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Burial is a uniquely human behavior and can be observed in the Paleolithic archaeological record. This record allows the tracing of a worldwide evolutionary trajectory from simple caching to increasingly complex and elaborate practices. Ethnographic analogies as well as contextual and taphonomic analyses suggest that what motivated burial was first and foremost emotional and spiritual bonds between living and dead members of hunter‐gatherers groups. Through time, with the change of human economic and social foundations, burials also attained significance as markers of land use and ownership and as expressions of ritual and group memory.
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Burials, Paleolithic
Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel
Burial is a uniquely human behavior. Among the mortuary behaviors of extant soci-
eties, burial constitutes one of many practices concerning the treatment of the dead.
Examples are curation (the carrying around of the dead either of the entire corpse or
of a preserved part); diverse forms of interest in the dead body (e.g., dismembering,
cannibalism, veneration of parts); “abandonment” on the landscape; funerary caching;
and other practices, including variously complex forms of inhumation (formal burial)
(Pettitt 2011, 8–10). e interest of archaeologists specically in burial is a default of the
archaeological record due to the higher likelihood of the preservation of physical evi-
dence when burial has taken place. In the case of mortuary practices, the commonalities
of observable behaviors in cross-cultural ethnographic studies allow anthropologists to
draw analogies between the present and the past. Such inferences are evaluated through
taphonomic studies and contextual analyses of the human fossils. Necessary criteria for
identifying burials include completeness of skeletal remains found within horizons of
human occupation, elimination of natural processes of interment, stratigraphic indica-
ical evidence for treatment of the corpse (Belfer-Cohen and Hovers 1992; Gargett 1999).
Typically, arguments for intentional Paleolithic burials need to be based on a consilience
of several lines of evidence. As an outcome of this epistemological approach, identi-
cations of Paleolithic burials are necessarily carried out on a case-by-case basis rather
than being generated from top-down overarching theory and ensuing hypotheses.
Identication of skeletal remains as intentional burials has in the past been
confounded by views on the cognitive and cultural evolutionary connotations of
this behavior, which was attributed exclusively to modern humans. By default, this
precluded potential instances of such behavior prior to the appearance of Homo
sapiens (Belfer-Cohen and Hovers 1992). Research since the 1990s has undermined
such worldviews by documenting the behavioral variability, exibility, and resilience
of other hominin species. Despite the assumptions linking intentional burials with
behavioral modernity, mostly based on data from the European Upper Paleolithic,
there are no burials associated with the earliest appearance of modern Homo sapiens
therein (Riel-Salvatore and Clark 2001), thus refuting such claims. Additionally, while
it has no direct bearing on the issue, paleogenetic evidence, suggesting a lack of a
reproductive barrier between Homo sapiens and other Upper Pleistocene hominin
taxa, may have contributed to the change of attitude toward burials by hominins other
than Homo sapiens.
e International Encyclopedia of Anthropology.EditedbyHilaryCallan.
© 2018 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Published 2018 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
DOI: 10.1002/9781118924396.wbiea2010
A chronological overview of Paleolithic burials
Since not all prehistoric human skeletal remains qualify as inhumations, archaeolo-
gists are justiably conservative in attributing the status of burial to Paleolithic skeletal
the early appearance of mortuary behavior, they are not inhumations. Rather, they may
indicate other mortuary practices, such as cumulative caching (as, e.g., can be seen at
Sima de los Huesos, Spain). e large number of fossils recovered from the Dinaledi
Chamber of the Rising Star cave system in South Africa has also been argued to rep-
resent caching of the dead. Although the fossils’ morphology is arguably primitive,
the nds have been dated to the later Middle Pleistocene (see Berger et al. 2017 for
a summary of Dinaledi nds).
Other forms of early mortuary behavior consist of postmortem anthropogenic
modications of the corpse (Bodo, Ethiopia; Arago, southern France) (Hovers and
Belfer-Cohen 2013; Pettitt 2011). ere are also claims for very early instances of
cannibalism in the Plio-Pleistocene (Sterkfontein, South Africa) and the early Middle
Pleistocene (Gran Dolina TD6, Spain).
Most authorities consider the period between 250,000 and 50,000 years ago to be
the time frame when the rst burials occurred—that is, roughly coinciding with the
Middle Paleolithic (MP) period in Eurasia. Skeletal remains of this time span in Africa
(the Middle Stone Age) are attributed to variable forms of Homo sapiens.Withone
exception (Border Cave 3), these ndings cannot be considered as burials according to
the criteria discussed in the literature (see previous section), yet nonutilitarian post-
mortem modications have been recognized. One of the crania from Herto (Ethiopia,
ca. 160,000 years ago) bears bone-surface modications unlikely to result from nutri-
tional cannibalism. Another skull shows deeshing marks as well as polishing (Hovers
and Belfer-Cohen 2013, and references therein). In Europe, MP burials are associated
with Neanderthals, while in Western Asia they pertain to both anatomically modern
humans (ca. 120,000–100,000 years ago: Qafzeh and Skhul Caves, Israel) and to Nean-
derthals (ca. 80,000–55,000 years ago; Amud, Tabun, and Kebara Caves, Israel; Ded-
eriyeh Cave, Syria; Shanidar Cave, Iraq). Mortuary behaviors show regional variations.
Among the MP Neanderthals in Europe, corpse modication and/or cannibalism have
been documented (at the sites of El Sidron, Spain; Krapina, Croatia; and Moula-Guercy,
Post-MP intentional burials are all associated with Homo sapiens.eearliestknown
modern human burials are reported from the Lake Mungo site (Australia), in a shallow
pit (as well as cremated remains of another individual), dated to around 40,000 years
late Aurignacian remains (Mladeˇ
c Caves, Czech Republic, ca. 31,000 years ago). e
burials of Cro-Magnon, considered synonymous with “modern humans,” are somewhat
later, at around 28,000 years ago (Cro-Magnon rockshelter, France). It is of interest to
note a putative “hybrid” (of Neanderthal and modern human) burial at Abrigo do Lagar
Velho, Portugal, dated to around 25,000 years ago.
In Western Asia there seems to be a break in the burial record. Human remains
in archaeological sites are scarce, and the practice of burial appears to reemerge in
the Late/Final UP (Nahal Ein Gev I and Ohalo II, Israel, ca. 24,000 years ago). ese
are followed by several instances of burial in the Early and Middle Epipaleolithic
(ca. 20,000–15,000 years ago; e.g., Ein Gev I and Neve David, Israel; Ain Qassiya,
’Uyyun al-Hammam, and Wadi Mataha, Jordan; Moghr al-Awal, Lebanon). e Late
Epipaleolithic period (ca. 15,000–12,000 years ago) provides the richest evidence for
Paleolithic burials, both in sheer numbers as well as in the variety and complexity of
funerary practices (as in the Natuan culture, discussed in the next section).
In North Africa, the Nazlet Khater (Egypt) burial is dated to 35,000–30,000 years
(Morocco), dated to around 25,000 and 16,000 years ago, respectively. A large number
of burials are known from the Iberomaurusian culture (ca. 20,000–12,000 years ago;
e.g., Taforalt, Morocco). In eastern and southern Africa, known Later Stone Age burials
are of a Holocene age.
Characteristics of Paleolithic burials
the earliest inhumations consist of the interment of a single body without standardized
is unique. In contrast, the number of multiple primary burials increases in time from
the UP onward (e.g., the triple burial at Dolní Vˇ
estonice, Moravia, ca. 25,000 years ago;
the double burial at Sunghir, Russia, ca. 28,000–26,000 years ago; and the later double
burial at Romito cave, Italy, ca. 10,000 years ago).
A number of the MP and UP sites contain several burials each, within distinct strati-
graphic horizons, located at small distances from one another. Given the resolution of
dating and the time spans involved, it is dicult if not impossible to argue for real-life
contemporaneity, or that special areas of sites were designated for the disposal of the
burials were spatially clustered. Although the term “cemetery” has been used in relation
to MP sites such as the Skhul and Qafzeh Caves, a parsimonious explanation of discrete
and unrelated burials may be more appropriate.
It seems that real cemeteries (i.e., locations within habitation sites designated for con-
tinuous use as burial grounds as well as exclusive burial sites) appear quite late in the
Paleolithic record, either in the Late Epipaleolithic in Western Asia and North Africa or
in the European Mesolithic. e number of buried individuals in such sites rises dra-
matically compared with the MP and UP records, in some cases representing hundreds
of individuals (e.g., the Iberomaurusian and Capsian in the Maghreb, the Natuan in
the Levant, and the Lepenski Vir culture in Central Europe). rough time there is also
the appearance of secondary burials, either on their own or added to primary burials,
involving the reopening of previous graves (e.g., the Natuan burials at Hayonim Cave,
as grave markers (e.g., Nahal Oren Terrace, Israel).
In the earliest (MP) burials, there are only a few instances of associated ndings
Figure 1 e Amud 7 infant, Amud Cave, Israel. Middle Paleolithic (ca. 55,000 years ago). e
skeleton was lying on bedrock near the cave wall (in the background). e skull and mandible
with teeth germs are preserved (though the former is collapsed); one clavicle bone and the ver-
tebrae can be seen. Note the maxilla of the red deer lying on the small fragment of the pelvis (far
right). e large stone artifact lying near the skull is a burin, the deposition of which is probably
unrelated to the burial itself.
remains—bones and antlers—similar to those found as dietary residues) that are asso-
ciated spatially with burials. ey occur as complete specimens, unlike the typically
or as exceptionally rare anatomical elements (e.g., the deer antlers atop Qafzeh 11). Over
nize archaeologically. ey are present in the burials as personal jewelry made of shells,
stone, bone, and teeth; decorated garments and headgear; bone tools, bone spears, and
polished stone pebbles; and so on (e.g., Sunghir, Russia, and Predmost, Czech Repub-
lic, both dated to ca. 26,000–24,000 years ago; Dolní Vˇ
estonice, Czech Republic, and
Krems, Austria, both dated to ca. 27,000–26,000 years ago; Arene Candide Cave, Italy,
ca. 23,000 years ago; La Madeleine, France, ca. 10,000 years ago).
At the same time, there is evidence for increased, more elaborate investment in
grave architecture. Graves were dug to create pits, sometimes lined with stone slabs
and plaster, and the burials were either laid upon or covered with stone slabs, mostly
plain but sometimes painted or engraved (e.g., Riparo Tagliente, Italy, ca. 13,000 years
ago). Grave markers are also recognized, whether as monoliths, stone cairns, or even
breached deep stone mortars (e.g., Dar es Sultan, Morocco; Riparo di Villabruna, Italy;
and Riparo Tagliente, Italy, all dated to ca. 13,000–12,000 years ago; Natuan Nahal
Oren and Raqefet Cave, Israel, 14,000–12,000 years ago). On occasion, bodies were
smeared or decorated with red ochre (notable examples are from Paviland, England,
ca. 28,000 years ago; Sunghir, Russia, 28,000–26,000 years ago; and Dolní Vˇ
Czech Republic, 26,000–24,000 years ago).
The possible meaning(s) of Paleolithic burials
e concept of purposeful treatment of the bodies of dead conspecics may have been
ingrained in the behavioral repertoire of Middle Pleistocene human ancestors. An alter-
native evolutionary scenario suggests that the emergence of burial occurred indepen-
dently in Eurasia and in Africa as unrelated processes of convergent evolution. It can
also be explained as a slow diusion of social practices. Possibly all of the above played
a role in modifying and shaping burial practices throughout the Paleolithic. A feasible
scenario for how this happened links the repeated caching of dead bodies during the
Middle Pleistocene (as observed, for example, at Sima de los Huesos, Spain) with the
evolution of a derived behavior of individual burials.
Demonstrating the occurrence of intentional burials hinges on archaeology; inter-
preting their cultural, social, or cognitive signicance is a separate issue. Empathy is a
characteristic of many species in the animal world, including primates. e evolving
cognitive abilities of Homo enabled humans to express their empathy in unique ways.
us the physical remains of dead group members were taken care of (buried) aer the
event of death, transferring empathy for living individuals to dead ones. Accordingly,
burial by itself does not necessarily bear symbolic meaning (Hovers and Belfer-Cohen
2013; Pettitt 2011).
Indeed, the ethnographic data provide ample evidence of emotional and spiritual
bonds between living and dead group members, evidenced through treatment of
the corpse. Of interest is that there are no examples of burial practices originating
from sanitary concerns, contrary to such suggestions raised in connection with early
Paleolithic burials.
Still, Paleolithic burials are considered tohavesymbolicaspectsbasedontheirasso-
ciation with other nds within the sites in which they are found and in the context of
the sites themselves, as best illustrated by post-MP record.
“Grave goods” may be of a symbolic nature on various levels, extending from a tribute
to the buried individual to honoring the social or ritual status of the deceased (e.g., war-
riors, shamans; Figure 2) to exhibiting the wealth and social standing of the ones who
perform the burial (whether individuals or a community). e same is true as regards
that the growing investment in graves and funerary gis became a form of costly sig-
naling and reects the emergence of structured rituals. However, the archaeological
Figure 2 ApartialviewoftheshamanburialatHilazonTachtitCave,Israel,fromtheNatuan
culture (12,000 years ago). Note the unique items associated with the human remains: articu-
lated forearm (radius and ulna) of a wild boar directly aligned with the woman’s le humerus,
bone tool, tortoise carapaces, and the small pebble abrader resting on the woman’s pelvis. See
Grosman et al. (2008) for an artist’s rendition.
Source: Reproduced with permission from Leore Grosman. Photo: Naali Hilger. © Leore
evidence is meager and circumstantial. Perhaps the most convincing archaeological
indications for funerary rituals is the evidence for “feasting,” occurring in association
with graves in the Natuan and Neolithic in the Near East.
Caching and interment of the dead seem to have been associated throughout time
practice of repeated burials may have been related to the need for some expression of a
group–land association or territorial claim, given that territoriality is a social as well as
an ecological phenomenon. Burial and territoriality are linked in many ethnographic
reports (e.g., among the San in Southern Africa and among Australian Aborigines).
Such interpretations accord with the fact that the increased degree of sedentism seems
to have emerged in tandem with cemeteries and with the practice of secondary burial.
It seems that bringing complete or partial corpses for reburial signies the evolving role
of sites on the landscape vis-à-vis group territoriality and claims of ownership, demon-
strating yet another aspect of burial practices.
SEE ALSO: Archaeological Approaches in Anthropology; Dating, Archaeological;
Death and Burial; Empathy, Evolution of; Material Culture; Modernity, Behavioral;
Symbolic Culture, Origins of
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an Burials in the Levant.” Current Anthropology 33 (4): 463–71.
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Homo naledi and Pleistocene Hominin Evolution in Subequatorial Africa.” eLIFE.doi:
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Deeur, Alban. 1993. Les sépultures mousteriénnes [e Mousterian Burials]. Paris: CNRS Edi-
Gargett, Robert H. 1999. “Middle Paleolithic Burial Is Not a Dead Issue: e View from Qafzeh,
Saint-Césaire, Kebara, Amud and Dederiyeh.” Journal of Human Evolution 37: 27–90.
Goring-Morris, A. Nigel, and Anna Belfer-Cohen. 2013. “Dierent Strokes for Dierent Folks:
Near Eastern Neolithic Mortuary Practices in Perspective.” In Religion at Work in a Neolithic
Society: Vital Matters, edited by Ian Hodder, 35–57. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Grosman, Leore, Natalie D. Munro, and Belfer-Cohen, A. 2008. “A 12,000-Year-Old Shaman
Burial from the Southern Levant (Israel).” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
USA 105 (46): 17665–69.
Hitchcock, Robert K., and Laurence E. Bartram. 1998. “Social Boundaries, Technical Systems,
edited by Miriam T. Stark, 12–49. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.
Hovers, Erella, and Anna Belfer-Cohen. 2013. “Insights into Early Mortuary Practices of Homo.”
In e Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of Death and Burial, edited by Sarah Tarlow and
Liv Nilsson-Stutz, 631–42. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Pettitt, Paul. 2011. e Palaeolithic Origins of Human Burial. London: Routledge.
Riel-Salvatore, Julien, and Georey A. Clark. 2001. “Grave Markers: Middle and Early Upper
Paleolithic Burials and the Use of Chronotypology in Contemporary Paleolithic Research.”
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The practice of burying objects with the dead is often claimed as some of the earliest evidence for religion, on the assumption that such "grave goods" were intended for the decedents' use in the afterlife. However, this assumption is largely speculative, as the underlying motivations for grave-good practices across time and place remain little understood. In the present work, we asked if explicit and implicit religious beliefs (particularly those concerning the continuity of personal consciousness after death) motivate contemporary grave-good practices. Across three studies, and comparing participants from the United States and NZ, we measured grave-good deposition at actual or hypothetical funerals , finding that jewelry, photographs, and other items with sentimental, emotional, and relationship value were common. In addition, intuitive afterlife reasoning (as measured by people's attributions of mental states to the dead) motivated grave-good decision-making for about half (Study 2) or more (Study 3) people, including afterlife nonbelievers ("extinctivists"), while those who held explicit (i.e., stated) afterlife beliefs were more likely to participate in the practice. The decision to leave grave goods was also associated with magical contagion beliefs and a need for personal comfort, while other motivations, such as social signaling, were less common. Our results suggest that "afterlife use" is a common motivation for grave-good practices, and that humans possess evolutionarily early intuitions about postdeath consciousness.
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Mortuary behavior (activities concerning dead conspecifics) is one of many traits that were previously widely considered to have been uniquely human, but on which perspectives have changed markedly in recent years. Theoretical approaches to hominin mortuary activity and its evolution have undergone major revision, and advances in diverse archeological and paleoanthropological methods have brought new ways of identifying behaviors such as intentional burial. Despite these advances, debates concerning the nature of hominin mortuary activity, particularly among the Neanderthals, rely heavily on the rereading of old excavations as new finds are relatively rare, limiting the extent to which such debates can benefit from advances in the field. The recent discovery of in situ articulated Neanderthal remains at Shanidar Cave offers a rare opportunity to take full advantage of these methodological and theoretical developments to understand Neanderthal mortuary activity, making a review of these advances relevant and timely.
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Introduction How can one begin to address the questions pertinent to the ongoing discussion on religion, property, and power at early Neolithic Çatalhöyük? It seems that a productive avenue is to stand back and consider how Çatalhöyük integrates within the broader perspective of Southwest Asian (Near Eastern) Neolithization processes. Nevertheless, such an effort with regard to every aspect of human existence is a mighty endeavor, and certainly well beyond the scope of a single article, not to mention the humble competence of its authors. Given the special nature and prominence of burials at Çatalhöyük, we have chosen to focus specifically on that aspect of community behavior. We shall provide a background based on data from earlier periods within the broader region of Southwest Asia (the Near East), and most especially the southern Levant. Burial practices are generally considered to reflect aspects of the symbolic/spiritual worldview of the populations involved. It has often been suggested that with the advent of sedentism and the beginnings of agricultural production (plant and animal domestication) there were significant changes in social organization and cohesion. Yet from the very beginning of our essay, we can state that the description of burial practices from the Late Epipaleolithic Natufian (as well as the scarce earlier evidence) through the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) (and even Pre-Pottery Neolithic B [PPNB] and later) in the southern Levant indicates “business as usual,” in the sense that we can observe the same marked variability (of the same components more or less) continuing unchanged all through the period considered as revolutionary, encompassing changing paradigmatic worldviews. We shall attempt to relate to this issue of variability in the discussion following the presentation of the data.
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Comparison of mortuary data from the Middle and Early Upper Paleolithic archaeological record shows that, contrary to previous assessments, there is much evidence for continuity between the two periods. This suggests that if R. H. Gargett's critique of al-leged Middle Paleolithic burials is to be given credence, it should also be applied to the "burials" of the Early Upper Paleolithic. Evidence for continuity reinforces conclusions derived from lithic and faunal analyses and site locations that the Upper Pale-olithic as a reified category masks much variation in the archae-ological record and is therefore not an appropriate analytical tool. Dividing the Upper Paleolithic into Early and Late phases might be helpful for understanding the cultural and biological processes at work. j u l i e n r i e l -s a l v a t o r e is currently a graduate research fel-low at the Archaeological. He has conducted fieldwork in Spain and It-aly, and his research interests include the symbolic capacities of Eurasian Paleolithic hominids, lithic technology and classifica-tion, rock art, and research frameworks and traditions.. His recent publications deal with the logic of inference in modern-human-origins research (e.g., with John Lindly, "Modern Human Origins in the Levant and Western Asia," American Anthropologist 91: 962–85, and "Symbolism and Modern Human Origins," current anthropology 31:233–61) and applications of neo-Darwinian ev-olutionary theory in archaeology and human paleontology (e.g., with coeditor Mike Barton, Rediscovering Darwin [Washington, D.C.: American Anthropological Association, 1997]).
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The Natufians of the southern Levant (15,000–11,500 cal BP) underwent pronounced socioeconomic changes associated with the onset of sedentism and the shift from a foraging to farming lifestyle. Excavations at the 12,000-year-old Natufian cave site, Hilazon Tachtit (Israel), have revealed a grave that provides a rare opportunity to investigate the ideological shifts that must have accompanied these socioeconomic changes. The grave was constructed and specifically arranged for a petite, elderly, and disabled woman, who was accompanied by exceptional grave offerings. The grave goods comprised 50 complete tortoise shells and select body-parts of a wild boar, an eagle, a cow, a leopard, and two martens, as well as a complete human foot. The interment rituals and the method used to construct and seal the grave suggest that this is the burial of a shaman, one of the earliest known from the archaeological record. Several attributes of this burial later become central in the spiritual arena of human cultures worldwide. • Hilazon Tachtit Cave • Natufian • mortuary practices • origins of agriculture
The explanations of burial customs provided by previous anthropologists are examined at length together with the assumptions and data orientations that lay behind them. Both the assumptions and explanations are shown to be inadequate from the point of view of systems theory and from a detailed examination of the empirical record. A cross-cultural survey drawn from the Human Relations Area Files shows that associations do exist between measures of mortuary ritual variety and structural complexity. It was found that both the number and specific forms of the dimensions of the social persona commonly recognized in mortuary ritual vary significantly with the organizational complexity of the society as measured by different forms of subsistence practice. Moreover, the forms that differentiations in mortuary ritual take vary significantly with the dimensions of the social persona symbolized. Hence, much of contemporary archaeological conjecture and interpretation regarding processes of cultural change, cultural differentiation, and the presence of specific burial customs is inadequate as well as the ideational propositions and assumptions underlying these notions. Inferences about the presumed “relationships” compared directly from trait lists obtaining among archaeological manifestations are useless without knowledge of the organizational properties of the pertinent cultural systems.
Humans are unique in that they expend considerable effort and ingenuity in disposing of the dead. Some of the recognisable ways we do this are visible in the Palaeolithic archaeology of the Ice Age. The Palaeolithic Origins of Human Burial takes a novel approach to the long-term development of human mortuary activity - the various ways we deal with the dead and with dead bodies. It is the first comprehensive survey of Palaeolithic mortuary activity in the English language. Observations in the modern world as to how chimpanzees behave towards their dead allow us to identify 'core' areas of behaviour towards the dead that probably have very deep evolutionary antiquity. From that point, the palaeontological and archaeological records of the Pliocene and Pleistocene are surveyed. The core chapters of the book survey the mortuary activities of early hominins, archaic members of the genus Homo, early Homo sapiens, the Neanderthals, the Early and Mid Upper Palaeolithic, and the Late Upper Palaeolithic world. Burial is a striking component of Palaeolithic mortuary activity, although existing examples are odd and this probably does not reflect what modern societies believe burial to be, and modern ways of thinking of the dead probably arose only at the very end of the Pleistocene. When did symbolic aspects of mortuary ritual evolve? When did the dead themselves become symbols? In discussing such questions, The Palaeolithic Origins of Human Burial offers an engaging contribution to the debate on modern human origins. It is illustrated throughout, includes up-to-date examples from the Lower to Late Upper Palaeolithic, including information hitherto unpublished.
Inferences of purposeful Middle Palaeolithic (MP) burial are almost universally accepted, despite published arguments that the pre-1960s discoveries are equally well explained by natural processes. In the modern human origins debate (perhaps the most hotly disputed question in palaeoanthropology) inferences of MP burial are crucial in arguments for an early Upper Pleistocene emergence of modern humans. The present paper contributed to that debate by re-examining a number of post-1960s excavations of MP hominid remains. Because these were excavated with meticulous attention to depositional circumstances and stratigraphic context, most palaeoanthropologists consider these inferences of purposeful burial to be based on irrefutable evidence. This paper focuses on the reasoning behind such claims, especially the assumption that articulated sketetal material is prima facie evidence for deliberate burial. First it reviews a range of processes operating in caves and rockshelters that condition the probability of articulated skeletal material preserving without hominid intervention. Processes such as deposition, decomposition, and disturbance are inherently more variable in caves and rockshelters than is usually acknowledged. The first section concludes that purposeful protection is not necessary to account for the preservation of articulated skeletal remains. The second part of the paper examines the published record from Qafzeh, Saint-Césaire, Kebara, Amud and Dederiyeh, where the majority of the remains claimed to have been buried are fragmented, incomplete, and disarticulated. This re-examination suggests that in all of the post-1960s cases of putative burial, the hominid remains occur in special depositional circumstances, which by themselves are sufficient to account for the preservation in evidence at these sites. This conclusion severely weakens arguments for purposeful burial at the five sites. Moreover, the equivocal nature of the evidence in the more recent cases renders even less secure the similar claims made for discoveries of hominid skeletal remains at La Chapelle-aux-Saints, Le Mousterier, La Ferrassie, Teshik-Tash, La Grotte du Régourdou, Shanidar, and several others. Finally, by highlighting the equivocal nature of the evidence, this paper underscores the ongoing need for palaeoanthropologists to specify as wide a range of taphonomic processes as possible when interpreting the archaeological record. This will aid in producing robust inferences, and will bring about increasingly accurate knowledge of when hominids became human.
Social Boundaries, Technical Systems, and the Use of Space and Technology in the Kalahari
  • Robert K Hitchcock
  • Laurence E Bartram
Hitchcock, Robert K., and Laurence E. Bartram. 1998. "Social Boundaries, Technical Systems, and the Use of Space and Technology in the Kalahari." In The Archaeology of Social Boundaries, edited by Miriam T. Stark, 12-49. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.