As in Life, So in Death : An analysis of the sociocultural structuring processes which affected the normative body treatment in the Lapita burial ritual

University essay from Uppsala universitet/Institutionen för arkeologi och antik historia

Abstract: The understanding of ancient societies is often mainly based on how their burial sites have been interpreted. This is especially true for ancient societies where the burial sites may be the only remaining traces which can be studied. With a classical model, their analysis can yield valuable results on certain areas such as identifying status relationships and spatial groupings. The social structure that originally affected how the burial ceremony was conducted, however has largely been a subject of speculation. To analyse this structure a new theoretical foundation is required. In this thesis a ritualization perspective rooter in ritual theory has been implemented. It´s inclusion allows for the study of the structuring processes within the burials by identifying the normative actions which constituted the ritual. This approach requires methods capable of recreating that the ritual actions through the funerary remains. For this reason, the methodological approach employed has been largely rooted in archaeothanatology and taphonomy. In this thesis the Lapita culture which was active in Melanesia ca. 3000 BP has been in focus. This culture was chosen since its societal structure has so far been speculated widely but so far, no consensus has been reached. Only two Burial sites of adequate size and quality have been found to date, Reber-Rakival in Papua New Guinea and Teouma in Watom. These sites have been analysed previously and the findings suggest a rich variation in the funerary ritual implemented at the sites. Ritual has long been linked to societal structure but there are few methods which allow an archaeologist to study this structure through the ritual. The methods have been employed on physical remains from Reber-Rakival and recorded images from Teouma with the aim of clarifying the funerary ceremony and identifying the normative actions at both sites. The addition of previous research and ethnographic data was incorporated to compare and further clarify the interpretations. The resulting interpretation suggests that the burial practice and societal structure at the different sites had some overlap in how individuals of differing genders were positioned and treated. The extent to which this treatment was at the core of the ritual however, varied. In Teouma there was a clearly defined androcentric influence which was prevalent in both how the bodies were positioned and to what extent they were interfered with. This differed to the societal structure which affected the burials in Reber-Rakival which could not be as clearly defined given the greater level of disturbance at the site but was clearly not as extreme in favour of males. This indicates that different societal structures were in place but at present it cannot be considered as a conclusive estimation, further research is required to test it.

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