General Observationson Terminal Pleistoceneearly Holocene Mortuary Practices

Precise documentation of the contexts of burials is vital if we are to be able to at least partially decipher the attitudes of living communities to the dead. For it is clear that the specifics of corpse disposal and subsequent symbolic reintroduction of the deceased into the realm of the living were integral to the fundamental and revolutionary socioeconomic changes in lifeways that occurred during the Terminal Pleistocene and Early Holocene (see also Kuijt 1995, 1996). That these beliefs were deep-rooted and part of a wider cosmology is amply illustrated by the longevity (two to four millennia; see below) of certain funerary rituals and treatments in respect to the deceased by the living communities, even if certain aspects evolved through time, both in specific details as well as probably in their symbolic relevance. Although most discussions focus on postmortem skull removal, there is evidence to indicate other topics were central to mortuary practices, including the locations and contexts of corpse disposal, architectural elements (especially lime-plastered surfaces) associated with funerary practices, and the coassociation of human and animal burials (Table 1)(see also Chapters 6,7, 10, and 11,this volume).

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