“Transforming the Dead” seminar Tuesday 5.10pm

Columbia Center for Archaeology Seminar

Tuesday March 10, 5.10pm. 951 Schermerhorn Ext.


Transforming the Dead: Exploring Cosmology in Mesolithic burials

Prof. Liv Nilsson Stutz (Emory University)

The Mesolithic burials around the Baltic Sea are material traces of practices that constituted a prehistoric hunter gatherer word. Previous work combined archaeothanatological analysis with ritual theory. This allowed for a visualization of those past practices–and of the lived experience of the people who buried their dead in these large cemeteries. Patterns of repetition and variation in handling the dead suggested proposals about attitudes to the self, body and identity, and the reproduction of “good death.” In this paper, I build on this previous work, presenting interpretations that draw from current debates about Mesolithic cosmology, involving concepts such as animism and totemism.

Special attention will be focused on the role of bones—both those inside the graves and those removed from the graves (and sometimes extracted purposefully through cremation or other treatment of the dead body)—sometimes to be circulated or manipulated by the living, and sometimes to be deposited to accompany the dead.

One line of inquiry is the presence of animal bones in the burials. They raise interesting questions about symbolic and inter-species relationships. Another focus is placed on the transformation of the human body after death, considering the variation of post mortem transformation at different sites (ranging from a focus on the preservation of the integrity of the human body, to the focus on place of burial, and from what appears to be life like arrangements of the dead to explicit transformation of the body before burial), revealing different cultural concerns in different areas across the Baltic region.


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