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Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Burying the emotions

It is a source of wonder how long humanity has been burying its dead. The oldest undisputed burials are in the Qafzeh and Skhul caves in Israel, between 90,000-120,000 years ago.

What happened that we needed to bury our loved ones, where once we had let them be once they had died? (i don't think I'd go back to bodies in the street he hastens to add). Was this a change in environmental circumstances or a change in our nature, or both? What is interesting is that clearly the practice spread across different geographic environments which suggests something beyond environmental pressure. This certainly seems the case when one discovers early grave sites with embellishments like medicinal herbs.

There is one place which i find particularly impressive, that of the 28,000 year old site at Sungir in Russia. There were three bodies, according to the archaeologist Randall White, a 60 year old man, a small boy and a girl. Their bodies were wearing thousands of beads, which would have take several years to have made. This suggests more than just decoration given the time taken to produce such things. Is there already social stratification going on? There may be well religious significance to the beads, the corpses and their graves. Which makes one ask where religion came from and what did it involve?

What, though, has all this to do with a history of emotions? Such massive shifts in consciousness in burial and in the astonishing beadwork of Sungir suggest great emotional depth at work to drive a person or community to such actions. The grief in death, the reverence, fear and awe are hinted at in the Sungir burials.

And was there envy in a society that could produce such complicated ornamentation as the beads? Surely there wasn't enough beads to go round all? What drove a community to display so many beads on some of the corpses but not all?

Our earliest ancestors were maybe not so different and even in death we are not always so equal.

1 comment:

Linda S. Socha said...

I like this reflective post and the suggestions of questions th think about. NICE post.