Deviant Burial Practices Within The Field Of Archaeology Essay

Deviant Burial Practices Within The Field Of Archaeology Essay

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Death is inescapable for all living beings. It is the one commonality all cultures share. It is an equalizer in a world of diversity. Although death itself is absolute, the practices which surround death are varied and complex from culture to culture and individual to individual. As Mike Parker Pearson elaborates:

In the face of the universal fact of death, attitudes to the corpse are various and changeable. These attitudes are formed through the practices of treatment of the dead and are embodied in various ways (Parker Pearson 1999, p. 45).

Archaeologists, however, have the tendency to categorize burial practices as either normal or deviant. This categorization can be misleading as it implies there is a right or wrong way to bury the dead. Therefore, this paper will explore the facets of deviant burial and how it has been handled in the field of archaeology.

1.1 Background

First, it is important to define the term deviant burial. Deviant burials are any burials that "have been accorded different treatment in burial relative to other members of their society," (Murphy 2008, p. xii). These unusual burial practices can go by many names such as deviant, unusual, atypical, non-normative, apotropaic, anomalous, etc. (Murphy 2008; Müldner et al. 2011; Gregoricka et al. 2014; Perego 2014; Saracino et al. 2014; Hunter-Man 2015). For simplification purposes, the word deviant will be used from now on to encompass the variety of terms which describe the same phenomenon of unusual burial practices.

Although, according to the previous definition, any burial which is different could be classified as deviant, there is a tendency where only burials that meet a certain, but unofficial, criteria are labeled as deviant. See Table 1 for a lis...


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...orded them may have been due to a cholera epidemic (Gregoricka et al. 2014).

As previously discussed, it is important to gain insight from other perspectives when studying deviant burials. Therefore, I will use several different viewpoints from various disciplines to analyze these case studies. Not only will I examine it from an archaeological perspective, but also from an anthropological perspective. I will also integrate more material based approaches, such as osteology, with more abstract approaches, such as ritual and symbolism. Using this multiple perspective approach, I will analyze the case studies to determine if there are any common patterns among deviant burials. From there I hope to start a theoretical discussion on the aspects that have helped to shape the archaeological concept of deviant burial and to better understand deviant burial in its entirety.

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