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Late Mesolithic and Neolithic mortuary practices and identities of hunter-gatherers: archaeological and anthropological analyses of mortuary deposits (Estonian example) (abgeschlossen)

Mari Tõrv M.A.

Research about Late Mesolithic and Neolithic hunter-gatherer mortuary practices in Estonia during the time period of c. 6000–2800 cal. BC is jointly conducted at the University of Tartu, Estonia, and the Centre for Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology, Germany. The project focuses on the questions of how death was handled in the hunter-gatherer society with the aim of ascertaining the core of practices through the analysis of single mortuary events. Moreover, the reasons behind the seemingly variable ways of body treatments are searched in the personal identities of the deceased.  

The study is based on re-analysis of old excavation data; the sources may be divided into two subcategories: (1) archival sources (e.g. excavation reports, photos etc.) and (2) mortuary deposits (bone assemblages consisting of inhumations and loose human bones from contemporary settlement sites and cemeteries; grave structures and grave goods).

To grasp the core of the practices the methodologies of social (theory of practice, body theories and identity studies) and natural sciences (bioarchaeology and archaeothanatology) are brought together. This kind of approach is essential while mortuary practices become apparent both in the bodies of the deceased and material culture. Basis for the analysis and theoretical reconstructions of practices are created by (1) bioarchaeological and (2) archaethanatological methods:
(1)   The sex-age estimations of the skeletal data; stable isotope studies, if and where possible pathologies are determined. This information forms the background for understanding the variations in mortuary practices and its possible connections to personal identities.
(2)   Assessing different types of mortuary deposits, primary and secondary burials, the treatment of the body, individual and collective burials, the arrangements of grave goods and dress ornaments in connection to the deceased. These analyses provide the bases for the reconstruction of single events in the context of funerals.

My PhD thesis will contributes to a more dynamic understanding of the death ways in the hunter-gatherer societies in Eastern Baltic during the Stone Age. Secondly, the project can serve as a model for further research in mortuary archaeology.

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