Ancient ritual burial practices

The study of religious or heroic legends and tales. One constant rule of mythology is that whatever happens amongst the gods or other mythical beings was in one sense or another a reflection of events on earth. Recorded myths and legends, perhaps preserved in literature or folklore, have an immediate interest to archaeology in trying to unravel the nature and meaning of ancient events and traditions.

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Ishtar
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Ancient ritual burial practices

Post by Ishtar » Fri May 30, 2008 4:48 am

I’m starting this thread in response to the latest conclusions about Stonehenge being solely a ‘burial place for the elite’.

Stonehenge is dated to 3,000 BC, and what we know about burials at that time goes against the above conclusion.

How we bury our dead is a direct reflection of how we perceive our spiritual life. So the burying of our dead in a separate place - deemed to be consecrated and away from everyday life - is a comparatively modern phenomena in a lifestyle where religion is just kept for Sunday-best.

Ancient man did not have the same separation between material and spiritual life in his mental cosmogony.

We can see remnants of this behaviour today in our oldest tribes. The Barasana Indians, who live in the remote and densely forested Vaupes region of Columbia, are a great favourite with anthropologists because they are often cited, along with the African San people, as still living in the way that the ancients did.

The Barasana live in 80 ft x 40 ft longhouses, and just like Neolithic structures of Catal Hoyuk and Ain Ghazal (as well as those of later Harappan civilisation in the Indus valley) their living quarters show that they like to keep their dead around. Their longhouses are also the settings for their shamanic rituals - again, the spiritual and the material are not separated into different buildings.

This drawing is from Christina Hugh Jones, who along with her husband, Stephen, have written extensively on the Barasana:

Image

From Inside the Neolithic Mind by David Lewis Williams and David Pearce:

Death leads to the lower realms of the cosmos. Graves are dug into the floor and are thus in the underworld. The body, in a foetal position and with a gourd over its face, is placed in a canoe that is cut in half and doubled over; it provides the deceased with transport through a subterranean river. Geraldo Reichel-Dolmatoff, who studies the South American people some years before the Hugh-Joneses, pointed out that a doubled over canoe is hexagonal, a geometric form associated with quartz crystals – one of the shamans’ power objects used in transcosmological travel.

A man is buried with feather headdresses, monkey fur tassels and so forth, while a woman is accompanied by her basket, mirror and other personal possessions. The grave is dug at the centre of the house for a man, and next to the family compartment for a woman.
When Sir Mortimer Wheeler and others began digging up the Harappan civilisation in the Indus valley (c. 3,000 BC), they found that in the earlier phase, bodies were buried under the floors of the houses.

We also see the same sub floor burials at the Neolithic Ain Ghazal in Jordan and Catalhoyuk.

At Catalhoyuk, they subdivided the floors into discrete levels, some of which were painted red. The dead were buried beneath these.

The point being here is that the revered ancestors were kept around, to be present in their everyday lives.

However, there is also some evidence – in all of these – that it is only the special, revered dead that were given this in-house treatment, and the rest could well have ended up on the town rubbish dump.

But still, I believe that all this makes it unlikely that Stonehenge, just because they buried people there, means that it was solely a royal cemetery. It is more likely that they were buried there because of what went on there – which we still haven’t figured out.

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Post by rich » Fri May 30, 2008 7:42 am

How do we know it didn't start as a result of it being too cold outside and the ground being too hard to dig as a result so they buried them inside where the ground was softer?
Not saying they didn't cherish them, just looking at an alternate reason for burying them inside or at least for why it could have started maybe.
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Post by Ishtar » Fri May 30, 2008 9:38 am

Sure, that's the way we think, Rich. Everything today is functional and done in the most practical way. Our motive is 'What's easiest? What's the most practical?'.

But when we look at ancient societies, we see that they had a holistic view of life that included the spirit world. Their cosmogony was not one world, but three worlds of which they occupied the middle level. The underworld was as real to them as the park down the road is to us.

The Ainu, for example, would not so much as dispose of their fishbones without the correct attendant ritual.

We don't just have written or oral testimony of anthropologists. The Barasana (along with the San) also give us the opportunity to see this way of life in action today.

So given that ancient man lived in such a highly ritualised way, imo it's highly unlikely in the supremely important matter of death (or transposition to the spirit world, or underworld) he would suddenly forsake all his beliefs and say:

"To hell with it. Let's bury Aunt Geraldine indoors because it's easier."
:lol:

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Post by rich » Fri May 30, 2008 9:56 am

Not so sure about how it all started tho. 'sides - Aunt Geraldine they might've fed to the dogs but dad or grandma now - they might be ornery enough to come back and beat us for it. :D
i'm not lookin' for who or what made the earth - just who got me dizzy by makin it spin

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Post by kbs2244 » Fri May 30, 2008 11:50 am

Wouldn’t the amount of reverence for the dead have something to do with where they are buried? (If they are even buried.)
Didn’t the Polynesians keep their skulls by the door to keep them in sight and thus in mind?
But in other cultures, even a monumental burial was a one time thing. You buried them, had a wake, and went on with you life.
The early Mexican pyramids are the only ones I know of the were designed for re-entry to remove the remains for ceremonial parades after a mountain burial.

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Post by Ishtar » Fri May 30, 2008 12:31 pm

kbs2244 wrote: The early Mexican pyramids are the only ones I know of the were designed for re-entry to remove the remains for ceremonial parades after a mountain burial.
Hi KB

At Ain Ghazal and Catal Hoyuk, there is also evidence that dead bodies were exhumed, a certain time after death, and then the skull was removed and decorated with beads, and then the body was reburied with the skull next to it.

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Post by kbs2244 » Sat May 31, 2008 11:13 am

I remember that.
But even then, it was just a one time thing. The second burial being the final one.
I understood the Mexican thing to be repetitive.

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Post by Digit » Sat May 31, 2008 11:42 am

Once again I stress that this is a personal opinion and possibly wrong, but did early man, and later, actually see death as and end or perhaps just a transition?
Christianity is glued onto earlier practices, as are many other creeds, and modern day religions see the after life as the gift of a god head only if you live by the rules.
Once people started seeing ghosts, having some form of shamanic experience, whether right or wrong, then death is not the end, simply a transition.
Keeping the dear departed with you then becomes a natural reaction, they are not gone they are still with you.
The Romans of course insisted that the dead be removed from within the town or city, but this was on public health grounds and course automatically leads to grave makers if the older beliefs still exist.

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Post by dannan14 » Sat May 31, 2008 11:55 am

Death is just one event in the middle of a very long life. There are many people who share that part of my world view with me. Since the view exists now i see no reason why it couldn't be as ancient as i happen to think it is.

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Post by Ishtar » Sat May 31, 2008 11:56 am

Digit wrote:Once again I stress that this is a personal opinion and possibly wrong, but did early man, and later, actually see death as and end or perhaps just a transition?
Yes, Dig. A transition.

And a lot of people still do see it that way. It's called reincarnation.

But part of the shaman's role was to help the soul of the deceased make the transition at death into the next dimension, where they're prepared for their next life.

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Post by kbs2244 » Sun Jun 01, 2008 12:46 pm

There is a Biblical based belief that human death is unnatural.
That man was created to live forever, and currently dies only because of the original sin inherited from an “imperfect’ (because of that sin) Adam.
This is the foundation of the need for Jesus not to have a human father.
If he did, he would have the same imperfection as everyone else and could not offer a “one for one” sacrifice to pay back God for the perfection that Adam “stole.”
Because it is unnatural, it is often spoken of as temporary. Those who die are due for a resurrection, a return to life.
The original belief was that this was to be a resurrection back to a human life, but that has been corrupted into the now popular concept of an immediate resurrection to a sprit life.

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Post by Ishtar » Sun Jun 01, 2008 1:41 pm

kbs2244 wrote:There is a Biblical based belief that human death is unnatural.
That man was created to live forever, and currently dies only because of the original sin inherited from an “imperfect’ (because of that sin) Adam.
This is the foundation of the need for Jesus not to have a human father.
If he did, he would have the same imperfection as everyone else and could not offer a “one for one” sacrifice to pay back God for the perfection that Adam “stole.”
Because it is unnatural, it is often spoken of as temporary. Those who die are due for a resurrection, a return to life.
The original belief was that this was to be a resurrection back to a human life, but that has been corrupted into the now popular concept of an immediate resurrection to a sprit life.
KB, I understand that this may be your religious belief and I respect that.

But we are here to discuss what we can show evidence for. And all the evidence points the contrary to your view above. If anything, it shows that Judaeo Christian beliefs, and particularly the Yahwist cult, tried to impose itself and thus itself corrupt pagan (polytheistic and shamanic) practises that had existed for millennia in that part of the world, and part of that polytheistic belief system was that the soul at death makes a transition straight into the spirit world, where there is no Hell, no Heaven and no Original Sin.

To believe that humans, at one time, never had to experience death is to believe in something for which there is no evidence.

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Post by rich » Sun Jun 01, 2008 2:06 pm

hmmm - maybe we're just eggs waiting to hatch into an "outerworld!!! :D
i'm not lookin' for who or what made the earth - just who got me dizzy by makin it spin

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Post by kbs2244 » Sun Jun 01, 2008 7:25 pm

Small, but important, point Ish.
I didn’t say humans never experienced death.
Only that they were intended to never experience death.
The key to the whole thing is that Adam had no children pre-sin.
Therefore there were no “perfect” humans that could live forever.
With Adam's sin, death became an accepted part of the human experience
If the very first human dies, what hope is there for any of his offspring?
Thus, from the start of written history, it is an built in part of all human custom, mythology, etc, etc.
BTW,
Don’t be afraid to attack my religious beliefs. It happens all the time, from all directions.
I have become a bit hardened to it.
Even welcome it.
You don’t know what you believe until you have to defend it.
Sometimes I even change my mind on some points.

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Post by Minimalist » Sun Jun 01, 2008 8:38 pm

rich wrote:hmmm - maybe we're just eggs waiting to hatch into an "outerworld!!! :D


I yearn to be an omelette.
Something is wrong here. War, disease, death, destruction, hunger, filth, poverty, torture, crime, corruption, and the Ice Capades. Something is definitely wrong. This is not good work. If this is the best God can do, I am not impressed.

-- George Carlin

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