Mortuary studies in archaeology are dominated by analyses of either individual graves or complete cemeteries. While the former approach is empirically overloaded, the latter relies upon an ahistorical moment which no-one in the past could have shared – a bird’s-eye view of the total cemetery. This innovative study takes the grave line as the unit of analysis, working through the tensions between structure, as defined by prior burials in the line, and agency, the choice of the form of the current burial in contrast with that of the previous burial. The study uses a form of categorical analysis termed “dynamic nominalism” which seeks to overcome the opposition between structure and agency which is a key weakness in modern theories of agency.
In this way, the author moves closer to the perspective of the mourners at the graveside to gain a more human perspective on mortuary practices.“Tensions at Funerals” follows the mortuary practices of three Eastern Hungarian communities – the intra-mural burials at Late Neolithic Kisköre-Damm, the Earlier Copper Age cemetery of Tiszapolgár-Basatanya and the Later Copper Age cemetery of Budakalász. Each grave line is taken to define a different micro-tradition with its “local” rules, which can differ drastically from the “global” rules discovered from total cemetery analysis. This method allows the recognition and interpretation of dynamic contrasts within and between lines, providing a new understanding of each mortuary grouping. Micro-tradition analysis offers a unique way of assessing the contributions of different elements of identity– zonal identity, group identity, age and/or sexual identity and individual identity – to each grave line and, ultimately, to the whole cemetery. The inter-disciplinary perspective relies on insights from archaeology, anthropology and material culture studies to offer an original view of mortuary studies. This ground-breaking study will be of interest to archaeology undergraduates, postgraduates and researchers, as well as to researchers in social anthropology, material culture studies and mortuary studies.
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