 67).
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Homines, Funera, Astra 2: Life beyond Death in Ancient Times
Returning to the grave goods from Sultana Malu Roșu
cemetery, typologically the objects are not particularly
varied. (Figure 10). Their distribution within the graves is
also not spectacular, as no grave contains a large quantity
of grave goods (Figure 11).
A possible interpretation of this small number of goods
found in a few graves may be, as Lewis Binford suggested,
that if we consider that a small group size and a general
lack of interaction with nearby groups is the normal
pattern, than the abundance of status symbols should be
low and, as the group enlarges or the interactions spread,
than the use of prestigious objects is needed more (Binford
1962, 222).
Instead, in terms of the quality of funeral goods, the
situation differs. Grave goods made of exotic raw
materials were often discovered (Spondylus and Dentalium
shells, marble, malachite, etc.), a fact which changes the
interpretive perspective.
Thus, from an economic perspective, this situation leads to
the assumption that the quality of grave goods can indicate
the economic potential of the deceased and/or of his/her
family (O’Shea 1981; King 2004), but also the existence
of some exchange networks linking the Balkans to the
Western Pontic area and the Aegean zone (Slavchev 2010;
Chapman 2013).
This economic perspective may be false in large measure,
because, generally speaking, archaeologists tend to refer
only to preserved funeral goods, made from imperishable
raw materials. However, we should not forget that the
graves with apparently no inventory could have once held
objects made of perishable raw materials (e.g., wood,
leather, coat, vegetal fiber, etc.), which radically changes
the interpretation.
On the other hand, aspects of social, collective or
individual identities are expressed in funeral contexts with
the help of sets of symbols whose complete understanding
is not possible, as for most of the time their significance
is only presumed (Chicideanu 2003, 75). The relationship
between grave goods, the treatment of the body, and the
social status of an individual was taken as axiomatic by
many archaeologists. Archaeological artefacts are always
abundant in meanings, and that is why, when associated
with a skeleton, they become an important provider
of data related to the individual with whom they were
buried. Therefore, the quantity and quality of preserved
grave goods may be proportional to the social status of
the individual within the community. Unfortunately, in our
case, considering the current stage of the excavation and
the number of graves researched so far, we are not able
to answer the provocative question about the existence
of a social ranking within the communities who used the
cemetery at Sultana – Malu Roşu.
Also, cemeteries often appear to offer a great chance for
the exploration of gender issues, either if it is perceived
as connected to the sex of the individuals or not (Hodder
and Hutson 2003, 106-124). So far, in the Sultana Malu
Roșu cemetery this distinction can be identified only in a
few cases. Thus, lithic artefacts are present exclusively
in graves of male individuals, while ceramic vessels are
found only in graves of female individuals and children.
This situation may indicate the status of individuals based
on the perspective of gender differences. Another category
of artefacts, adornments, but also funerary offerings,
seem to be common for male, female and child graves, a
fact which does not support distinctions based on gender.
This observation supports the questions formulated about
those theories that postulate an exclusive association of
ornaments and jewelry with female individuals (Ucko 1969,
265; Shanks and Tilley 1987, 103-106; Chapman 2003,
146-187).
In terms of the relationship between age categories and
grave goods, there are some elements that argue for a
differentiation between adults and sub-adults. Thus, both
from quantitative and qualitative perspectives, grave goods
were frequently found in adult graves and rarely in sub-
adults graves. This may indicate the existence of some

 = 18).

 = 18).
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tălin Lazăr and Mădălina Voicu: The distortion of archaeological realities through objects
horizontal differentiation within the communities that used
the Sultana – Malu Roșu cemetery.
According to this algorithm, the adult individuals received
greater attention from those who were alive compared to
children. The sub-adult individuals probably occupied
a less significant position within the society (Binford
1972, 232). This situation may be a result of the fact that
adult individuals were productive members within the
group, and their death represents a loss for the community
(Brown 1981, 28). Children did not take part in the
economic activities of the society, being more connected
to the family and less to the entire community. Perhaps
that is why the reaction triggered by their death was of
low-intensity, affecting probably only the family and not
the community as a whole (Saxe 1970; Brown 1981; Fox
1996).
Beyond these discussions, the meaning of the grave
goods from Sultana Malu Roșu cemetery must not be
reduced to simple possessions of the deceased, which
reflect the wealth, social status and/or the position within
the community. No doubt, some of them reflect these
aspects, but they can also have other meanings. The grave
goods may have some specific connotations (economic,
social, spiritual, religious, symbolic, emotional-affective)
determined by those left alive (relatives, participants at the
funeral ceremony, religious leaders, etc.) (Lazăr 2008).
They play a leading role in the determination, selection
and assignment of objects designed to accompany the
deceased (Gamble, Walker and Russell 2001, 198). The
full understanding of these connotations is not always
possible, most of the time their significance being only
supposed.
At the same time, the process of choosing the objects
placed near the deceased includes multiple determinants
(Lazăr 2008):
community traditions, religious beliefs,
eschatological concepts, funeral customs,
superstitions, social rules;
certain events/circumstances - death due to
accidents, natural disasters, conflicts, epidemics;
the deceased person: biological characteristics
(gender, age, disease or disabilities), social position
(wealth, status, rank), personal (civil status,
descent) and professional attributes (occupation,
skills);
those left alive: respect, regret, fear, grief, the
degree of kinship between them and the deceased,
the interaction of the deceased with other members
of the community during lifetime, various ‘legacies’
left for relatives or other individuals within the
group.
All these elements can affect to a greater or lesser degree
the choice of funerary goods, and an awareness of them is
necessary when we analyze the significance of funerary
objects.
Conclusion
In this paper, starting from the case of the Sultana – Malu
Roșu cemetery, we tried to show that the objects placed
in the graves are extremely helpful in reconstructing past
social systems or other types of identities (economical,
cultural, ethnic, racial, etc.).
We also tried to show that not all the objects found
within the graves are connected to the funerary context.
In addition to this observation, we tried to underline the
emergence of a false discrimination criterion created by
archaeologists in terms of inventory objects and funerary
significance.
Generally, the interpretation of prehistoric archaeological
discoveries must be done carefully because complementary
sources of information are missing and, on the other
hand, the archaeological excavation most often offers
only fragments of data, like the pieces of a puzzle. In
these circumstances, not infrequently the archaeologist’s
imagination is becoming a very precious tool, which
leads sometimes to errors, speculations and exaggerated
theories. Therefore, we must have in mind that excavation
gives us only fragments of the realities of the past and they
most often are incomplete. The data presented in this paper
are particularly valuable in this regard.
Beyond these discussions, the problem of the grave goods
is a delicate topic as shown by Mike Parker Pearson:
‘the study of variations in grave good provision is thus a
difficult jigsaw puzzle with many pieces missing’ (Parker
Pearson 1999, 11). Identifying all these aspects and issues
is very difficult in the current stage of research of the
Sultana Malu Roșu cemetery, but we hope that in the
future, based on the data offered by new discoveries, to
solve more of this riddle represented by grave goods.
Acknowledgements
We thank Ciprian Astaloș (University College London) for
improving the English translation of this paper.
This work was supported by a grant of the Romanian
National Authority for Scientific Research, CNCS
UEFISCDI, project number PN-II-ID-PCE-2011-3-1015.
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Mortuary practices have been studied by archaeologists from different and sometimes conflicting points of view. This article is a critical review of the dominant approaches to the study of mortuary practices in archaeology. A different approach, based on historical materialism, is presented in this paper.
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This chapter focuses on the mortuary practices and the study of prehistoric social systems. The study of mortuary practices reflects social phenomena. To evaluate the usefulness of mortuary data for social modeling, two criteria are important. These are the range of social information that can be derived from mortuary remains, and the reliability of burial data as indicators of social phenomena. One of the basic problems in the study of prehistoric societies has been the development of scales on which archaeological societies can be placed for comparative purposes. The scales most frequently used are derived from ethnology. These scales aspire to an ordinal level of measurement, in that a societal typology is developed, in which, kinds of societies are ranked according to increasing degrees of structural complexity and increasing numbers of mechanisms for organizing populations. The use of evolutionary typologies as analogues for archaeological societies has dominated mortuary studies. The chapter presents the examples that illustrate the types of conclusions usually derived when evolutionary typologies are employed. The ethnologists who have developed evolutionary typologies have largely conceptualized social variables as dichotomous, and have utilized such dichotomies as the basis for abstracting societal types.