Beyond the Formal Analysis of Funerary Practices?

Archaeothanatology as a reflexive tool for considering the role of the dead amongst the living. A Natufian case study

Authored by: Fanny Bocquentin , Christopher J. Knüsel

The Routledge Handbook of Archaeothanatology

Print publication date:  April  2022
Online publication date:  April  2022

Print ISBN: 9781138492424
eBook ISBN: 9781351030625
Adobe ISBN:


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The term ‘archaeothanatology’ has many accepted meanings (cf. Knüsel and Schotsmans, Introduction, this volume; Knüsel, Gerdau-Radonić and Schotsmans, Chapter 34, this volume). In this chapter, the word is employed in a restrictive manner with respect to that proposed by the originators of the term (Boulestin and Duday, 2005), who intended it to mean the archaeology of death in all its dimensions, similar to Thomas (1975) who considered ‘anthropothanatology’ as the disciplinary study of death in all its dimensions. Here, it is used to indicate an excavation protocol for the contextualised study of unearthed human remains. The reading of taphonomic processes acts as an intellectual time machine that reveals the archaeological remains in their initial state, just after deposition. The reconstruction of the funerary space, of the original space occupied by the corpse, and of ephemeral elements that did not preserve, permits insight into appearance of the original deposit, including disposition of the inhumed individual, the potential wrappings of the corpse and of burial containers. A typology of funerary treatments that aids in the identification of archaeological cultures can thus be defined. The synthesis of these treatments with biological data from the skeletal remains permits insights into the structuring principles of past societies.

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